Today was a travel day as we flew from Livingstone, Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa via Johannesburg. After a leisurely breakfast, we departed the hotel to the airport. While in general I would say the security is fairly lax in Zambia, one oddity was that we had to pass through screening, metal detectors and security before we could even check in at the ticket counter.
Because we will not have any targeted learning today it might be a good time to address an important, but as of now unmentioned topic…food. With eleven official languages and even more spoken throughout South Africa, you could call the country a melting pot of culture. Throughout the trip we have eaten well. Very well. Breakfast usually consists of made-to-order eggs, bacon or sausage, baked beans, toast, a variety of fresh and canned fruits, and tea or coffee. It is very similar to European breakfast buffets which is likely influenced by the Dutch and English history of the country.
But after breakfast there seems to be no rules of cuisine and I’m not sure I could tell you what “typical” South African fare would be. We’ve had tandoori chicken, North African curries, steaks, potatoes, shepherds pie, spare ribs, fish, carrot salad, squash, and so much more. I even tried an ostrich tenderloin which was a dark meat that when cooked properly really resembled bison. It would be easy to say that meat is a large component of the diet. With all that diversity of food it would be hard to go hungry. Even the pickiest of eaters should find something they can enjoy. But three dishes do standout as very South African.
Pap. As mentioned before, white maize is a staple of the local South African diet. The corn is processed into a pure white meal. It is simply cooked with water into a thick porridge-like consistency. Foodies familiar with food in southern U.S. would quickly compare it to grits. But while we might want add a little salt and butter (or even cheese and shrimp) here it is served with a sauce of stewed tomatoes and onions. This cheap staple provides the bulk of calories consumed in some of the poorer populations.
Biltong. The American equivalent of this delicacy would be jerky. But calling it jerky doesn’t do it justice. Biltong is typically beef and is simply dried meat. It is sold in larger one meter strips or in more manageable bite-sized chunks. It is the wide array of different curing salts and flavorings that make it a unique and delicious diet staple. They have entire shops dedicated to only selling biltong in hundreds of varieties.
Koeksisters. This delicious dessert probably has a Dutch counterpart (translated cake sisters). Approximately two inches long, they are basically a doughnut dough that is twisted together and then deep fried. Once removed from the oil they are drenched in a sugar syrup and then allowed to cool and set. The result is a cross between a doughnut and a candy.