If you’ve spent most of your life in urban and suburban South Africa, chances are pretty good you’re more familiar with international franchise takeaway outlets than you are with the wealth of traditional dishes synonymous with all the many cultures that call our country home.
But where would you even start exploring, should you want to change these ignorant city-dwelling ways?
One word: Limpopo.
This lush and lively province is a one-stop shop for some of the most intriguing rustic delicacies you could ever hope to find in any corner of the globe.
While recently road tripping through the province with Open Africa, creators of authentic community experiences, we got to tuck into a few of the most legendary local treats:
1. Mopani worms
Being one of South Africa's most widely-known alternative snacks and a primary source of protein for many who live in the furthest north-eastern reaches of our country, I knew that somewhere along the journey we'd be offered the opportunity to bite into one... but would I be brave enough to swallow it down?
Well, the moment arrived soon enough in the form of a sultry sunset cruise on the placid Albasini Dam. As we set foot aboard Shiluvari Lodge's double-decker barge, we were met with a feast of local treats laid out on a colourful table cloth. A large wooden bowl took centre stage and inside sprawled a small army of caterpillars - dried out and very much dead, but 100% recognisable as the creepy crawly creatures that they are
The verdict: There are a myriad ways to prepare Mopani worms, but for the uninitiated, the dried version we got to sample is probably the most palatable. Served just like that, they're crunchy, yet fleshy and leave a satisfyingly salty sting on tongue. Definitely the type of snack a savoury-tooth could get used to.
2. Roasted termites
With termite season reaching a peak between November and January, we visited Limpopo just in time to try this well-loved local delicacy. Termites are traditionally 'harvested' by dipping a stem of dried grass into a mound of earth to fish out clusters of these greedy insects - the stem serving both as bait and a rod. The catch is then prepared in one of several ways - either as a relish to serve with pap or roasted and served as a snack.
The verdict: Similar to mopani worms, roasted magege is crunchy, salty and - dare I say it - rather moreish once you've forgotten what it is you're eating.
And what to wash these creepy crawlies down with? Traditional home-brewed beer, known as umqombothi, served in a clay pot and sent around the circle in an act of hospitality.
The verdict: Made from maize, maize malt, sorghum malt, yeast and water, the taste is distinctly sour and the texture almost creamy. Most people would probably only be able to take a single sip before opting for a more conventional beer or cider.
4. Chicken feet and cow heels
If you’re lucky enough to spend some time exploring one of the local villages, you may just be lucky enough to find yourself drawn into a welcoming home for a meal. A meal which would likely consist of fifth quarter products, such as chicken feet, cow heels, giblets and tripe, as well as sides of samp, pap, peanuts and beans.
The verdict: At first glance, you may expect something of a crunch from your plate of food. However, as you tuck in you’ll find it to be soft and almost gelatinous. It may take a while to get used to the texture and would probably not feature on your list of favourite foods anytime soon.
5. Ceasers roadside chicken
In a slightly dusty village, known as Mbhokota, along a bumpy road, you will find the very best flame-grilled chicken in South Africa at an entirely understated establishment, dubbed Ceasar's Roadside Chicken. Take our word for it!
The verdict: Stand back famous takeaway outlets! These guys sure know how to grill a bird to perfection with mouth-watering peri-peri flavouring and just-right crispiness.
This article was adapted from an original piece on the Open Africa blog.
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