The five things you must try in South Africa

1. Biltong

Biltong is possibly one of the most famous foods in South Africa and the most versatile snack for those who don’t shy away from some pure meaty goodness. It is meat cured in marinade and spices and presented in a huge variety of ways – dried sausage, fillet slices, long strings of spicy meats, you name it. It is made from almost any meat you can think of: along with the usual beef and even chicken, you can find crocodile, ostrich, springbok, kudu and a huge variety of other game.

I would recommend pairing it with the second thing you absolutely must try in South Africa – a LOT of it.

2. Wine 

South Africa is well known as the homeland of some of the best wines in the world. I would really recommend trying the biltong and wine pairing experiences at the Durbanville Hills Wine estate: some of my favourites were Rhinofields Pinotage with kudu biltong, a mild-tasting game meat with a red wine that taste a bit like a Pinot Noir, and Durbanville Hills Bastion with beef chutney sticks, a much more spicy biltong with a slightly heavier, spicier wine to go with it.

You can read more about wine tastings in the Cape region over here.

3. Mebos

Mebos is another preserved food which is very easy to take with you as a snack on a hike or a long safari trip. It is made from compressed dried fruit with added sugar (which is a bit overkill, if you ask me, but it certainly gives you that sugar hit!).

The best known brand is Montagu and it makes mebos in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but my favourites were the mango and guava rolls – essentially long sheets of dried fruit rolled up, which you can unravel as you eat your way through.

4. Bunny chow

Bunny chow has recently come to London, with a chain opening some stores in Soho and Shoreditch, but you will only get the real thing in South Africa. It is a curry, often made from mutton, but sometimes also chicken, which comes inside a hollowed out bread and is eaten by ripping off bits of bread and using it to pick up the meat and the sauce. Messy, very bad for you, but extremely filling and tasty!

I tried mine in Durban, which is famous for its curries, but it should be just as easy to find in Cape Town.

5. Amarula

I actually discovered Amarula on a flight to New York a couple of months before I went to South Africa, but it is originally South African and an absolutely fantastic after dinner drink or aperitif. It tastes and looks a bit like Baileys, but is a lot fruitier as it is made from the African marula fruit and mixed with fresh cream. Simply delicious on the rocks!

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The most important piece of advice for long haul flights

Long haul flights are exhausting and often very uncomfortable, but preparing for the journey can make it go so much more smoothly.

If you are not a very experienced traveller though, you may forget the journey does not just end as soon as you land in the airport. Often, there is a lengthy bus or car ride after, and then all the settling down and unpacking once you reach your destination.

I learnt about the importance of planning ahead the hard way when I flew to Cape Town.

The transit time from London was a total of 18 hours (because I couldn’t afford a direct flight), far longer than anything I had experiences beforehand. It involved two planes – one to Istanbul and another to Cape Town, with a pit stop in Johannesburg for a refuel.

The last thing you want to happen when you are facing an 18 hour journey is a delay, but that is exactly what happened. The first flight was delayed by an hour and a half, and suddenly the two-hour layover in Istanbul did not seem quite as comfortable.

We just made it, and had to run onto the other plane. It waited for us, but it did not wait for our luggage…

There is nothing like arriving at the house of a person you don’t know and having nothing to change into! So it was not ideal for me to come out on the other side in Cape Town and find out my suitcase was still back in Istanbul, 12 hours away from me. Suddenly, my mind raced back to all those articles I ready about carrying a change of clothes.

So here is my advice, and I will stick to it religiously myself from now on: always, ALWAYS carry a change of clothes with you when you fly with multiple connections! Because your luggage will never be the priority for an airline running a tight schedule.

And underwear. Definitely always carry a change of underwear. Oh, and a bikini, if you’re going somewhere as lovely as South Africa.

Luckily, my trip did not carry on the way it started…

Why South Africa makes you an alcoholic

Here in the UK, wine drinking is usually reserved to the evening (unless you’re a financial journalist at a boozy Friday lunch, of course), but in South Africa wine tastings are more of an afternoon affair. In fact, the first vineyard we went to was not even open past 4.30pm, except on Thursdays and Fridays, when it closes at 6pm.

Durbanville Hills Wine, which was to be my first mid-afternoon wine tasting experience in the land of the grape, is just 20 minutes drive from the centre of Cape Town, in a flat valley surrounded by acres and acres of greenery. Turning up without a reservation can be a little hit and miss, as it is so busy during the South African summer period (October-February), but we managed to find some comfy seats with a view of the luxurious vineyards.

It was still early on in my trip, so the novelty of leisurely, sizzling sunshine-filled afternoons in the days running up to News Year’s Eve hadn’t worn off yet, and knowing I had most of the holiday ahead of me made it a very special kind of treat.

I would wholly recommend the biltong and wine tasting experience if, like me, you love wine and meat. Although I did wonder what they put on that biltong to make it taste so damn good, I pushed the thoughts to the farthest corner of my mind and just enjoyed the experience.

Each of the fine wines came with its own type of biltong, enough to to give a large man his protein hit for the day. I even tried chicken biltong, much softer and chewier than the game and red meat varieties, though it was not my favourite.

My biltong consumption was only going to increase throughout the holiday, it turned out. And so was the wine intake, naturally.

Thankfully, wine tasting does not need to be a one-off luxury in the Cape, partly because it is so cheap. And what better way to welcome in the New Year than by trying five different local wines and a nice crisp glass of champagne for the equivalent of just over £2 (45 rand)?

The second vineyard we went to, Leopard’s Leap, is situated in Franschhoek and offers a simpler version of wine tasting than the estate in Durnbanville: just wine and breadsticks, nothing fancy. Except for the wines themselves, of course!

I was so enthusiastic about the tastings that Zayn’s mother, who doesn’t really drink much at all, called me an alcoholic. I hope she was joking…

I think I may have actually started annoying the South Africans by laughing at the prices all the time, especially at the prices of wine. But I couldn’t help comparing sunny Western Cape with rainy London, and its over-priced booze! And of course it helps that the South African currency – the rand – has fallen so far against the pound now that us British feel like millionaires over there, which is hard not to take advantage of.

If you are planning a wine tasting in South Africa, one piece of advice is: do not plan anything else for the afternoon. You will almost certainly need a nap afterwards!