Restaurants in South Africa offer a wide variety of international cuisine.
From Eastern favourites such as Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese, to German eateries, French cafés, Italian delis, Moroccan food stalls, and American-style diners, we have it all.
Do you know which ones have made the most impact?
This week, the Chef’s Pencil released a new report on the most popular international cuisines in SA. The report is based on Google Trends data, a reliable source of consumer trends data.
What is unique about the data is that it doesn’t only indicate South African dining-out habits, it also shows what South Africans are eating at home and that Google Trends reveal locals’ preferred indulgences.
Below are the top 10 ethnic cuisines that, according to the site, have sparked the South African population’s interest the most – listed from least to most popular.
Vietnamese cuisine (popularity score 4)
In last place, Vietnamese cuisine gained two points in the previous year. This cuisine may have a short history in the country, around 20 years, but South Africans are loving this low-fat, healthy diet of sweet, sour, salty flavours. But with few restaurants located in mainstream areas, it’s not so easy to dine out on Vietnamese food.
Korean (popularity score 4)
Scoring the same as Vietnamese food this year, Korean food popularity dropped one point. Like Vietnamese cuisine, the main reason its popularity is not widespread is a lack of exposure, as there are few Korean restaurants in mainstream areas. But where they are, they are loved, particularly the Korean BBQ.
Lebanese cuisine (popularity score 5)
Lebanese food is enjoying increasing popularity worldwide, and South Africa is not being left out. This oh-so-tasty cuisine rose two points this year to 5 in the popularity table. And it’s not just popular for eating out. Courses for cooking this healthy, fruit- and vegetable-filled food are also on the rise. Just the names of the dishes are inviting: tabbouleh, fattoush, manakish, kanafeh …
Greek (popularity score 11)
Souvlaki, moussaka, keftedes and pastitsio are dishes South Africans can relate to as they’re similar to local favourites. Dips like tzatziki and tahini are well-known, though taramasalata still has a way to go in the popularity stakes.
Still, it’s the freshness of seasonal dishes that intrigues locals as many fruit and veg stores are run by Greeks. Their stores survive because they supply mostly to restaurants, while displaying impressive delicacies such as halva in their deli sections. Greek cuisine gained one popularity point since last year when it was rated 10.
Japanese (popularity score 14)
While 700 restaurants offer sushi, according to Chef’s Wonderland, probably only 10-20 serve really authentic Japanese food. But the cuisine has great growth potential here – once the coronavirus crisis settles down. It has affected the supply of ingredients and many sushi conveyor belts have stood empty. Expect a drastic change in 2021 when everything, hopefully, returns to normal.
Italian (popularity score 15)
Dropping nine popularity points compared to the previous year, it is no wonder that Domino’s Pizza bailed from the South African economy. But Italians began settling here more than four centuries ago so the culture has a long and rich history and the love of Italian food is not going to die out.
It is most popular in the Western Cape (score 100) followed by KwaZulu-Natal (73) and Gauteng (69). And being easy and affordable to cook, local Italian food is a pleasure to replicate at home – locals are now well-oiled Italian cooking machines.
Mexican (popularity score 36)
South Africans love spicy food, so it’s no surprise that Mexican is one of their favourites. This year maintaining its overall national 4th position, it is most popular in the Western Cape (Score 100) and Gauteng (66), followed by the Eastern Cape (55).
Mexican food isn’t part of the South African culture, but snacking on delicacies is. The food closely resembles Muslim/ Indian variants – which does represent a large portion of the population – but with a variety of different fillings. Hand-sized munching bits make it easy to impress guests with snacks while watching sports events or as appetizers at a braai.
Indian (popularity score 46)
Indian food in South Africa decreased in popularity over the past year, dropping from second place with 64 points to third at 46 points. It is no surprise that KwaZulu-Natal has the highest regional score of 100 as Durban is considered the largest Indian city outside India due to the size of its population of second and third-generation Indians. On the heels of KwaZulu-Natal is the Western Cape with 94 points and Gauteng further down with 75 points. One of the most popular and affordable Indian/ South African dishes is bunny chow: not made with a cute rabbit, but with beef or chicken.
Thai (popularity score 47)
Thai food jumped in popularity this year from 43 in 2019 to 47. Not a big jump but enough to move it from third to second place. Regionally, Thai cuisine is most popular in the Western Cape, with a score of 100 points, with the second spot taken by KwaZulu-Natal, which trails far behind with a very low 48 and the Eastern Cape on 40.
South Africans used to find it difficult to distinguish between Indian and Thai cuisine, but that’s changing as they become more interested in the diverse cuisines available. Thai food is something new, so we can expect to see a sharp rise in popularity as South Africans discover this fresh and tasty cuisine.
Chinese (popularity score 74)
With its closest rival, Thai, 27 popularity points behind, Chinese food in South Africa relaxed into first place this year with a score of 74. Regionally, the scores are closer with Western Cape scoring 100, followed close behind by Eastern Cape with 96 and Gauteng with 80.
South Africans are more familiar with Chinese cuisine than any other, and although they’re stuck mostly on sweet-and-sour pork, king tau ribs, and bow ties, locals also try to duplicate the dishes at home.