Thanks to South Africa’s historical roots combining Dutch, French, African, Malay and English influences, the country’s food is varied, inspiring and often unexpected. Let’s start with the unexpected. Mopane worms, a delicacy across Southern Africa.
These brightly coloured caterpillars of the large Emperor moth have little spikes on their backs, and they feed primarily mopane tree leaves. During the rainy season, and before the caterpillar pupates, they are harvested, just like they have been for thousands of years, by hand. The insides are squeezed out and the remaining shell is sundried. The result is a nutty, crunchy and highly nutritious snack.
Biltong and Droewors
Air-drying is a popular form of preserving meat in Southern Africa and it’s not just Mopane worms that are air-dried. Meat, usually red meat from beef, game, and ostrich, is cut into strips and, after being cured in a mixture of vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices, is then hung to dry. It’s an exceptionally healthy snack as it is high in protein and has a low fat content. It differs from American beef jerky in that it is marinated, cured, and then slowly air dried, while jerky’s marinade ingredients often
include sauces and flavouring agents which may contain high levels of salt and sugar. Jerky has no curing period but is simmered or baked, and then dried in a dehydrator, oven or smoker. Biltong comes in different forms depending on personal taste. A lean biltong will be dry and crumbly, and a rich biltong will be soft and chewy. A cousin to biltong is droewors, a narrow, air-dried beef sausage made with the same recipe as Boerewors. While beef is the usual filling for boerwors, pork and veal with mutton fat is usually used in droewors. Unlike other dried sausages, or salamis, droewors is dried quickly in warm, dry conditions and has no curing agent so it must be stored in dry conditions.
This incredibly delicious sausage is an important part of Southern African cuisine. The name comes from the Afrikaans words boer, meaning ‘farmer’, and wors, meaning sausage’. It’s such a special sausage that there is a government law defining what it may and may not contain. At least 90 percent must be meat, and must always contain beef, as well as lamb, or pork, or a mixture of lamb and pork. The other 10 percent is spices which are usually toasted coriander seed, black pepper, nutmeg, cloves and allspice, and other ingredients. Not more than 30 percent of the meat content may be fat and there must be no offal or any ‘mechanically recovered meat pulp’. It is preserved with salt and vinegar and packed in sausage casings.
Traditional boerewors is formed in a continuous spiral. And ‘braaied’, in other words cooked over a charcoal fire with an un-pricked casing to keep all the fat inside and stop the sausage from going dry during cooking. ‘Boerie’ rolls are a yummy variant on the hotdog, especially with sweet, cooked onions.