I still remember the small Moroccan restaurant I was dining at in St.Louis, Senegal. I ordered a Coca Cola, my go-to beverage to accompany a low-budget African meal. The restaurant owner looked at me and my friend in disgust. “You are in Senegal” she said, “you don’t drink Coca, you must drink bissap”. She then proceeded to introduce us to the delicious hibiscus juice. We were hooked. It became our drink of choice for the rest of our trip.
Of course, she was right. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I had fallen into the habit of drinking a huge global product while traveling in Africa. The truth was, I didn’t always trust the water, and Coca Cola is easier to find and usually cheaper than bottle water. But isn’t the whole point of traveling to try new things? Further adventures in drinking the local delicacies have landed me on the toilet more times than I’d like to count. Fortunately in South Africa there are no ends of local beverages that you can try, without risking an assault on your digestive system. Here are a few of my favourites.
Rather than reach for your usual soft drink, try this refreshing drink that is as common as Coca-Cola. You can find it in any store and on most restaurant menus. Appletiser is simply carbonated apple juice; no added sugar or preservatives. It’s very refreshing on a hot African day. There are also several other varieties, made from a combination of apple and other fruit juices: red or white Grapetiser and Peartiser. So skip the multi-national soda and give these fruit-based soft drinks a try.
True, rooibos tea is now available in many parts of the world, but it originated in Southern Africa, so take the opportunity to try it at its source. Made from the red bush plant that grows only in the fynbos region of the Western Cape (rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans) the tea has been enjoyed by South Africans for more than a century. Rooibos is so common in South Africa, that when you order tea in a restaurant, you will usually be asked if you want Five Roses (the local black tea brand) or rooibos. It is full of anti-oxidants and vitamin C, is low in tannins and caffeine free. I like the fact that it is less sweet and fruity than many herbal teas.
South Africa’s hipsters have launched a rapidly growing craft beer culture. There are now more than 100 artisanal breweries scattered throughout the country. Zawakala Brewery is located just up the road from Hoedspruit, making it our local favourite.
Not a beer drinker, but still wanting a cool alcoholic beverage on a hot afternoon? Give South Africa’s apple ciders a try. Savannah Dry is my personal favourite. It also comes in a light and dark variety. Hunter’s is another popular brand. Both are dry, though not quite as dry as their British counterparts.
Another local star is Amarula liqueur. Made from the fruit of the marula tree, the namesake of Nkanyi House, Amarula is produced just down the road near Phalaborwa. It is a sweet, cream based liqueur, similar to Baileys. Try it on its own after a meal, or drizzled over ice cream for a treat.
Another South African original is the Pinotage variety of grape. Developed in the early 1900’s by a chemistry professor who was sent to Europe to collect grape varietals that would grow well in the Cape region, the grape is a cross between Pinot Noir and Hermitage. Pinotage is a bold red, which lends itself well to the meat-heavy South African diet. It pairs well with any braai.
Another wine varietal that is seen more in South Africa than other wine regions is Chenin Blanc. It is the most widely planted white variety in the country, where it has been in production since the mid-1600’s. It is generally a very smooth drinking white. I find it a nice alternative to Chardonnay for those who prefer a less acidic white than Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris.
South Africa has a huge fruit producing industry, including apples, citrus and my personal favourite- mangos. They make some excellent fruit juices, many of which are available in single-serving containers at any convenience store. There are delicious combinations that may differ from what you can get at home, such as passionfruit (also called granadilla) blends. Well worth checking out.
Unlike many other places in Africa, tap water in South Africa is generally safe to drink. No need to purchase expensive and environmentally damaging bottled water. Water in some areas may have a heavy mineral content, so the taste may take getting used to. Do be aware though that water quality is the responsibility of local governments, so best to check with a local to be sure that the water in your particular area is safe for consumption. Also, remote locations, such as game lodges may get their water from bore holes. Check with staff about its suitability for drinking.