The cooking of Southern Africa is sometimes called ‘rainbow cuisine’, as the food in this region is a blend of many cultures – the indigenous African tribal societies, European and Asian. To understand indigenous cuisine, it is important first to digress to understand the various native peoples of southern Africa. The indigenous people of Southern Africa were roughly divided into two groups and several sub groups. The largest group consisted of the Bantu-speakers, whose descendants today may identify themselves by various sub-group names such as Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Shangaan and Tsonga. They arrived in the region around two thousand years ago, bringing crop cultivation, animal husbandry, and iron tool making with them. Hence the Bantu-speakers grew grain crops extensively and raised cattle, sheep and goats. They also grew and continue to grow pumpkins, beans and leafy greens as vegetables.
A smaller group were the primeval residents of the region, the Khoisan, who some archaeologists believe, had lived in the region for at least ten thousand years. Many descendants of the Khoisan people have now been incorporated into the Coloured population of South Africa. The Khoisan originally were hunter gathers (who came to be known as “San” by the Bantu-speakers and as “bushmen” by Europeans). After the arrival of the Bantu-speakers, however, some Khoisan adopted the Bantu-speakers’ cattle raising, but did not grow crops. The Khoisan who raised cattle called themselves “Khoi-Khoi” and came to be known by Europeans as “Hottentots.”
People were, in other words, defined to some extent by the kinds of food they ate. The Bantu speakers ate dishes of grain, meat, milk and vegetables, as well as fermented grain and fermented milk products, while the Khoi-Khoi ate meat and milk, and the San hunted wild animals and gathered wild tubers and vegetables. In many ways, the daily food of Black South African families can be traced to the indigenous foods that their ancestors ate. The Khoisan ate roasted meat, and they also dried meat for later use. The influence of their diet is reflected in the universal (black and white) Southern African love of barbecue (generally called in South Africa by its Afrikaans name, a “braai”) and biltong (dried preserved meat). Traditional beer was ubiquitous in the southern African diet, and the fermentation added additional nutrients to the diet. It was a traditional obligation for any family to be able to offer a visitor copious amounts of beer. Beer brewing was done by women, and the status of a housewife in pre-colonial southern Africa depended significantly on her skill at brewing delicious beer. Milk was historically one of the most important components of the southern African diet. Cattle were considered a man’s most important possession, and in order to marry, a man had to compensate his prospective in-laws with a gift of cattle as a dowry for his bride. A married man was expected to provide a generous supply of milk to his wife and children, along with meat whenever he slaughtered cattle, sheep or goats. Because there was no refrigeration, most milk was soured into a kind of yoghurt. The young men of the family often took care of the cattle far away from the villages at “cattle posts,” and they sent a steady stream of yogurt home on behalf of their fathers. Today, many Black South Africans enjoy drinking sour milk products that are sold in the supermarket, and these products are comparable to American buttermilk, yogurt and sour cream. On weekends they, like white South Africans, will have a “braai” and the meal would usually consist of “pap and vleis”, which is maize porridge and grilled meat.
The basic ingredients include seafood, meat products (including wild game), poultry, as well as grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits include apples, grapes, mangoes, bananas and papayas, avocado, oranges, peaches and apricots. Desserts may simply be fruit, but there are some more western style puddings, such as the Angolan cocada amarela, which was inspired by Portuguese cuisine. Meat products include lamb, and game like venison, ostrich, and impala. The seafood includes a wide variety such as crayfish, prawns, tuna, mussels, oysters, calamari, mackerel, and lobster. There are also several types of traditional and modern alcoholic beverages including many European-style beers.
Southern African cuisines by country
For more specific styles, refer to the articles on each national or regional cuisines:
|Botswanan cuisine||Malawian cuisine||Mozambique cuisine|
|Namibian cuisine||South African cuisine||Zambian cuisine|