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Grocery Shopping in South Africa + Some New Foods I Tried While There

unnamedMy first dinner on the plane: cheese ravioli. It was surprisingly good. And the cake was yummy, too!

One of the commitments I made to myself before leaving on my trip to South Africa was that I would try everything offered to me. Now, you might think that sounds rather simplistic and obvious… but you have to understand that I’m not really that much of an adventurous kind of person.

Nope. I like sameness. I take comfort in foods that I know exactly how they’ll taste. I’m the girl who will eat the same thing again and again and again and again and rarely ever grow tired of it.

So for me to decide I was going to try everything offered to me was kind of a risky and “out-there” move. And it paid off… because not only did I get to experience more of the tastes of South Africa as a result, I really found that it was fun to live a little bit on the “wild side”, if you can call it that! 😉


Lisa-Jo had recommended that we order Appletiser on the plane. It’s a true authentic South African drink — basically like carbonated apple juice. It was delicious!

One thing I noticed while in South Africa was that they drink a lot of juice and other non-water beverages. They also drink a LOT of tea but aren’t much into coffee. Well, some of the restaurants we went to had delicious coffee drinks, but they don’t have Starbucks there and I didn’t see many coffee shops. It may have just been the area, though.

I can tell you that the second night we went to over to one family’s house for a Braai and I saw an espresso maker at their house, I may have just heard angels singing. 🙂

I discovered that Morne (the host) was a coffee aficionado and he was thrilled to find someone else who shared his love of coffee. He saw to it that I had good coffee the rest of the trip — even bringing a thermos of hot coffee for us to drink while we were on the jeep driving through the Game Lodge.


The night we got into South Africa, we had a fairly traditional dinner (lasagna, salad, etc.), but after dinner, Lisa-Jo’s parents pulled out some new-to-me foods, including Lychee (shown above). I’d never even heard of this fruit and thought it was delicious. We also had fresh mango, which was amazing!

And this was only a taste of what was to come. Throughout the week Lisa-Jo’s dad was constantly cutting up different fresh fruit for us, including the juiciest peaches I’ve pretty much ever eaten and fresh figs (I’m not sure that I’ve ever eaten fresh figs before. They were pretty good!)


That night, we were also introduced to Biltong. The name and the look of it sounds a bit disturbing, but it tasted like really flavorful beef jerky.

Later in the week, Lisa-Jo’s mom took us to the meat shop where they actually dry the Biltong — it was hanging all over the place above the meat counter in long strips! — and we got fresh Biltong cut up right there for us.

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The first full day we were there, we visited the Reagaboka Drop-In Centre where they feed, play games with, and do afterschool homework help for over 100 kids every day. We got there right before they were getting ready to feed all of the kids.

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We got to see the Care Givers in action — serving lunch, working with the kids, etc. — and then they told us they had a special surprise: we got to eat some of what they served the kids plus some very traditional South African foods!


This was our lunch spread: Pap, Samp & Beans, Morogo, and Mealies (corn).

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The Pap tasted really bland (I don’t think they put any kind of flavoring or seasoning in it because that’s typically how the kids eat it) and it was kind of overwhelming to realize that this is some of the only food that the poorer families have regularly.

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The Samp & Beans was very delicious and would eat it every day for a meal and not get tired of it. 🙂

The Morogo was wild spinach, they told us, and it tasted just like that — fresh, very green leafy, and like it had just been picked. “Mealies” is what they call corn. They had boiled it, but it was still kind of fresh and crunchy.


The next day, we went on a sort of safari ride at a Game Lodge — where we saw elephants, cheetahs, a giraffe, a mother rhino and her baby, ostriches, dung beetles, and much more. All roaming in the wild!

It was kind of surreal — especially because we were about 10 feet away from two elephants at one point. (See the video here.)

We stopped for snacks and drinks and they suggested I try the Creme Soda. It’s not like our American cream soda at all. It’s green and very sweet. I basically never drink soda, so this was quite a leap for me.

While we continued on with our drive, Joy offered me some of her Skittles and I ate those, too. So there I sat, the non-sugar-and-food-coloring-eating, non-soda-drinking girl from Kansas drinking South African creme soda (that turned my tongue and mouth green) and eating Skittles while riding in a big jeep on the African terrain and seeing giraffes and elephants and rhinos and cheetahs in the wild. And I was savoring every minute of it!

I kind of wondered if I was okay because it was so. not. like. me!


On the last day, we went to a South African grocery store — something I was very excited about. Because I’m weird and I think that grocery shopping is fun! Or at least it’s much more fun than clothes-shopping or shoe-shopping. 🙂

We went to Pick-n-Pay, which I am told is one of their less expensive grocery stores. They also have Woolworth’s Food, which I gathered was a nicer and higher-quality (and more expensive) grocery store.

The prices were very reasonable. At times, almost so low that we’d gasp. Not as low as they were in the Dominican Republic, but consistently quite a bit lower than in the states.


