Indigenous cookery of South Africa
In the precolonial period, indigenous cuisine was characterised by the use of a very wide range of foods. Including fruits, nuts, bulbs, leaves and other products gathered from wild plants and by the hunting of wild game.
The pre-colonial diet consisted primarily of cooked grains, especially sorghum, fermented milk (somewhat like yogurt) and roasted or stewed meat. At some point, maize replaced sorghum as the primary grain. There is some dispute as to whether maize, arrived with European settlers or spread through Africa before white settlement. All via Africans returning from the Americas during the era of the slave trade.
People also kept sheep and goats, and communities often organised vast hunts for the abundant game; but beef was considered the absolutely most important and high status meat. The ribs of any slaughtered cattle in many communities were highly prized. They were offered to the chief of the village.
Origin and history of South African Insidious food
In many ways, the daily food of South African families can be traced to the indigenous foods that their ancestors ate. A typical meal in a South African family household that is Bantu-speaking is a stiff, fluffy porridge of maize meal (called “pap,” and very similar to American grits) with a flavourful stewed meat gravy. Traditional rural families (and many urban ones) often ferment their pap for a few days – especially if it is sorghum instead of maize – which gives it a tangy flavor. The Sotho-Tswana call this fermented pap, “ting.”
The vegetable is often some sort of pumpkin, varieties of which are indigenous to South Africa. Although now many people eat pumpkins that originated in other countries. Rice and beans are also very popular even though they are not indigenous. Another common vegetable dish, which arrived in South Africa with its many Irish immigrants, but which has been adopted by South Africans, is shredded cabbage and white potatoes cooked with butter.
For many South Africans meat is the centre of any meal. The Khoisan ate roasted meat, and they also dried meat for later use. The influence of their diet is reflected in the common Southern African love of barbecue (generally called in South Africa by its Afrikaans name, a “braai”) and biltong (dried preserved meat). As in the past, when men kept cattle as their prized possession in the rural areas, South Africans have a preference for beef. Today, South Africans enjoy not only beef, but mutton, goat, chicken and other meats as a centrepiece of a meal.
South African Braai
On weekends, many South African families have a “braai”. The meal usually consists of “pap and vleis”, which is maize meal and grilled meat. Eating meat even has a ritual significance in both traditional and modern South African culture. In Bantu culture, for weddings, initiations, the arrival of family members after a long trip and other special occasions, families will buy a live animal and slaughter it at home, and then prepare a large meal for the community or neighbourhood.
Participants often say that spilling the blood of the animal on the ground pleases the ancestors who invisibly gather around the carcass. On holiday weekends, entrepreneurs will set up pens of live animals along the main roads of townships—mostly sheep and goats—for families to purchase, slaughter, cook and eat. Beef being the most prized meat, for weddings, affluent families often purchase a live steer for slaughter at home. Vegetarianism is generally met with puzzlement among Black South Africans. Most meals are served with vegetables such as pumpkin, beans and cabbage.