DURBAN, South Africa – Remnants of the original colonial cultures and indigenous roots give both South Africa and Mozambique an interesting melting pot with which both countries have cultivated their own food cultures, but have also grown together because of close proximity. Flavors mix in ways that wouldn’t be obvious to other parts of the world that don’t have the exact mixture of Portuguese, Indian, and indigenous South African tribal flavors. The fresh seafood from the coast mixed with hot spice from Portugal and the hearty curry from India create an enticing fusion of flavors that have people coming back for more.
The city of Durban, South Africa in particular is an interesting cultural hub for food. Durban has a high population of Indian descendants and the Indian food culture has fit into the South African food culture well, shown by the high number of restaurants that serve authentic Indian food and curry around the city. Bunny Chow is one of the most beloved local masterpieces created in Durban itself. The dish started in Durban and is popular in the small restaurant Patel’s Vegetarian Refreshment Room. A restaurant that is celebrating its 105th birthday this year, it sits right in the middle of the city, down the street from the Victoria street market where one can smell the aroma of spices wafting out the doors. To the untrained eye, Patel’s is hard to find and is a hole in the wall, but these characteristics make the restaurant that much more pleasant for locals who want to hide away from the city’s tourism. The Bunny Chow in Patel’s is still the original vegetarian, but the dish has made its way around the city in meat curry form as well, branching out from its Dr. Yusuf Dadoo Street origins.
While Bunny Chow is loved by most who try it, unfortunately it hasn’t ventured far outside South Africa. The dish is a large chunk from a loaf of bread with the soft middle carved out and the bean curry overflows out of the white bread loaf and served with the gutted part of the loaf on the side. Locals eat the meal using only their hands and use the outside shell of the loaf as well as the gutted part of the bread as utensils with which to eat the curry. Most restaurants serve the dish with either a fork or a spoon anyway though, allowing the prerogative on how he or she would like to eat it. Regardless of whether it is enjoyed by hand and bread or with silverware to help, it is a messy plate and upon leaving the restaurant there will be mountains of napkins left at the tables.
Located off of the South-East coast of the African continent, South Africa and Mozambique have made seafood a staple in their diets. Grilled or pan-fried prawns and calamari can be found in most restaurants and a small, cheap fish called Hake is in almost every grocery store and most restaurants. Though frugality can be common when it comes to meals, in the case of seafood it’s best to spend the extra buck for the quality of the fish and the way it is prepared. However, for those looking to save, there is a fast-food restaurant that serves hake called Hake Away Takeaway. It is popular among local South Africans and is perfect for those who don’t want to spend too much every time they want seafood.
In downtown Maputo, aromas of coffee and sweet pastries spill out of the cafes lining the street. Mozambique was originally colonized by the Portuguese and despite now being independent, Mozambique still speaks Portuguese and has food influences as well. One influence in particular, the Pastel De Nata, is a popular Portuguese dessert which Mozambique has also adopted into its dessert menu. Pastel De Nata is a tartlet made up of a small pie-like crust with a milky custard filling. The top is toasted in a similar way to Crème Brûlée, with the inside custard still chilled. Pastel De Nata goes perfectly with a cappuccino and should be eaten around breakfast time, as it usually sells out by the early afternoon.
Portuguese influence doesn’t stop at the decadent pastries, though, it travels to other restaurants in the area lending the hot culture to dishes like Piri Piri chicken. Piri Piri is a popular chicken restaurant in downtown Maputo, Mozambique. It serves a spicy chicken made by using a spice powder and marinade made with chilies, and is then grilled. The chicken is served in quarter-, half-, or whole-chicken sizes depending on the size of the group and the appetite of the person eating. To cool down the mouth between bites, the dish is sided with rice, potatoes, or chips.
South African has found some Portuguese influence in its cultural diet as well. Nando’s is a South African fast food chain known for its Peri Peri-style chicken (adapted after the Mozambican Piri Piri) and traditional South African sides such as puthu and spicy rice. Nando’s branches out from the original Piri Piri recipe in creating its Peri Peri chicken by marinating the chicken in a spicy sauce rather than a spice powder. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Nando’s is franchised internationally and even has a few restaurants in the United States.
The culture of Southern Africa is such a melting pot that it’s evident that the food fusions in its cuisine won’t stop here. With the further influence of other cultures and how much immigration and television have both been influencing cultures around the world, the variety in Southern African food will keep evolving.