Apart from the climate, language and customs, one of the biggest culture shocks when moving to a new country is adjusting to the food and mourning the loss of all those flavours you left behind.
Living in Ireland I certainly miss the diversity of foods and flavours that are on offer in South Africa due to the combination of its melting pot of cultures and the fabulous climate.
When I first arrived in Ireland…
When we moved here to Ireland it never occured to me that when I went shopping I would no longer have a Fruit ‘n Veg City in my neighbourhood, or anywhere in the country for that matter.
Because fresh fruit and veg are a lot cheaper in SA there are shops that stock them in bountiful sweet-smelling warehouse-type shops. I was mildly indignant to discover that here in Ireland a you can buy five large packets of Rich Tea biscuits for the same price as a bag of apples!
In 2004 you could not buy a butternut squash in Wexford for any amount of Rich Tea biscuits whatsoever. I remember when they built the new Tesco here a few years later and I found one in the ‘exotic’ vegetables section, I did a little happy dance around my trolley.
You still can’t buy gem squash here and I really miss those steaming little dark green goblets filled with golden deliciousness.
You also have to pay a premium in Ireland if you want a ripe avo, whereas you can buy them ready to eat by the bag-full there. Paw-paw (papaya) and other tropical fruit are scarce and seldom as big or juicy. You really are spoilt for food choice when living in a warmer climate.
On holiday in South Africa
When we visit South Africa we spend the first couple of days pigging out on all the foods we love and miss and I want to share a few of those with you here so that when you visit South Africa you know what to try.
Consider this your essential guide to understanding what we eat and why we eat it!
It would be nice to invite you over for a bobotie (baked spicy minced meat dish), potjie (stew cooked over a fire in a cast iron pot) or braaivleis (sort of like a BBQ) but you’ll have to make do with drooling onto your screen instead.
These are all foods that are unique to South Africa and although you can buy some of them at vast expense in local import shops, some of them we make ourselves.
In the morning
There’s nothing better to dunk into your morning cup of coffee than a dry but slightly crumbly rusk, Athol loves these buttermilk ones but I prefer the meusli flavour. I make these at home too but not as often as the demand for them.
After you’ve finished your rusk, you have to move on to THIS! ProNutro is a maize and soya based cereal and it’s normally eaten cold with lots of milk stirred through it. It comes in a range of flavours but we love the chocolate one the best.
We always return to Ireland with a spare tin of Milo in our baggage. You can drink it hot or cold at any time of the day and is similar to hot chocolate but not like it at all. I have no idea how to describe the flavour, all I can tell you is that it is made with an extract of barley malt so maybe it’s a type of non-alcoholic chocolate flavoured flat beer that you mix with milk and give to your kids? No wonder they love it so!
I especially miss this range of delicious seed and oat breads which are moist and slightly chewey. I haven’t been able to find a similar type here so I occassionally experiment with making my own.
Up first: my favourite baked pastry/donutty type treat – koeksisters.
We make these at home in Ireland now because we’re that desperate, but they are time consuming and fiddly to make so I always buy these little beauties as soon as we fall through the doors of a Pick ‘n Pay in SA.
Milktart is another of our favourites and this one is super easy to make, it’s essentially a large custard tart flavoured with cinnamon.
We ate so many packets of these chips (crisps) this last visit that the kids actually got sick of them. As you can see they are made with maize rather than potato – maize is South Africa’s staple grain. They also come in chili or chutney flavours. We found crisps here with the same name but they didn’t taste the same at all.
Another of the things my family love but I’m not at all a fan of, is biltong and droëwors (dried sausage). These are both air dried raw meat snacks made from either beef or venison that are flavoured with spice and preserved with salt. You’ll find shops specialising in selling these everywhere you go. You can make this at home too and we do.
Lunch or Dinner
Potjie and braaivleis are a huge part of the South African lifestyle. As you can imagine we spend a lot of the time eating outside cooking over a real fire, none of this gas nonsense! We had never cooked a burger on the braai before we came here as we considered it an hilarity. Now we are acclimatised and Friday nights you’ll find us outside any time of the year shivering over the gas barbeque with our beef patties.
A braai is nothing like a barbeque, it is always over a fire, is a social occasion with everyone sittting around and chatting for hours in the sun or under the stars, and includes cooking real meat, such as lamb chops, chicken – usually spatchcock, boerewors (coiled beef sausage spiced with coriander seed), ribs, sosaties (kebabs) or steak. The men are responsible for cooking the meat and the women bring out the salads and breads !).
Our local butcher does make boerewors now as he was given a recipe by another South African family (there are quite a few of us living in Wexford these days) and, kudos to him, he makes it pretty well.
As you can see from the photo above, the women are still in the kitchen making the salads and the other men are probably pouring themselves a beer.
On the topic of beer but not really, I love the spicy pepperiness of a good ginger beer but they are not easy to find here in Ireland. I once asked for a ginger beer in a bar in Kilkenny and the bar man told me he’d never heard of that type of beer! It’s not a beer, it’s a soda (or a mineral).
This wine pictured above has a Greek name but is a South African product and is one of my cheap and cheerful favourites. However, South Africa produces some of the best wines in the world at extremely affordable prices and sampling them is one of the many joys of being a tourist in the country. The only difficulty is choosing which one, with names like ‘Splattered Toad’ ‘Fat Bastard’ and ‘Tall Horse’, I get a bit distracted by all the creative lables.
And that’s not all…
I feel as if I have only scratched the surface of the vast range of fantastic cuisine that is served in South Africa. There are many more foods I haven’t included, such as vetkoek, tipsytart, bredie, and all the fresh seafood like crayfish, snoek, kabeljou, prawns and calamari.
Now that we’re back home you’ll understand why we feel the need to embark on ‘Operation De-chunk’ in order to reverse the effects of the holiday excess.
If you are ever headed to South Africa on a holiday, you’ll be guaranteed some of the most delicious and affordable meals in the world. Just watch out for a dish called mopani worms – they really are worms and they taste as bad as they sound!
If you’d like to read more about some of the differences between Ireland and South Africa, you can read this piece I wrote about some of the sights you will see there.