13 Superb South African Foods & Dishes You Need to Experience!

South African Food - Selective focus image of Chakalaka, a traditional dish from South Africa.

Whether you’re dreaming of eating your way around South Africa, or if you’re looking to create an amazing South African meal at home, you’re in luck! South African foods are tasty, steeped in the country’s complicated history, and a great way to experience the tensions and beauty of the country all on one plate. 

Here are our favorite South African dishes, but don’t fret. If we left off your favorite, leave it in the comments! 

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What to Eat in South Africa - The Best South African Food and Dishes

The Best South African Foods

In no particular order…


South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

Okay, I know I said no particular order…but…if you can only try one South African dish, make it chakalaka! You can use our Chakalaka recipe to make your own, or you can try it in Johannesburg, where it was invented by workers from Mozambique. 

This spicy bean salad is a mix of fresh vegetables, canned baked beans, and Chakalaka spices. The flavors meld together beautifully, making it a great dish to eat at a restaurant or as a takeaway. Of course, we’re partial to our own homemade version!

Seven Colours

South African Food - Seven Colours Meal

Named for the colorful dishes on the plate that combine to display seven colors, this meal is a feast cooked for large gatherings. While you will want seconds, there are never leftovers as enough people are always on hand to finish it in one go.


South African Food - rolled sausage (boerewors - traditional South African food)

Considered by some (ahem…us) to be the most delicious sausage in the world, Boerewors is beef, lamb, and pork sausage cooked in a famous swirl pattern over an open flame and is commonly served at braais. 


South African Food - A studio shot of a bowl of traditional south african pap or puthu presented on a cream fabric cloth on a white studio background

One of the most important foods in the region, pap is a corn porridge similar to polenta. It can be served in almost any circumstance and as part of almost any meal. 

Amagwnya (Fatcooks or Vetkoek)

Similar in shape and taste to a doughnut hole, Amagwnya (from Xhosa) are fried yeast balls served with jam, butter, or even savory sauces.  

Peri-Peri Chicken

South African Food - Peri-Peri Chicken, Chakalaka and Rice

Everyone who’s been to South Africa knows Nando’s chicken and its famous sauce, which is based on Portuguese cuisine. You can make it at home or you can order it straight from the source if you find yourself near a Nandos. 


South African Food - Amarula - South Africa Drinks
By User: SpesBona CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

This South African drink is a cream liqueur that can be drunk on its own or mixed into a cocktail. 


Popular Indian & Asian pickle of mango in a glass bowl i.e. Aam ka achar in a glass bowl or keri ka achar with its entire raw ingredients including spices and mango on black colored shiny surface.

Brought to South Africa by the Indian migrant workers who came over during the British Empire, artchar are pickled fruits and vegetables. In Africa, it has become common to eat artchar with bread. 


South African Food - jerked meat, cow, deer, wild beast or biltong in wooden bowls on a rustic table, selective focus

This Southern African take on beef jerky is a cured and dried meat that you’ll find all over the southern part of the continent. However, biltong can be made from anything chicken to beef to fish to even ostrich. 

Coloured Popcorn

South African Food - Colorful popcorn on a background of burlap. Popcorn is scattered in the corner of the background. Popcorn is in the cup. Popcorn can be seen from above.

This sweet treat makes the perfect light-yet-decadent snack, plus it comes in rainbow colors! Coloured popcorn is a fun South African snack for all ages.

Shisa Nyama (Braai)

South African Food - Barbecued chicken kebabs on skewers, corn on the cob and onions

Known more often outside of South Africa as a barbeque, shish nyamas or braais are gatherings of friends or family coming together to enjoy grilled meat that was cooked on an open flame. It also refers to the meal itself.

Kota (Bunny Chow)

South African Food - Kota - a basic South African popular township street food image with copy space in landscape format

While you’ll often find this listed under the English name “Bunny Chow,” this is actually a dish created by Indian South Africans living in Durban consisting of curry in hollowed-out white bread. 

Kota is what Black South Africans use to call any dish made from a quarter loaf of bread, including just curry and bread though also including ones made with chips (french fries), cheese, bologna, and atchar.