What was so weird is that the grocery store looked very identical to a grocery store in the U.S., but when you looked at the shelves, so much of what was on them were things we don’t have, brands I’d never heard of, and food I’d never eaten. Such as the half of aisle dedicated to every kind of rusks imaginable shown above.

It was a strange feeling to be able to read all of the boxes and brands and signs but to not be familiar with almost any of them. In fact, you’d have to look for quite awhile to see any packaging/brand/label that was the same as what you’d find in the U.S.


This is Annelien — an amazing South African woman who I absolutely adore and consider a dear friend now. She and her husband, Morne (the coffee-lover I mentioned above!) have two beautiful children and work closely with Lisa-Jo’s parents in the Take Action Ministry.

She used to work in a corporate job making a very good salary in Pretoria, but she recently left that job in order to work full-time with Help One Now and Take Action. She took a huge pay cut to do that, but by the fulfillment and joy the oozes from her, you’d never know. She was constantly beaming and is such a gracious and giving person. I want to live next door to her. But instead, I’m grateful for modern technology so we can keep up regularly!

We’re standing next to the Boerewors here — another very South African meat. It’s similar to what we’d call Brats in the states, only it’s more flavorful.


South African money is called “Rand” and 10 Rand equal $1 USD. So this package would be about $4.47 in US dollars. These were large packages of meat and $4.47 for one of them seemed like a steal to me!


After coming home and raving about the food in South Africa, Jesse found a local meat shop that makes Biltong and imports Appletiser. Without even telling me, earlier this week, he went there and bought me some Biltong and Appletiser. Then he came home and handed me this brown paper sack saying, “I have a surprise for you!”

I truly could not believe my eyes when I opened it up and found Biltong and imported Appletiser. I was one happy girl!

P.S. Many of you asked if Lisa-Jo’s 9-year-old son, Jackson, could share about his experiences on the trip. You’ll want to be sure to hop over to her blog to read the interview she did with him about his perspective on the trip and what he thought about it all. It’s SO good!


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  • What a great article! It might be helpful to mention that the various food choices in South Africa, much like in the States, is an amalgamation of the various groups that colonized the country. For instance, lychee is not South African, but Chinese in origin, and heavily imported throughout the various colonies of the UK in the 19th century; lychee is actually affordable and my local Winn-Dixie carries it! As well, biltong from my understanding was a staple of the Dutch Afrikaner hunting culture; my husband loves biltong and orders it online during the holidays. As for the cream and sparkling soda, they are quite good and one of my favorites while there, too! They also carry Grapetizer, Peartizer, and Orangetizer as well. What’s awesome is that its sold at Fresh Market. Awesome post!

  • Marie says:

    That is so wonderful that you stepped outside you’re comfort zone to really experience the culture you were in. I know from experience in China, Guatemala and Romania that enjoying local food adds to the experience. It’s also a blessing to those who live their. Many times they are proud to share their culture with us. Only once in Romania did I have something I could not stomach.
    I think that is amazing that your husband did that for you! How did he even find it? That is an amazing gift of love!!! You are truely blessed! Thanks for sharing with us readers.

    • Leave it to my husband to find South African stuff here. That’s his gift… he seems to always be able to find stuff like that! I would have never even have *thought* to look! He LOVES to surprise me like this — with something I would never, ever think of for him to come up with! 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    This was fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

    I know almost nothing about South Africa except that there is a lot of poverty. What are some of the big obstacles to economic development there?

    p.s. Jesse seems like such a thoughtful man!

    • I’m still learning more on that, but from what I’ve gathered so far, the really poor areas struggle the most because of lack of education and opportunity.

      There is a lack of basic education — such as things like proper hygiene, picking up after yourself, personal responsibility, etc. Many of the children don’t have parents or their parents only opportunity to get a job is working in the city which is at least an hour away by taxi… so their parents aren’t home much to take care of them.

      There is also a lack of opportunity in that it’s really hard to get a job when almost all of the opportunities are at least an hour away by taxi. From what we saw, even those who worked very hard, have many different factors and setbacks that make it really hard for them to ever make any more than just barely enough to survive on, if that.

      Take Action is currently working hard not only teach personal responsibility, train and educate the children so that they don’t continue on stuck in the poverty mindset and cycle, but also to actively provide opportunities to earn an income (through selling garden crops and — hopefully! — some other opportunities we’re talking about right now).

      Again, this is just my personal viewpoint based upon talking with many of the locals and those who are actively working to help them. Those who have much more experience and time spent working in these cultures could assess things better.

      I feel like it’s easy for us to try to want to “fix” things by a simple process or by trying to bring our Americanized view to them and to fit them into our mold, but that won’t work. And really helping to bring lasting change isn’t a simple process, but I strongly believe that it is every bit possible, by the grace of God and the willingness to put in a lot of time and effort and stick with it for the long haul.

  • Alli says:

    Hi Crystal! My dad is South African and we are always on the lookout for South Africa food stores! Could you please tell me the name and location of the store your husband found? Thank you!!

    • It was a local store called Carnivore Market in Franklin, TN. I think Jesse said they recently opened. He loved it so much that I think he’ll probably be back there regularly… and now I want to go check it out, too!

