This just might be the year that South African cuisine hits the boiling point of popularity, after years of being on a slow simmer. If it does break into the mainstream, it will be in no small part thanks to the work of celebrity chef Claire Allen, who’s been circling the globe telling the story of her native country’s incredible food scene.
There’s no denying that Allen is busy. She runs a Cape Town-based event coordinating company, Signature Productions, writes a blog called Food is Love and has a YouTube channel. But she took some time to sit down with T. Marzetti’s On Your Plate to highlight some of the ways you can bring South African cuisine to your own kitchen.
First a very basic question: How would you describe South African cuisine?
It’s very diverse, because the country has a melting pot of people, cultures and language, including Dutch, French, Indian and Malaysian. All of this combines to create the modern mix of cuisine and cooking techniques that continue to make their way onto the menus of restaurants and into the homes of locals all over the country.
Are there types of preparation and certain ingredients that are most common?
We love fire! South African is known for what we call “braais,” which is an Afrikaans word for barbecue. We make stews called potjies (literally “small-pot food”) in cast iron pots that are set in flames to slow-cook for hours. If you’re traveling in South Africa, you might be eating a lot of snoek, which is a kind of mackerel. It’s full of bones, but it’s so tasty. It’s usually prepared lightly smoked and grilled on the braai and served with apricot jam and lemon juice.
From a chef’s perspective, what might be a few “entry” dishes that would be good to experiment with?
Ah, you have to have a braai, because meat cooked with wood and flames is much better different than a gas barbecue. Or consider a boerewors roll, which is our version of the hot dog. It’s so different from any sausage you will find anywhere else. Biltong is a dried, cured meat snack that will change your idea of beef jerky for life. Or try making a bunny chow, sometimes just called a bunny, which is hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with curry. It’s a dish that’s packed full of flavor and love.
For the braver souls, we have smileys (sheep’s head), walkie talkies (chicken beak and feet) and tripe (cow stomach).