Urban South Africa remains very colonial in some ways, and the choice of food is one of them. Foreigners expecting to sample truly local food may be disappointed – a trip down your average South African street or mall will take you past Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and American-style restaurants, with nary an African bone between them. You’ll also see all the same fast food franchises you probably know from home – McDonald’s, KFC and Subway, alongside local incarnations such as Steers and Debonairs Pizza.
This is not to say that there aren’t any particularly local culinary creations, only that the city tends towards western tastes, so you’ll have to do a little digging to find restaurants with a truly African feel to them. Here are a few worth trying.
This award-winning restaurant is situated on Long Street, the place you’ll find all the most popular bars and clubs. Its chefs utilize many ingredients most cultures might not even consider to be food – among them Amanqina (chicken feet), Mopane Worms (yes, actual worms), Amabantu (sheep intestines) and a dish called the ‘The Original Smiley’ (half a sheep’s head). Favorite African dishes include the ‘samp and stew’, and the ‘pap and meat towers (mulched disks of steamed corn covered with creamed butternut, steak, spinach, baby corn and beef gravy). They also serve more familiar local delicacies like biltong and smoked snoek (the beloved South African fish).
98 Long Street, Cape Town
Call 021 422 0529 to book, or visit http://www.nyoniskraal.co.za
Just around the corner from Nyoni’s, this restaurant’s menu is an eclectic mix of northern and southern African dishes. You’ll find Tanzanian-style mango chicken, mbatata balls from Malawi (a mix of sweet potato and cheese, rolled through sesame seeds), alongside ithanga (South African pumpkin and cinnamon fritters) and warm Xhosa potbread. It’s a popular tourist attraction, so make sure you book well in advance.
108 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town
Call 021 422 0221 or visit http://www.africacafe.co.za
This butchery-cum-eatery has grown into an international sensation after a visit from Jamie Oliver saw the Naked Chef calling it ‘heaven’. It’s notable for being in the African township of Gugulethu, one of the poorest suburbs of Cape Town.
A sort of do-it-yourself restaurant, Mzoli’s Meat sells meat to customers, who in turn take it outside to be barbecued by entrepreneur-chefs. Guests eat under gazebos while enjoying beer and wine, along with various forms of entertainment – Mzoli’s sees regular traffic from Cape Jazz and Marimba performers, and has come to be known as a venue for deep house and kwaito performances on weekends.
Shop 3, NY115 (Just off Klipfontein Road), Gugulethu, Cape Town
Call 021 638 1355
This unassuming little restaurant with its great social dynamic and congenial atmosphere has become a local favorite. With the local students and 20-somethings, it’s known as a fun watering hole in the evenings, and great place to nurse a hangover in the mornings.
While Arnold’s serves mostly western-style food (they make great steaks and gourmet burgers), they maintain a few intriguing South African dishes on their menu, including grilled crocodile ribs (served with a gooseberry chutney) and meals made with warthog, springbok and gemsbok.
60 Kloof Street, Gardens
Call 021 424 4344 or visit http://www.arnolds.co.za.
This cutely decored establishment takes a novel approach to Cape Malay cuisine, preparing bunny chow (the cheap, easy-to-eat street food) with a gourmet eye. Bunny chow is simply half a loaf of bread, hollowed out and filled with Cape Malay curry, which is not as hot as Indian curry and served with a variety of sambals and atjars. The Quarter’s fillings come in a quarter loaf (hence the name), and include mussel and garlic potjie, crayfish potjie, oxtail, venison, goat, and the famous ‘waterblommetjie bredie’, mutton and sorrel mashed and cooked with the tiny, creamy-white flowers for which the dish is named. Their dishes are rather cheap, too – the most you’ll pay is R65.
44 Long Street, CBD
Call 021 424 1175
Reservations and Opening Hours
Reservations, while always a good failsafe to have in place, aren’t generally necessary except with very popular restaurants, and then only for dinner.
If restaurants serve breakfast they should open between 07:00 and 09:00 (though these hours vary too widely to generalize). Most restaurants stay open all day – it’s only very upmarket establishments that close between lunch and dinner.
The closing time for kitchens tends to be eleven o’clock, though the actual shutting of the restaurant (and the bar) is usually down to whenever patrons elect to leave.
Beyond gas-station quick stops (outlined in the Food Section) there is only one all-night eatery in Cape Town. Saul’s Saloon has been operating on its 24-hour schedule since the late eighties. Its menu is a simple assortment of hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs, chicken and salads, and, while not quite fine dining, is certainly better than nothing when you find yourself in need of some convenient eating at 3am.
152 Main Road, Sea Point
Call 021 434 5404 or visit http://saloon.sauls.co.za.
Beyond these recommendations, EatOut, http://www.eatout.co.za, has an excellent searchable directory of restaurants in South Africa, and includes regular reviews and updates regarding new restaurants for the truly dedicated gourmand.