A Veggie In… Southern Africa
While I was so looking forward to my travels throughout southern Africa, there was one part I was dreading- food. My arrival here instantly brought back memories of travelling in western Africa; trying to explain what a vegetarian is, and eating bread or rice while Adam munched on chicken, cow intestines, and, once, what he was pretty sure was dog.
After two months of travelling through South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, I’m happy to report that this vegetarian has eaten like a king (and even vegans can, too).
Every restaurant we have visited has offered at least a couple of vegetarian meals, and many offer vegan choices, too.
In big cities, just about every type of cuisine is available, all with their own tasty veggie options. Don’t get me wrong, being a vegetarian in southern Africa is still seen as a weird dietary choice, but nonetheless, restaurants clearly realise that some of these weird veggie folk will wander through their doors at some point, and cater accordingly.
In smaller towns there are usually fewer options, but don’t worry, you will still be fed, though your meal may be the unimaginative veggie staple- pasta with vegetables.
Fast food chains are everywhere throughout southern Africa. Even though they aren’t usually our first choice, they are often the only choice available on long road trips. In terms of veggie options, they put UK fast food chains to shame. Many burger chains offer the choice of a meat or veggie burger for their full range of menu items, and pizza restaurants offer a variety of vegetarian choices, though most chicken chains are exclusively chicken.
Vegans will struggle to find suitable meals at these fast food joints, though, so it’s best to plan ahead on long journeys.
Most of the hostels and campsites we have stayed at offer self catering options. So we stock up on ingredients at the massive supermarkets, and are happy to cook for ourselves most days.
Supermarkets offer wide range of foods, and almost anything we want is available to us (after China, we were so happy to see the massive range of cheese!). Surprisingly, even soy mince and a range of vegan meat substitutes can be found in most larger supermarkets.
Throughout southern Africa, a favourite pastime is having a barbecue, called a braii. The word ‘braii’ literally means “grilled meat”, so it may seem like vegetarians and vegans are in trouble here, but not to worry! Whenever we attend a braii, I just bring vegetables and vegan sausages from the supermarket and the host is always happy to throw them on the grill. Side dishes can include pap, a plain corn porridge, or chakalaka, a spicy tomato and vegetable sauce.
I was thrilled to find that one of my favourite foods, sushi, is available all along the coast of South Africa. Sushi joints offer an avocado-heavy vegetarian option (made to order, so vegans can request no mayo).
One of the best local dishes we have found is bunny chow, in the Indian populated areas of South Africa, such as Durban. It consists of a loaf of bread, hollowed and filled with vegetable or bean (or meat) curry. Both vegetarian and vegan friendly (no bunnies were harmed in the making of this dish).
Street food is the one area in which I struggle to find food. In rural villages, streets stalls offer grilled meat, and often nothing else, though if you’re lucky you might find grilled corn on the cob, some fruit, or fresh popcorn.
Have you traveled as a vegetarian in southern Africa? Let us know how you got on in the comments!