Coleslaw is a traditional South African salad that has stood the test of time.
Coleslaw is a traditional South African salad that has stood the test of time.

The salads of South Africa

By Lutho Payisa Time of article published Apr 23, 2018

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So much about a country and its culture is expressed through its cuisine, and salads happen to form a very big part of South Africa’s food scene. The salads and side dishes South Africans enjoy are as authentic as any home-grown dish.

There is a rich legacy and history, deeply rooted in the traditional potato salad, coleslaw, sambals, beetroot and three beans dishes. The way we prepare our salads and the ingredients we instinctively choose are uniquely South African.

Chef and Cape Malay Cuisine expert Cass Abrahams says it’s a history we can be proud of.

Potato Salad

Potato Salad is a favourite for many South Africans

Chef Bontle Molefe said food was important in South African culture and salads specifically offered a tasty source of nutrition.

Speaking about a dish made from boiled potatoes and a variety of other ingredients, the potato salad, Molefe said the potato was the queen of vegetables and was versatile on its own.

“The potato salad is the same. It can be served as a side, or as the base of a meal, and you can put almost anything you want or have in it. This makes it the go-to option for most people because it’s so accommodating and easy to make.”

She said you could make the potato salad in different ways: like the classic potato salad with eggs and mayonnaise; and without mayonnaise, instead using mustard dressing, a Greek dressing, or olive oil and seasoning.


Coleslaw is a traditional South African salad that has stood the test of time.

Cookbook author Pumla Brook-Tghomae said coleslaw happens to be one of one of South Africa’s most popular salads, whose nickname (Johane 14) is synonymous with biblical scripture because it’s always present on most South African tables whenever there is a gathering.

No South African braai, Sunday lunch or picnic is complete without one.

“The beauty of this salad lies in its simple preparation; few ingredients are used, yet it is packed with flavour, texture and appeal to the eye. In South African township homes, this salad is normally made with just three ingredients: cabbage, carrots and mayonnaise.”

The common way of enjoying this salad in South Africa is by mixing shredded cabbage, which is coarsely grated, with a mayonnaise dressing. In some instances the cabbage and carrot are cooked with the dark green leaves of the cabbage, a dash of vinegar and seasoning, and served as a side, along with other veggies, for Sunday lunch.

The coleslaw salad has, however, evolved over the years, with many additions such as celery, raisins and the mayonnaise dressing swopped for cream dressings such as sour cream.

“In recent trends we see lighter variations, with vin aigrette dressings or slightly creamy vinaigrettes used in coleslaw, rather than mayonnaise. “I personally have my own variations to this salad,” she added.



With many Malay families landing in the Cape, they still wanted a taste of home, and spices were used liberally in salads and side dishes, says Abrahams.

Vinegar was key in the salad because leftovers needed to be kept for long periods and it was quite normal to see a row of colourful, tightly-sealed jars of salads perched atop kitchen shelves.

“For instance, the sambals was always seasonal fruit and veg, finely chopped and then seasoned.

“In places like Indonesia the spices were readily available in people’s gardens.”

Brook-Thomae mentions how some other people serve sambals instead of coleslaw.

“The other way coleslaw is served in South Africa is in Indian cuisine where it is served as a sambal, an Indian small side with an array of other small sides that accompany curries.

“The cabbage in the coleslaw is swopped for coarsely-grated cucumber mixed with carrots and spirit vinegar instead of mayonnaise,” said Brook- Thomae. 

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