A traditional South African food experience is all about community: a busy gathering place bursting with energy. On your food walk, you’ll find simple market-style takeaway stalls lining the street with foods cooked in large pots or roasted on fiery coals and eaten by hand. The atmosphere is loud and lively with colourful banter between purveyors and customers.
Arrive early for breakfast and try some amakhekhe. These large, round township scones are a variation between English-style scones and cupcakes without the cup. They’re not served with jam or cream as they’re sufficiently tasty on their own as an anytime treat.
Nyama (meat) is one of the most commonly recurring themes in township street food. For many South Africans, a meal is not really a meal without meat or chicken. Shisa Nyama is braaied (barbecued) seasoned meat, and chicken, eaten mainly at lunch or dinnertime and sometimes breakfast too. Typically, nyama includes the likes of chops and boerewors, (a favourite South African sausage).
It also includes the ever-popular walkie-talkie snack food (chicken feet and heads). These are spiced and grilled and sometimes served with a tangy sauce. If you’re brave enough to try something completely different try a char-grilled sheep’s head or smiley. They’re so-called because the lips curl back into a lurid toothy grin during the cooking process.
If you’re not so keen on a heavy meal of meat, heads or feet, you can tuck into a packet of amashwamshwam. These light and crunchy fried or baked snacks, similar to cheese puffs or cheese curls depending on where you are in the world, are made from puffed corn and coated in cheesy finger-licking deliciousness.
Kota is a township burger. The name derives from the word “quarter”. A loaf of white bread is cut into four quarters with each quarter hollowed out and filled with optional layers of meat, chicken, chips (fries), egg, cheese, or salad. It is often served with a sauce. When the quarters or loaf ends are filled with curry it is called a bunny chow.
A slaai wat-wat is similar to a kota but without quarter loaf. It includes similar filling choices to a kota except that the ingredients form the layers between two sometimes three thick slices of bread to form a monster sandwhich.
A favourite condiment in kotas, Chakalaka is a spicy sauce or relish made from various family-favourite recipes usually with a chillie and tomato base. Ingredients vary and may include anything from chopped garlic, ginger, onions, curry powder and peppers to baked beans and grated carrots.
Kasi-style South African street food has become so popular that cafes and restaurants continue to pop up all over South African townships. While you might not want to indulge in chomping on a grinning sheep’s head, no township experience is complete without sampling the local cuisine. The atmosphere is always relaxed. There’s no dress code, no standing on ceremony, and everyone’s welcome.