It’s time to take a break from the craving for La Dolce Vita with a guest post by Lexi Mills, a young South African expat in London. Mills has a another kind of craving: for her home cuisine. YES, IT’S FOOD!!! One of the Displaced Nation’s all-time favorite topics…
I moved from South Africa to London when I was 18 with my parents. Everyday my feet straddle the line between two very different places that I consider home, and sometimes I lean more toward one side than the other. For example, I absolutely love the opportunities that London affords, but I miss the warmth of South African people.
While I will forever be torn between my two homes, one country will forever win when it comes to food: South Africa. You see, South Africa offers not only a great variety of different and amazing landscapes, it is also home to people from diverse backgrounds. A rich combination of cultures, traditions and religions results not only in a unique way of life but also in a wide menu of food items.
I miss everything about South African food: the access to affordable fresh fruit, the healthier diet, grilled meats on the braai (barbecue), to name just a few.
I even miss those packaged foods that you don’t realize you often crave until you don’t have access to them anymore.(Over the years, I’ve met a lot of South African expats and discovered just how much of a hold those packaged foods have on our memories. While you can try to re-create homemade South African foods in other countries, it’s a struggle to replace the items for which you need to find a specialized grocery.)
Out of curiosity, I decided to conduct a study among South African expats here in London to see just how widespread these cravings are. Luckily, as my job is to represent South African Hotels in offering accommodations for travelers to the Rainbow Nation, I was able to utilize their resources for my study of which foods my people miss most.
According to my findings, South Africans who live and work in London miss the following 10 food items from their home country most of all. (Note: I’ve added explanations for the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with our culture.)
A type of cured meat usually made from raw fillets of beef, ostrich or other meats. South Africa’s biltong can be compared to beef jerky as they are both spiced, dried meats, but biltong has different ingredients, is produced by a different method, and isn’t at all sweet.
2) Dry wors (also known as droëwors in Afrikaans)
Literally, dried sausage. Because it is dried quickly in warm and dry conditions, droëwors does not contain any curing agents as found in most cured sausages. As a result, it should not be kept in moist conditions (such as exist in the UK!). Droëwors is a popular snack.
3) Crème soda
A sweet, carbonated soft drink, usually flavored with vanilla.
4) Nik Naks
A popular brand of maize snack, available in the original real cheese, fruit chutney, cheese & onion and BBQ flavors.
5) Mrs Balls Chutney
A beloved brand of chutney often served with South African meals, with roots firmly planted in the country’s heritage. Made from apricots and peaches, it’s slightly sweet and spicy.
6) Peppermint Crisps
Milk chocolate bars filled with thin cylinders of mint-flavored toffee that were invented in South Africa by Wilson-Rowntree (it’s now produced by Nestlé). Kids in South Africa like to break off both ends of the bar and use it as a “straw” to drink milk.
A very popular sausage in South Africa that is used for braais/barbeques. Boerewors is made from coarsely minced beef, sometimes combined with minced pork and lamb as well as spices, and preserved with vinegar and salt. This quintessential South African sausage contains a high proportion of fat; no wonder it’s so tasty!
Hard, very dry biscuits that were originally prepared by the Dutch for traveling long distances in South Africa’s hot climate. Rusks can be plain or with added texture from nuts, raisins or seeds. We often dunk them in tea.
9) Maize meal, locally referred to as mielie/mealie
Ground maize/corn that you mix with hot water and stir until you get a porridge-like mash (also called pap) — especially delicious when served with a nice homemade meaty tomato sauce.
10) Bakers Tennis Biscuits
A square coconut biscuit with a distinctive petal pattern, made with real golden syrup, coconut and butter. The brand has been around since 1914, when the South African biscuit/cookie manufacturer Bakers first introduced them.
* * *
I hope this gives you an idea of the unique South African palate. If you are an expat, then you’ll know what an adjustment it can be to live in another country, but for me the most profound difference among cultures comes down to cuisine.
Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear what foods you miss from back home in the comments!
Lexi Mills is a PR professional living in London. You can find her chatting up Brits all over the Foggy City and enjoying the National Gallery on her days off — a luxury she could not enjoy in her native South Africa. Follow her on Twitter at @leximills.
STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, featuring the first of several practitioners of la dolce vita.
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Img: Octopus, anyone? Lexi Mills at a seaside cafe in Brighton, UK, in 2011.
Never tried any of it! With the possible exception of Nik Naks, which I had a habit for at one point. Sounds good though, especially the spiced sausage – and I’d just LOVE to get my hands on Mrs Chutney’s balls… no, hang on, I mean…
Interesting! I have never encountered any of these foods despite living in Britain for quite a few years. I wonder why that is — unlike Lexi, I’m old enough to remember the day when no one in the UK would buy South African wine. Were food items boycotted as well? And one related question for Lexi: are these 10 foods enjoyed by all South Africans at this point, or mainly those who come from the nation’s colonial heritage? I guess that maize meal is eaten by everyone, but what about Bakers Tennis Biscuits? Genuinely curious…
Hi ML Awanohara, I can only get these food at specific South African or foreign food shops, which can be pretty expensive! Sometimes if I am lucky friend in SA may post them to me. Most of these foods are daily consumed items in South Africa, many of which were introduced to the country by the The Voortrekkers (Afrikaans and Dutch for pioneers), who came to South Africa in the 1830s. Mealie meal is a staple food for the country but the other items are manufactured there and have been done so for many years. When I was little we did not get as much of a variety of foods in our shops in comparison to somewhere like the UK. I guess that could have been to do with sanctions however I was too little to remember that for certain.
Things like tennis biscuits are without doubt found in most of the homes I used to visit. You would struggle to find a braai (BBQ) in SA that didn’t have boerewors on it. All the other food will be found in almost any food shop in SA.
My mum actually didn’t allow me to drink Crème soda, it was bright green and used to make me hyper active! I now love buying a can of it from my local SA food shop in London Bridge. I believe you can buy creme soda in the UK, but it’s not bright green, which kind of takes the fun out of it!
Thanks for answering my query, and I quite agree, if you’re going to drink creme soda, make it bright green! 🙂 In New York, where I live now, they have a traditional drink called an egg cream, a mix of chocolate syrup, milk and soda water — but it’s a pale brown. That’s no fun!
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