If you’re looking for something hearty to warm you up during South Africa’s winters, grab a bowl of Mogodu. This tripe stew is paired with pap, making it both warming and filling, giving you enough energy to bounce back into the cold. 

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How to Make Your Own Simple Chakalaka Spice Blend

Spice Blend

While you can find pre-made chakalaka spice blends for sale, that’s not how you’ll find most chakalaka relishes seasoned in South Africa or Zimbabwe. Instead, these will be seasoned on the spot, with the chef making sure the chakalaka seasoning is just right.

For our chakalaka recipe, we included the spices as part of the ingredients. However, you can easily make the perfect chakalaka spice blend ahead of time and store it so you always have some ready to go.

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Make Chakalaka Spice Blend

Why Should You Make Your Own Chakalaka Spice?

When you make your own, not only will you save money, but you’ll also save time when you’re ready to make your next batch. This spice blend can also be used to enhance the flavor of baked beans or stews, so it’s more versatile than just in its namesake dish!

How Much Chakalaka Seasoning Should You Make Ahead of Time?

This recipe will make enough for four batches of our chakalaka, but you’ll probably use smaller amounts when including it in other dishes so it may last you more than four total dishes.

If you find yourself running out quickly, feel free to double or triple this recipe to make more ahead of time. 

How to Store Your Chakalaka Seasoning

Obviously, it depends on how much you want to make to keep on hand. I like simple spice jars like these, but just make sure yours is airtight and store it on a shelf out of direct sunlight. 

South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

What You’ll Need to Make Chakalaka Spice

Here’s what you’ll need to make chakalaka spice at home:

Basic Equipment List

We use small mixing bowls and transfer the finished spices into an airtight spice jar.

Simple Ingredients List

1.5 ounces of curry powder

4 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. ginger spice

South African Food - Chakalaka and Rice

Yield: 2 ounces

Chakalaka Spice Blend

A delicious spice blend to use in Chakalaka salads and relishes, or to use to flavor soups, beans, and other savory meals.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes


  • 1.5 ounces of curry powder
  • 4 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. ginger spice


  1. In a small mixing bowl or directly in your spice jar, combine the curry powder, paprika, and ginger spice. Stir or shake until mixed thoroughly.
  2. Store in an airtight spice jar or container for up to one year.

Nutrition Information:



Amount Per Serving: Calories: 8Total Fat: .3gSaturated Fat: .1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1mgCarbohydrates: 1.5gFiber: .8gSugar: .1gProtein: .3g

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Make Chakalaka Spice Blend

How to Make the Perfect Spicy Chakalaka

South African Food - Chakalaka and Rice

Chakalaka is savory, sweet, and spicy all at once, making it the perfect dish to serve whenever you want something simple to make but complex in flavor. It can go with almost anything, and you can throw almost any vegetable into it, so every chakalaka recipe is a bit different.

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How to Make Perfect Spicy South African Chakalaka

The Origins of Chakalaka

The dish most likely originated from Mozambique workers living in Johannesburg, but you’ll now find it is made all over southern Africa, especially in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

So What is Chakalaka?

Some people think of it as chakalaka salad or as a relish, but we think it’s just plain yummy! Below we list some ideas for how to serve it and what to pair it with, but we always start with a few big spoonfuls right out of the pot. 

This is one of the first Zimbabwean dishes that Valentine showed me, and it’s easily my favorite one to make on my own! The biggest difference between my chakalaka and his is that I’m not very skilled with a knife, whereas his knife cuts are just gorgeous.

The good news is that following his recipe is easy and it tastes just as good, even if my julienne cuts are a bit raggedy and my onion dices aren’t uniform. 

South African Food - Pouring in the Chakalaka Seasoning

What You’ll Need to Make Chakalaka

Here’s what you’ll need to make chakalaka at home:

Basic Equipment List

You don’t need fancy equipment to make chakalaka at home! You’ll want a large pot with a lid because the delicious flavors come from letting the vegetables and spices simmer together on the stovetop. 

For preparing your vegetables, you’ll want a good knife and cutting board.

For the carrots, we use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer and then grate the carrots with a typical boxed grater. 

