Upon coming to South Africa, the biggest thing that I was most excited and nervous for was the introduction to a new cuisine. Being a self-proclaimed “picky eater” I knew it was going to be difficult for me to dive into trying new foods I was completely unfamiliar with. However, meat is a strong component in food and overall in South African culture and lucky for me: I love meat. Doesn’t matter if you grill it, bake it, fry it, or put sauce on it–I don’t discriminate against my protein. For that reason, I tried to explore as many meat varieties as possible to see what I would like, love, and loathe.
Biltong, a word of Dutch origin (“bil”-rump “tong”-strip or tongue), is used to describe dried, cured meats typically made from raw fillets of meat. Although biltong is primarily made from beef, one can find varieties from different types of livestock, game and sometimes even fish. Traditional beef biltong can be found anywhere-whether in a commercial store, at a local market, sold on the side of the road or in your salad at an upscale restaurant–and I couldn’t have been happier because it’s absolutely delicious. Each individual piece is full of flavor and the freshness is ever so present; as one market woman once told me, “if the biltong was any fresher, than the cow is still walking around”. My favorite part about it was its texture which is much better than the beef jerky I am accustomed to. Rather than fighting against you, good biltong could be described as delicate, while still holding its own–the independent woman of meats.
Although beef biltong was my #1, there were others that also attempted to win my heart over.
– Imapala Biltong: Compared to beef biltong, impala was a much more tender and lean meat that was spiced with coriander. Definitely made an impression, but I couldn’t see myself finishing a whole bag.
– Kudu Biltong: This was much chewier and tough in texture. What didn’t make it better was the fishy after taste.
-Springbok Biltong: Springbok tasted exactly like a Slim Jim and I honestly still don’t know how I feel about it. It was lean and less fatty than Kudu and had a grainy texture that screamed FRESH.
-Ostrich Biltong: YUCK! I didn’t think I could feel as offended as I did after consuming this. It was salty and tangy in all the worst ways. I would not recommend it to a friend.
-Tuna Biltong: This was definitely a dark horse which was surprisingly tasty. I didn’t know what to expect but Nemo definitely held his own alongside the big boys.
Boerwors translates from Afrikaans to mean “farmers sausage”. Commonly made from beef, boerwors is eaten at all times in the day and is primarily consumed at braais. Braais is the South African equivalent of a good ole American BBQ; the thing that distinguishes it however is its versatility and the huge social and cultural importance of the event.
(Fun Fact: South Africa has 11 national languages and braai means the same thing in every single one of them). Boerwors is soo tasty and it’s one of those meats that is impossible to mess up as long as you cook it properly. I think we could all use a little more boerwors in our lives.
Bobotie was one of my favorite traditional South African cuisines that we had. The dish is made of spiced mince (translation: seasoned ground beef) and coated with an egg based topping. Bobotie is often made with raisins and chutney which balances out the strength of the spices and gives it a sweet after taste. With a nice piece of bobotie over rice, I will always be reminded of my time in South Africa.
Honorable Mention: VENISON
Venison was a finger licking tasty meat that we consumed in one meal but it made enough of an impression that I had to mention it.
Crown Jewel: OSTRICH
OH MY GOD. Never in my life have I ever tasted a more divine piece of meat in my whole life. Cooked to be tender and juicy and flavorful ostrich took the crown for my favorite game in the land. Moreover, it’s also a lean red meat so it’s more healthy to eat than other meats. Even though I had bad experiences with ostriches in person, I am not afraid to say they taste absolutely DELICIOUS.
Using this as a platform, I plan to continue to try the meats of the world because so far the journey has been a deliciously memorable one.