How to cook vegan South African food

How to cook vegan South African food

Here in South Africa, we have a melting pot of cultures, which means we also have a smorgasbord of culinary influences that have informed South African cuisine.

While South African food is quite meat-centric, it is possible to enjoy vegan versions of traditional dishes. In this blog, we’re going to show you how to create some vegan local favourites.

We’ll give you recipes for:

  • Vegan bobotie
  • Vegan chakalaka
  • Vegan ‘milk’ tart
  • Vegan Malva pudding

But first, some history.

We won’t go in-depth into South African history but rather highlight the culinary influences that make up South African food.



Many years before the colonisers arrived at the Cape, the nomadic Khoi and San tribes (collectively called the Khoisan) roamed South Africa. They were hunter-gatherers and would subsist on the fruits of the veld and the plentiful wildlife. The tribes who lived along the coast were called strandlopers and would dive into the many delicacies of the deep as well. The Khoisan can take credit for, amongst other things, the process of curing meat with salt and drying it out, which was a precursor to our famous biltong. They were also the first South Africans to roast meat on a fire, leading to the quintessential South African pastime – having a braai (barbecue).


Sub-Saharan Africans

When the Bantu-speaking peoples, including the Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Vhavenda and Shangana-Tsonga peoples, came into South Africa from the north, they brought with them their practise of agriculture and would grow maize, sweet potato, gem squash and other vegetables, as well as keep cattle. They also made mieliepap (maize porridge), which is still a staple in many South African households today.

Peri peri


The Portuguese were the first Europeans to sail along the coast of South Africa. Bartholomew Dias went as far as the Fish River and then Vasco Da Gama picked up where he left off and travelled all the way around to Zanzibar. Portugal didn’t ever colonise South Africa though. The Portuguese influence on the food of South Africa comes from neighbouring Mozambique and also Angola (both of which Portugal did colonise). Thanks to them, we have the spicy peri-peri that every Nando’s-fando salivates for.



The first colonisers to hit South Africa were the Dutch. With them they brought their rich Dutch puddings, baked goods, and liberal use of butter and cream (see two recipes below). They also brought over their verse worst, which over time would be developed into what we know today as boerewors (farmer’s sausage). True boerewors must consist of 90% meat and have no more than 30% fat. Our beloved potjiekos (small pot food) is a descendant of the Dutch oven that the Voortrekkers (Dutch settlers) brought with them from their motherland.  

Cape Malay food

Cape Malay

The Dutch East India Company brought over slaves from Java (Indonesia), Malaysia and Madagascar, which ended up heavily influencing South African cuisine with what is known as Cape Malay cooking. These slaves are believed to have been the first to bring Islam to South Africa. Another thing they brought was their spices and kitchen prowess and thanks to them we have the bredies (stews), boboties (see below) and koeksisters (plaited pastry drenched in spiced syrup) that we can’t live without.

Cape winelands


The French Huguenots were a group of Protestants who started immigrating to the Cape at the encouragement of the Dutch because of their shared religious beliefs. In fact, the very first French Huguenot to arrive at the Cape was Marie de la Quellerie, the wife of the Commander of the Cape Colony, Jan Van Riebeeck. The French, of course, brought their delectable culinary traditions but more importantly, they brought wine and planted the much-treasured vineyards that have put South Africa on the wine connoisseur’s love list.

Sunday roast dinner


The British arrived in South Africa in 1820 and brought all of their favourite things including meat pies, full English breakfasts, Sunday roasts, and tea and scones, to name a few.

Bunny chow


And then South Africa has Durban, the second-largest Indian city outside of India. Much like the Cape Malay people, the Indian people in South Africa were originally brought over as slaves, only in this case to the Port of Natal and not the Cape. They have had a strong culinary influence on South Africa with their spices, curries and pastries in the form of samosas, the iconic bunny chow (a hollowed-out bread filled with curried veg), and fruit chutney.

So that’s the nutshell version.

As time went on and more people emigrated from foreign lands, other cuisines like German, Chinese, American and Italian were added to the mix to serve up the foodie heaven that is South Africa.

Now let’s get to the recipes.


The crowning star of the Cape Malay influence, bobotie is a baked curried mince dish with raisins and sultanas, traditionally served with yellow rice, fruit chutney and freshly sliced banana. Our vegan version uses soy mince, so vegans don’t miss out on the rich and heart-warming flavours of bobotie.

Vegan Bobotie
Click image to view as PDF


The heritage of this spicy and vibrant relish is unclear, but it is believed to have been developed in the townships of Johannesburg. The story goes that Mozambiquan mine workers needed something easy to make their breaktime pap tastier, so they boiled together tomato, chilli and beans. Nowadays, chakalaka can come in a number of variations. Here’s our favourite recipe for it.  

Vegan Chakalaka
Click image to view as PDF

Milk tart

This was a Dutch import. The Dutch were renowned for their milky and buttery dishes and milk tart is thought to be an adaptation of the Mattentart – a creation of Dutch-Flemish origin that involved buttermilk custard baked in puff pastry. The Malay influence can be seen in the dusting of cinnamon that covers the milk tart. We don’t want anyone to miss out on South Africa’s tea-time favourite, so we’ve created a non-dairy version for you.

Vegan milk tart
Click image to view as PDF

Malva pudding

Another Dutch import. While a rainy winter day in Holland would be a perfect time for a warm, rich, baked pudding, you wouldn’t think it would suit the sunny South African weather. Some things are just too good to leave to the elements, though. We’ve made this version dairy-free so everyone can indulge in our South African soul pudding.

Vegan Malva pudding
Click image to view as PDF

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little tour through South African food history and are now equipped to enjoy the fusion of elements that make South African cuisine so moreish. 

Final note

If you’re in the Port Elizabeth/Gqeberha area, and you want healthy, easy and delicious vegan food, we have vegan frozen meals and vegan prepared meals for you. Pop into our store at 25 Westbourne Road, order online or check your local Spar in the Eastern Cape.

Please note: The information in this post was taken from various online resources. If you believe anything to be inaccurate, please hit us up and let us know. 

Lisa Parsons

Lisa is a content writer and strategist with experience across many platforms. She is also a personal trainer and has a keen interest in holistic health encompassing physical, mental and emotional wellness. She enjoys travel, books, puzzles, learning languages, and a buttery Chardonnay.

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