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.
“Salads the way we know them today were never like this before. They have changed over the years,” she says.
Centuries ago, the African and coloured families in South Africa scoffed at the idea of green salads, and it was not uncommon to hear the expression “Ek eet nie blare nie” (I don’t eat leaves), when they were presented with lettuce or rocket as a side dish.
Abrahams, who is now over 70 years old, says: “I remember when I first tasted wild rocket. It was growing in the garden and the thought of using it in a salad never occurred to me.”
Over the years, as our needs and grocery lists changed, salads adapted and some became obsolete. Slaphakskeentjies was one of the side dishes that hasn’t stood the test of time.
Consisting of pickled onions, eggs, milk or cream and of course vinegar, it was a staple as a side dish decades ago.
Abrahams is loath to agree that South African salads need to be modernised to adapt to 21st century meals and diets. “There is still nothing better than a roast, yellow rice and beetroot salad,” she says.
This is a sentiment with which many would agree, because there is a familiarity in the traditional salads that have become staples in South African homes.
The Sunday Independent