Every country has a culture of street food, available on street level, mostly nutritious and easy to obtain. In Singapore it's fried bananas, in Greece it's roasted chestnuts, and in Italy, well, who could ignore the ubiquitous gelato? (Even America has McDonald's so they have something to munch on!)

South Africa has an abundance of street food that, up until now,has gone mostly unnoticed by the world. But with chefs doing fantastic new twists on humble, street-rooted foods, our street food is becoming fashionable, making its way onto the menus of top local restaurants.

Take the flavoursome bunny chow, for example, an iconic South African takeaway originating with migrant Indian workers in Durban (and today known for its anti-babalas qualities!).

Bunnys consist of a hollowed out loaf filled with a vegetarian filling (usually beans) or mutton, capped with a slice of bread.

Often there is a side portion of carrot, onion and chilli. You can get a quarter-, half- or full-bunny and this is a meal eaten with the fingers. It is best eaten after a great night out, with lots of friends digging in and grabbing the best bits.

Why "bunny chow"? Some say because it was invented by an Indian caste, the Banias, or because it was eaten under the banyan tree, but who cares, because bunnys are so damn delicious!

Then there are slap chips (or tjips) which every corner cafe makes in every little dorpie in the land.

If cavemen knew about slap chips they would have given up hunting dinosaurs and lain around dropping these oily soft treats doused in vinegar down their throats 24/7. They are that atavistic.

All I can say about these is that slap chips are like icecream. If someone else has a packet, the smell is too much. You either try and steal as many as you can or you develop a terrible lus for some of your own.

Even South Africans who have lived many years overseas start salivating at the thought of a packet of slap chips, drenched in vinegar, sprinkled with salt, Aromat or best of all, hot chilli powder. Back home everyone has their favourite little dive where they can get their fix when the craving hits.

\We can blame the English (not the Portuguese, as everyone says, they just perfected slap chips), as obviously the vinegar from their fish and chips got onto the chips and someone decided the chips were better on their own. But even the English can't resist the next street staple: the roasted mielie!

Even Jamie Oliver has been known to succumb to the lure of a freshly roasted mielie. It's always an African lady in a long skirt on a street somewhere from Soweto to Parkhurst making them in a big perforated drum with a brazier inside.... everyone drops by, even the cops.

Mmm mmmm, they smell good. These road treats are really good for you and as cheap as chips.

I want to know who Pete is. Because he is the guy who seems to have invented the boerewors roll, South Africa's take on a hot dog (known as a "hoddog").

Even if he didn't invent them, Pete's boerewors rolls are everywhere. I don't know if he made it down to Cape Town or Durban, but you can find Pete under just about any tree up here. The boerewors sizzles deliciously on a skottelbraai, together with onion rings and Pete's helpers are always ready with the mustard, the tomato sauce, the chakkalakka or any other condiment your heart could desire to smear on your boerie roll.

Pete's rolls are a lifesaver, but the humble samoosa gives him a run for his money. Samoosas are obviously an import from India, and in much more un-PC days were known as the driehoek cooliekoek, referring to their triangular shape.

Samoosas are one of the best known forms of padkos, which is South African street food turned into something you can nibble on along the road (we are a nation of eaters and can't go anywhere without lots of droewors, dried mango, roast chicken from Woolies and also stop off at every farm stall for more food!).

We love 'em, mild, medium or hot, filled with corn, potato, mutton or chicken and we just can't seem to stop eating them because samoosas are like peanuts: you can't just have one. And we all knowa favourite auntie who makes them!

Not everyone likes the next dish: chicken feet and heads, known as walkie-talkies. Fusion walkie-talkies are more my thing, as I am a dim sum fanatic. I adore them, claws and all, but do look around for chopsticks to eat them with and some great chilli sauce!

Then there are vetkoek, filled with curried mince, and koeksusters, rotis, breyani and biltong, all fascinating combinations of our culture and history, and absolutely delicious to nibble on.

Isn't it interesting? None of the South African Shops in the UK and Australia seem to have cottoned on to the fact that selling these kinds of street food, in addition to Mrs Balls, would make them a fortune from sunshine- and padkos-starved South Africans!




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Comment by Beth Seagal on February 14, 2012 at 8:04

So interesting! Imagined myself tasting each, sans the walkie-talkies :) 

Comment by Jozi Review on February 15, 2012 at 9:44

now find us some places that do these things particularly well!  I would be keen.

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