South African cuisine is a sumptuous mixture of Zulu, Xhosa, Malaysian, Indian, Dutch, French, Portuguese and German flavors and methodologies. Even though South Africa is home to locally famous five-star restaurants, its dishes haven’t done too much international traveling. There are not that many places in the U.S. to enjoy South African cuisine, so if you find one, by all means step inside and take a deep breath. Anyone who’s had a taste of South African biltong or malva pudding, or chakalaka or bunny chow knows it’s worth the trip.
Here are 10 ideas on where to find South African food in the U.S.
This is an updated version of an article first published Oct. 16, 2013.
Nandos is considered a fast food restaurant in South Africa, but its one of the country’s most successful food exports and in the U.S., is ranked more on the fine dining scale — more like California Pizza Kitchen or Cheesecake Factory than a Kentucky Fried Chicken. One of the dishes that solidified Nandos’ place in the U.S. restaurant scene is peri-peri chicken – chicken seasoned with the peri-peri pepper spice found in several African countries. The restaurant has branches in Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
Karoo Kafé has found a good following in Eastham, Massachusetts, where locals enjoy an array of South African food paired with popular South African wines. Some of the traditional dishes on the menu include samosas, chutneys, grilled ostrich and bobotie. Karoo is a Khoisan word meaning “land of thirst,” and the Karoo is a desert in South Africa.
If a restaurant can make a name for itself on the highly competitive New York City culinary scene, you know it’s good. Dishes at the South African bar and grill, Braai, (the South African word for barbecue) include the peri-peri prawns and ostrich. Weekend brunch at Braai is also popular with boerewors (beloved South African sausage), slapchips (fries) and ostrich benedict.
Another South African restaurant that fought its way onto the Big Apple’s culinary scene, Madiba Restaurant in Brooklyn has a slightly more extensive menu than Braai. But the true gem is the attached South African grocery shop. The restaurant donates a portion of its proceeds to the South African charities Ubuntu Education Fund, Ethembeni School of the Blind, Achilles and others.
A South African pub and braai, this welcoming establishment in Charlottesville, Va. has a menu that represents the cultural melting pot that is South Africa. You can get everything from spicy African peri-peri sauce to boerewors (Dutch farmer’s sausage) to pub-style fish ‘n chips. Shebeen is also known for an excellent wine list.
This simple, clean and elegant dining room serves up creative South African dishes like bobotie spring rolls, boerewors sandwich and ostrich medallions. The owners took their inspiration for the restaurant’s design from luxury safari lodges. This makes for a rare dining experience in Atlanta, Georgia.
Seattle-based On Safari Foods is a catering company and more recently it added the On Safari Café. Catered foods include South African dishes like samosas, chicken sosaties and several French-South African dishes like pâte a choux filled with artichokes and basil. The company is dedicated to using local, sustainable and natural ingredients and has several special menus that cater to kosher, diabetic, gluten-free, paleo, and even allergy-prone clients. The menu changes daily at the restaurant.
If you want to try some South African dishes, The African Hut is an online megastore of South African specialty foods and groceries. Its items are split into an extensive list of categories including seasonal items, rusks and cakes, wine, biltong, spices and more.
The South African Food Shop has a physical location in Matthews, North Carolina, but also has a large online shop featuring traditional and popular items like boerewors, Nandos peri-peri sauces, meat pies, sausage rolls and Ouma Rusks. The site is not fancy, but it offers easy-to-follow, simple South African recipes for items like vetkoek (South African pan-fried bread) and Cape Malay pickled fish.
Also known as Cape Food & Beverage in Atlanta, Georgia, The South African Shop imports South African products to the U.S. via its online store, direct sales and wholesale to retailers across the U.S. The company is constantly researching new items and updating what it has in store, but it’s sure to keep classic South African comfort food on hand like Mrs. Ball’s Chutney, Marmite, locally made boerewors and dröewors (dry sausage).