South African Airways (SAA) plane. Picture: Rueters\Mike Hutchings

They say travel broadens the mind, and our national carrier certainly seems intent on expanding our culinary knowledge.

On a Johannesburg to Durban SAA flight in late November, the cabin attendant came down the aisle with the food trolley, asking the same question of everyone: “Cheese and tomato laugen or beef laugen?”

I asked: “a what?”

“Laugen” came his cheery response


I consider myself to be fairly up on food trends, but this was a new one on me.

So I asked the two London chaps sitting next to me if they knew was a laugen was. “No idea,” they said, “We thought it was a South African thing.”

Intrigued, I googled the word later, and discovered that it has some German history, but there were barely any South African results.

So I sent an e-mail to SAA. Why, given that laugen is clearly an obscure term for a bread roll, does SAA use the word on its snack packaging, and compound this by having the attendant verbally offer people a choice of “laugen” as a snack, I asked.

I didn’t get a response, and forgot all about the laugen business until last week, when I was again served a laugen on a midday flight. So I sent another e-mail to SAA’s head of corp-orate affairs, Dileseng Koetle.

Finally, I got a response.

“SAA’s onboard menu is alternated on a weekly basis to offer our customers more variety,” she began. “Just as the cabin crew would offer chicken on rye, tuna baguette or salami ciabatta, we also offer ‘laugen’ with various fillings.

“The term ‘laugen’ has German origins and refers to the lye solution originally used to bath the roll before baking, for its characteristic shiny brown crust and distinctive salty soda taste.”

So there you have it.

Maybe “talking foreign” – or in this case, very foreign – is a South African thing.