What is South African Rooibos Tea, Biltong, Rusks and Babotie?

Published: 22nd June 2010
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With the 2010 Football World Cup kicking off in South Africa, bringing the world's most watched tournament to Africa for the 1st time ever. For all those lucky enough to be in South Africa watching some of the games or just to absorb the festive atmosphere, there are a few key facts you should know about specific South African food and drink - to experience the country and culture to the full.

While for those enjoying the world cup from their sofas in their home countries, wherever that may be, you may want to impress your friends or possibly South African colleagues with some food facts that most South Africans take for granted. So from the land of long white sandy beaches, wild animals, picturesque landscapes, breathtaking vistas and awe inspiring mountain ranges - here are some foods you definitely should not miss out on.

Biltong: Ask any South African abroad what he misses most and at least 9 times out of 10, biltong will feature in the top 3 most missed South African treats. Similar to 'beef jerky' in the USA, in that both are cured and dried meat, but the production processes are quite different. Biltong can be made from a variety of meats, including: wild african game, ostrich or more commercially available beef.

Biltong is a long standing Afrikaner tradition evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon travelling Voortrekkers. The Voortrekkers were early settlers to the Cape Colony who ventured north into the interior of Southern Africa away from British rule during the Great Trek in the early 1800's. With no cold refrigeration and being constantly on the move they dried and cured the meat preserving it from decay and insects.

There are many herb and spice combinations, with each town or city having their own famous biltong supplier. For the best biltong its best to ask the locals or alternatively you can just try them all and decide for yourself.

Rooibos Tea: Grown only in the Cederberg mountains in the semi-desert Western Cape of South Africa, Rooibos (pronounce 'roy-bos' - Afrikaans for 'red bush') - is naturally green but gets its deep red colour and rich flavour from fermentation similar to that of black tea.

Although in 1772 botanist Carl Thunberg was the first Westerner to mention this wild shrub, the indigenous Khoisan were well aware of Rooibos' remarkable health benefits and had been brewing it for centuries. The Cape colony's early Dutch settlers adopted Rooibos instead of expensive black tea from Europe. In 1904 Russian immigrant Benjamin Ginsberg, recognising its potential, became the first to trade it from the Bushmen and pioneered its cultivation. More recently, Rooibos has become famous for being the favourite drink of Precious Ramotswe of 'The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency' novels.

Rooibos tea is full of natural powerful antioxidants and key minerals, and unlike green tea it has no caffeine and is very low in tannins, so all round a very healthy beverage - so much so that it is often bottle fed to babies, which explains why many South Africans are so addicted to it!

In South Africa it is common to drink Rooibos tea with milk, prepared similar to black tea in England, but to fully appreciate the tea it is best drunk black. The tea has a unique taste experience: an inviting vanilla aroma, woody flavours and a sweet, mild, fruity taste.

Rusks: With your cup of Rooibos why not try a rusk. Rusks are hard, dry biscuits (also known as 'beskuit' in Afrikaans) eaten dunked in cup of coffee, tea, or Rooibos. Historically, rusks evolved (along with biltong) during the country's early pioneering days as a way to preserve bread in the dry climate.

Traditionally baked at home using recipes handed down through the generations, the most famous commercially produced rusk brand is Ouma (grandmother in Afrikaans) Rusks. In addition to plain and buttermilk flavours, look out for the more adventurous varieties made with amongst others aniseed, whole-wheat, condensed milk, muesli, and lemon poppy seed. Impress your South African friends; ask for an Ouma rusk with your cup of Rooibos!

Naartjies: Its winter in South Africa and Naartjies (or nartjie) are in season. A soft loose-skinned citrus fruit, Naartjies are similar to mandarins, satsumas or tangerines.

The name is Afrikaans and is originally from the Tamil word nartei meaning citrus. The word has been used in South Africa since 1790, but the first written recorded English use is by Lawrence Green in the Tavern of the Seas 1947.

Naartjies are very popular at sporting events and can often find street vendors selling bags of the fruit outside football stadiums. So if you feeling like you missing out on your '5 a day' fruit and vegetables and looking for a healthy snack in between your Castle beer (most popular South African beer) and biltong, get yourself a bag of Naartjies.

Babotie: Babotie is possibly the one truly South African dish that you can't find anywhere else. Like rusks there are numerous varieties and every South African will swear to his mother making the best Babotie using a recipe handed down through the generations. Babotie is a spiced minced meat baked dish with an egg-based topping and includes dried fruit (raisins or sultanas). Served with rice it is normally garnished with walnuts, chutney (ask for 'Mrs Balls Chutney' - the most well known brand) and bananas. Although not noticeably spicy, the dish incorporates a variety of flavours that can add complexity, like for example dried fruit (usually apricots and raisins/sultanas), curry spices and milk.

South Africa has a very rich history and diverse cultural background, evidenced by the now 11 official languages and countless nationalities living in this naturally rich and beautiful country at the tip of Africa. Hopefully you have a few more nuggets of food info to not only impress your friends with but the truly appreciate and enjoy the country during this the first world cup hosted in Africa.


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Sean Farrell is the founder of Chateau Rouge specialty foods. A passionate foodie, having grown up in South Africa, he loves Rooibos tea. Would you like to discover more about gourmet food and drink? Or discover some lesser known tea varieties, sign up for FREE newsletter updates: => http://www.chateaurouge.co.uk/

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