Cape Town traditional food: take a bite out of history

If Cape Town was a meal, what would it be? A smaaklike Dutch potjiekos? A spicy Cape Malay chicken curry? Perhaps a mouthwatering African chakalaka?

The answer is quite simple: Cape Town is all of these meals and much, much more. With a culinary history that is as delicious as it is extensive, the Mother City continues to delight palates.

Kayamandi Food

The fairest Cape has found cooking inspiration in her residents for centuries, since the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in April 1652 adding to the diversity. When the Dutch first arrived on our shores in the 17th century, they brought with them their farming expertise, planting and harvesting succulent vegetable crops and aromatic herb gardens that helped to feed many a starving sailor of the Dutch East India Company.

We can also be thankful for their delectable melktert (milk tart) and potjiekos (a meat, veggie and rice dish, flavoured with wine or stock, cooked over a fire) which continues to be popular celebratory meal choice.

A darker side to this burgeoning food trade was the forced arrival of Javanese slaves in the 18th century. Back then they were often hired as chefs in Dutch households, and their distinctive gourmet influences have survived and can still be tasted in today’s Cape Malay dishes.

Like a hearty, tasty stew, Cape Town’s flavour has improved with the addition of new and exciting residents. German, Italian, Chinese, French, Portuguese and Flemish populations have added dashes of variety to the Mother City’s cultural melting pot.

In the 21st century, there are plenty of talented cooks in the city’s diverse kitchens. While you can certainly still enjoy home-cooked meals, particularly of the Cape Malay variety, at many smaller cafés, a walk through any of the bustling streets of Cape Town ensures the discovery of Greek, American, Mediterranean, Moroccan, Nigerian and other African cuisine, served with flourish in superb restaurants and bistros.

Fancy an authentic Cape Malay beef curry and roti, or a filling bobotie? You’re sure to find these signature dishes and many more culinary treats at the following establishments:

For koeksisters, samoosas and curries, try

Bo-Kaap Kombuis

Situated in Bo-Kaap, the oldest settlement of Malay people in South Africa, this vibrant restaurant is renowned for serving the best Cape Malay food. Their masala steak sandwiches, not to mention their phenomenal view of the city, are amazing.


For traditional beer, chakalaka and imfino patties, try

The Africa Café

Owners Portia and Jason De Smidt opened this eatery with the idea of creating food that would celebrate Africa’s diversity and rich tapestry of tastes and aromas. Expect a variety of dishes from all over Africa including Malawi, Bostwana and Congo.


For caviar, champagne and croissants, try

The Roundhouse Restaurant

Nestled amongst 300-year-old pomegranate trees and landscaped gardens, this former hunting lodge of Lord Charles Somerset has been sophisticatedly restored, and the lavish green lawn at the back affords stunning views of the Cape while you savour your picnic. Tuck into contemporary French cuisine, boutique wines and classic cocktails while you appreciate the beautiful greenery surrounding you. Make sure you come with a full wallet however, as it is one of the most expensive fine-dining institutions in Cape

Prepping of food

For pasta, pizza and gelato, try:

Magica Roma

Easily one of the most popular restaurants in Cape Town, you would do well to book early if you want to enjoy this traditional Italian fare. A warm and welcoming atmosphere – generated in no short supply by co-owners Enzio and Franco – and a substantial number of pasta dishes on the menu, all prepared to perfection, make Magica Roma a must-visit before the big day.