For thousands of years bread has been a staple in almost every diet around the world. Even today, while people are becoming increasingly carb-conscious, you would be hard pressed to find a breadless country. South Africa is no different. We have copious bread varieties, many of which look and taste nothing like the stock-standard issue loaf bread with which many of us are familiar.
South African breads are oven baked or cooked on a griddle on open fire or hot coals, steamed in pans or tin pots and deep-fried. When breaking bread in South Africa you could be eating all kinds of delicious morsels including vetkoek, rusks, pot bread, green mealie bread, roosterkoek and more.
Directly translated, vetkoek, pronounced fet-cook, from the Afrikaans language means “fat cake” or “fatty cake”. Easy to make, it is a type of bread dough made from salt, yeast and flour, moulded into bun shapes and deep-fried. Vetkoek is usually eaten hot with butter and jam, cheese or curried mince.
While not invented in South Africa, double-baked or twice-baked bread, a type of hard biscuit, is famous in South Africa. In the late 1930s in a little town in the Eastern Cape called Molteno, a local resident called Ouma Greyvenstein baked rusks using a family recipe and sold them to the local farmers’ wives. Nowadays, Ouma rusks are quite possibly South Africa’s favourite dunking biscuit and most definitely a household brand name.
Pot bread varieties vary from region to region and culture to culture. Traditional pot bread is usually made in a heavy pot, often cast iron, with an equally heavy lid over an open fire. The Xhosa people, hailing mainly from the Eastern Cape, are the second largest cultural group in South Africa after the Zulu. They call their pot breads “Umbhako”. GOLD Restaurant often serves Xhosa pot bread with a variety of hearty African dishes.
Green mealie bread
In South Africa, we usually speak of mealies as opposed to corn. Green mealie bread recipes require fresh and slightly green mealie husks (outer membrane covering the cob), which contain white corn as opposed to the more commonly known yellow variety. The corn is scraped off the cob, made into dough and steamed in a tin traditionally over an open fire. Alternatively, the dough can be placed inside the green husks and steamed over the cobs.
This bread favourite also features on the GOLD Restaurant menu from time to time. Braais (barbecues) are a popular way to prepare food in South Africa and roosterkoek, pronounced roor-stir-cook, is a popular side at a braai. Essentially, a roosterkoek is a bread roll baked over hot coals, on a griddle, or in the oven.
In moderation, bread is one of life’s simple (albeit indulgent) pleasures. There are many ways to make and enjoy it. It isn’t an exact science. It requires a handful of simple ingredients, a little patience and a good splash of creativity. Regardless of how you enjoy bread and whether or not you have a personal favourite, it’s fairly safe to say, that in Africa at least, bread isn’t toast just yet.