Simple Ingredients List

2.5 medium white onions

2 large tomatoes

4 medium carrots

4-5 jalapeno or chili peppers 

1/2 red bell pepper

1/2 green bell pepper

1/3 head of green cabbage (optional)

1/2 can of peas (optional)

2 cloves of garlic

4 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 can of baked beans

1 cup of water

2-4 tsp. curry 

1 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. ginger spice

You Can Make Chakalaka Spice Ahead of Time

If you want to make chakalaka spice ahead of time (or use a store-bought version), then don’t include the curry, ginger spice, or paprika when you cook. Use the chakalaka spice instead. 

Here’s our chakalaka spice blend recipe.

South African Food - Chakalaka and Rice

What to Eat with Chakalaka? Our Serving Suggestions

If you will be using chakalaka as your main course, you can pair it with maize or rice.

The most traditional way to eat chakalaka is with pap (also known as sadza).  We use Iwisa Super Maize Meal. 

Our preferred rice to serve chakalaka with is basmati rice. 

If you want to serve the chakalaka as a side dish, we like to serve it with Peri-Peri chicken and pap (or rice). 

Because this is a popular dish for barbeques and cook-outs, you can also pair it with almost any kind of grilled meat or vegetables. Because it’s so versatile, it would make a great dish to bring to a potluck or holiday dinner (especially in the summer)!

South African Food - Peri-Peri Chicken, Chakalaka and Rice

What to Drink with Chakalaka

The first thing that comes to mind is to have it with a great refreshing beer, especially if you want to wash down the bit of spicy kick. 

If you want to pair it with a wine, you’ll want to keep in mind what kind of meat you’re serving. We usually have chakalaka with chicken, so a nice, light white wine works great. If you want something like Chardonnay, stay away from oak-ey California versions which can be too heavy. 

If you’re serving vegetables or eating it as a main dish, I would also stick with white.

However, if your meat is red meat, go for something simple like a Shiraz. 

For non-alcoholic drinks, if you want something special then think barbeque party fare like lemonade.

Yield: 6 servings

How to Make the Perfect Spicy Chakalaka

The perfect spicy chakalaka recipe to serve as a side dish or as a main course!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour


  • 2.5 medium white onions, diced
  • 2 large tomatoes, grated
  • 4 medium carrots, grated
  • 4-5 jalapeno or chili​ peppers (to your preferred taste and heat levels), diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1/3 head of green cabbage, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 can of peas, drained (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 can of baked beans (about 14 oz)
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2-4 tsp​. curry (to your taste)
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger spice


  1. In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil on high. Once the oil is heated, reduce the burner to a medium temperature.
  2. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally until soft and tender. (About five minutes).
  3. Add the chili peppers, cover the pot, and let it sit for five minutes.
  4. Add the Chakalaka seasoning (curry, paprika, and ginger), tomatoes, carrots, sugar, and water. If you're adding any optional vegetables like peas or cabbage, add in now as well. Stir together and cover the pot.
  5. After twenty minutes, add in the baked beans. Stir together and cover the pot. Let the pot sit for five mintues.
  6. Turn off the stove, and let the pot sit for ten to fifteen minutes before serving.


The flavors will become more complex over time, so feel free to make ahead and let sit for longer.

If you don't want to use half of two different colored bell peppers, you can use either a red one or a green one. We like to mix them for the color and the slightly different flavors, but we know sometimes you just want to use one pepper!

Make sure to grate the tomato over a bowl since it will be mostly liquid. If you've never grated a tomato before, don't grate all the way to the end. When it gets close to your fingers and is mostly just peel, stop. Just use the grated portion.

Because the flavors meld together over time, this is a great dish to eat as leftovers.

For this version, we didn't use cabbage, but we often make it with the cabbage. It's great both ways!

To make the dish less spicy, reduce the number of chili peppers you use. Make sure to test how spicy they are before cooking. Of course, chili peppers can get spicier or less spicy from being cooked, so use your best judgement for you and your family.

Nutrition Information:



Amount Per Serving: Calories: 250Total Fat: 9.9gSaturated Fat: 1.9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 399mgCarbohydrates: 37.9gFiber: 9.2gSugar: 16.8gProtein: 7.6g

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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How to Make Perfect Spicy South African Chakalaka Recipe