The Cape Town Top 10 Food Challenge

Amanda Danielson is a student at Tufts University and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Cape Town, South Africa.

Some go abroad to have their lives changed. Most go abroad to see the world, and many embark on this life-changing journey to experience new cultures. But let’s not forget the often-overlooked adventurers who depart from the comforts of Chipotle and Subway to test pilot their palettes…

Some go abroad to eat.

South Africa, called “The Rainbow Nation,” and home to 11 national languages, is an intricate, multicultural alloy of a country. The local cuisine is one of the most visible tributes to its rich diversity. Many of the restaurants serve Indian or Cape Malay-influenced dishes, such as curries, samosas, and boboties. Despite ubiquitous American chains lurking around the city, (hi McDonald’s), adventurous eaters will no be dissapointed in Cape Town.

If you want to put the “food” in “foodie,” this is your ultimate top 10 challenge for exploring the eats in South Africa!

1. Biltong

The challenge starts off with a less intimidating food: biltong. Biltong, which is basically the same as jerky, is one of the most popular snacks in South Africa. “Braai,” is a South African grill or bonfire, and it a big part of the social scene in the Mother City. Though you can make an event out of braaing your own biltong, it is also a perfect snack to bring hiking or to keep you satisfied between classes.

Where you can find it: Almost any grocery store

2. Umnquosho

Be sure to ask a Xhosa-speaker how to pronounce it correctly—with a click! This traditional Xhosa dish is made from samp and beans. It is hearty, filling, and delicious.

Where you can find it: Marco’s African Place in Bo Kaap has great umnquosho, as well as live xylophonists and dancers to watch after 8pm.

3. Koeksisters

If you think Krispy Kreme is the authority on all things sugar—think again. Koeksisters are basically donuts… except more fried and more sugary.

Where you can find them: Wembley Bakery on Belgravia Road bakes all of its own pastries from scratch. If you go early enough in the morning, you can get them while they’re still warm from the oven!

4. Fried Mopane Worms

A friend was shocked when her South African roommate started chomping away on a bag of fried worms on the first day in their apartment! Though eating worms may not sound appealing to those who view them as garden alliances, mopane worms are actually a satisfying, crunchy snack!

Where you can find them: Moyo in Kirstenbosch will give you a plate of this crispy treat for under $3.00 USD. Moyo also has live performances, face-painting, hand- and feet-washing, and incredible gardens.

5. Fynbos Salad

Admit it, vegetarians: your stomachs start rumbling as soon as you start your trek into the bush. Fynbos is an umbrella term for the shrub-like vegetation that covers much of South Africa.

Where you can find it: Karibu at the Victoria Wharf Shopping Center offers a civilized alternative to eating the foliage on your safari.

6. Ostrich Bobotie

South Africa is hopping with both wild ostrich and ostrich farms. Bobotie, the national dish of South Africa, is a casserole with has crumbled meat, cheese, egg, and (usually curried) vegetables. Although ostrich leather is the second thickest leather in the world, the meat is tender and sweet, similar to duck meat. It’s also one of the leanest and healthiest meats you can eat!

Where you can find it: Try Oroboros’ ostrich bobotie in Muizenburg after a long day of surfing. Oroboros has a cozy loft above the bar and they don’t care if you come in with sandy feet.

7. Big Game: Kudu, Springbok, Impala, or Wildebeest

How do you like your hooves? Big game is another common menu item in South African restaurants. Usually it is served as a steak fillet, but springbok and kudu are also commonly served as medallions or topped on a salad.

Where you can find it: Belthazar’s at the V&A Waterfront offers a “Game of the Day,” which may be any one of the meats I mentioned above.

8. Crocodile Tail

If I stumbled across a crocodile in Kruger, eating it is probably last on the list of things I would want to do.  I’ve tried crocodile a few times now and it’s tasted different every time: like chicken, pork, and ham. I’m starting to suspect it’s the tofu of the meat world.

Where you can find it: Mama Africa on Long Street offers crocodile kebabs– a great way to start your night out!

9. Gatsby

A Gatsby is an enormous sandwich—often over a foot long– that originated in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. Try the Gatsby challenge: to eat an entire sub by yourself! Chances are you won’t be able to—four or more people typically share these sandwiches. The original Gatsby was stuffed with polony, achar, and chips, but they are now served with calamari, steak, eggs, and pretty much anything else under the sun.

Where you can find it: Super Fisheries in Athlone claims to serve the original Gatsby, but you can find gatsbys at almost any sandwich shop.

10. Smiley

I don’t know why anyone would smile when they see this on their plate—a smiley is boiled sheep’s head.

Where you can find it: If you visit a township, you may notice locals boiling and roasting rows of sheep heads over hot coals. Hey, I warned you this was a challenge. You can marvel at your cooked sheep skull and eat all your side dishes with your hands at Mzoli’s in Gugulethu.

Once you’ve sampled these ten items, you can say for sure that you fully experienced Cape Town’s local cuisine. Leave a comment if you complete the challenge or try any of its items!

The world awaits…discover it.

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