Indian Cuisine of South Africa

Exploration by sea in the 16th and 17th centuries led to massive explosion of the world as people knew it. Suddenly, European travellers were able to traverse the continents, finding treasures and experiencing cultures. When South Africa was being colonised in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Indian migrants were brought over as slaves. Since this time, they tended to gravitate towards the east coast of South Africa, in and around the area now known as Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.

Did you know? Straight off the streets of Durban, and now in evidence in restaurants as far-flung as London, the bunny chow is curry served in a quarter of hollowed-out white bread loaf. Also referred to as a kota or ‘quarter’ it is a staple ‘street’ food. It descends from Durban’s large ethnic Indian community, is cheap and cheerful, and easily portable.

Because the exile from their homeland and their new life as slaves in South Africa was extremely difficult for these Indian folk, they tended to retain their close bonds with one another. Then came Apartheid, which only strengthened these cultural bonds. This has led to a distinctive loyalty to the characteristics of Indian cooking, albeit it nuanced by centuries of South African influences. This has led to a unique cuisine that can be found throughout South Africa, but has definite roots in Durban and KwaZulu-Natal.

The local Indian cuisine has very distinctive flavours. Spices are used extensively, and much of the cooking is considered to be hotter than the fare usually consumed by non-Indian South Africans. Still, the complexity and aromas of these spicy combinations are quite irresistible, which is why so many local dishes of other origins bear the marks of this cultural influence.

Curries are the most prevalent and well-known of Indian cooking. The most common spices found in these curries are coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and plenty of chillies. Garlic and ginger are essential to creating the characteristic flavours. Curries are served with rice as well as some sort of flatbread (such as naan bread, roti or a poppadom). Another common side to a curry are sambals, such as tomato and onion or cucumber in soothing plain yoghurt. Common curries include Korma, Tikka Masala and Vindaloo.

Biryani is a common dish that is traditionally prepared for ceremonies, but widely available as it is so popular. Chicken or lamb, marinated in plain yoghurt and spices is layered with fried potatoes and topped with saffron rice. It is steamed in the oven, sprinkled with raisins and served piping hot.

Bunny chow is an authentic South African Indian favourite that has visitors coming back for more. A loaf of bread is cut into two halves. The soft centre is removed and the remaining loaf is filled with curry. This is enjoyed with the soft bread that was removed and the very hungry usually wolf down the loaf shell, infused with curry juices, at the end.

Samoosas are another firm favourite. These are fried or baked crisp pastries, folded (generally into a triangular shape, but this does vary) and filled with a savoury, spicy filling. This is usually hot beef mince, shredded chicken curry or curried vegetables. Samoosas can be bought on the street corner, or enjoyed in top-end restaurants. They are versatile and delicious.

Another important cooking style of South African Indian cultures is that of tandoori. This refers to a clay oven. Meat is prepared by being spiced with a range of intense flavours and then skewered. It is allowed to cook in the traditional Indian oven until it is tender and infused to the core with the delicious flavours of these spices.

The strong ties that many South Africans have retained to their traditional Indian roots have brought so much diversity and cultural wealth into this country. One of the aspects in which this is expressed is through food, and international tourists are encouraged to sample as much as they can to get a real taste of Africa.

South Africa. Explore. Experience. Stay® has been assisting travellers with their South Africa travel plans since 1999, and is the largest, independent online travel guide for South Africa available in both English and German.

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