    • Vanessa says:

      Alli, there’s the SA Food shop in Matthews NC and African Hut in CA. You can shop both stores online. African Hut has a much larger variety of products available.

  • Nancy says:

    My boss actually grew up in the largest Lycée growing area in China. I love them so much, but they are apparently a strong laxative, which my sister learned while in China!

    I’ve bought a dozen for $2 at a produce store in PA, I think they are becoming mainstream here in America.

    Glad you had a great trip! I hope you get to take the family there soon!

    • I’ve never seen them at a grocery store here, but then, I never knew to look for them since I’d never heard of them! 🙂 Now I definitely will!

      Oh and we’re SO excited because we’re working on details to take a family trip to South Africa in October, Lord-willing!

  • I love this post! I love traveling and trying new foods so living vicariously through your South Africa blog posts is so much fun. And what a really fun surprise from Jesse!!

  • Karolien Housholder says:

    What a beautiful delicious post about my beautiful South Africa! I have been living in the States for about 16 years and every time I come back to the US my suitcases are chuck full of treats. Interesting you didn’t visit Mug and Bean. A great coffee house or the Wimpy has pretty good coffee. So glad you had this experience and sharing it 🙂

    • We tried to go to Mug and Bean at the airport — I think that’s what it was called anyway? — and it was CLOSED because their system was down. Talk about major disappointment! It looked like they had great coffee!

      • Heather Graham says:


        Thanks for sharing these posts about SA! It reminds me of our trip there to visit my BIL’s orphanage in Pietermaritzburg. We ate at the Mug & Bean at JNB airport. It’s a lot like Panera Bread. I remember shopping with my SIL at a Pick n’ Pay and Woolworth’s. We drank a lot of Rooibos tea and ate a lot of biltong.

      • Need A Nap2 says:

        My husband loved Mugg and Bean. He was able to have a soy chai.

  • Lisa-Jo says:

    INSANE JEALOUS AT YOUR LOCAL BILTONG AND APPLETISERS!!! Oh my lands! Also, this was the most fun to read. Never in a million years would I ever have expected to read a blog post about Creme Soda or Pick ‘n Pay. What on earth have we done to you 🙂 Grinning so hard!

  • Vanessa says:

    Hi Crystal,

    I’m sooo loving the food post. It’s making me crave SA goodies. And I absolutely love Appletiser. And oh my hat, the Rusks. Yum. The food in the last pic, is actually samp & beans. We normally eat it in the form of a soup. Different races, cook different types of food or in different ways in SA. Colored people cook with lots of herbs & spices. Next time you’re in SA, please be sure to check out an Indian market or store, where you can find good, pure Indian and middle eastern spices. I always load up on spices when I visit Cape Town.

    I’m not sure if these coffee shops are still in SA (I’ve lived in the US for over 10 years now), but Seattle coffee shop is the equivalent of Starbucks. They are normally found at shopping malls.

    • Can you believe that I never got to try the Rusks? They meant for me to and then we forgot to make it happen! Next time, for sure!

      Thanks so much for the recommendation of checking out the Indian market. I will definitely have to do that next time!

    • And YIKES! I just realized that I thought the Pap was Samp and called it such in the post. I just fixed it. So to clarify, I thought the Pap was incredibly bland. But the Samp & Beans were yummy and I’d eat them everyday. Not sure what they flavored them with, but it was delicious!

  • Many thanks for sharing with us your wonderful experience in SA. 🙂

  • Cheryl S says:

    We also tried lychees for the first time in Paris over the winter break. Had never seen them before. The nice French woman in line at the grocery store told us when you eat your first lychee, you must make a wish! So I hope you did. My girls enjoyed that part of trying this delicious little fruit.

  • Need A Nap2 says:

    Did you not have pap (papa, but sounded like pup to me)?

    • I’m SO glad you mentioned that because I realized I was so confused: I called the Pap “Samp” in my post. I just fixed it. So to clarify, I thought the Pap was incredibly bland. But the Samp & Beans were yummy and I’d eat them everyday. Not sure what they flavored them with, but it was delicious!

  • Anzonette Coetzer says:

    Hi Crystal

    I am happy to say that I am proudly South African and regularly follow your blog 🙂 Reading this post just made me realised once again how easily we take things for granted, such as the amazing fruits and foods on offer every day; and how easily complaining comes to us e.g. to me our grocery prices are often just too high!. Glad you enjoyed your visit!

  • Cathy Graham says:

    I enjoy your newsletter a lot, Crystal and always get a lot out of it, even though I’m Canadian so things are slightly different with groceries and other products compared to the US. For the most part though, we share more similarities than differences, especially in the Internet age which has connected us all even more.

    I have been following your latest posts about South Africa with great interest. What an amazing experience you had there! Loved hearing about how you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone to experience new things. I am like you and will stay nice and secure doing the same stuff, eating the same things but I know to grow as a person I need to be pushed to try new things. I always feel so much better when I do.

    Thanks for such a great post. From a Canadian fan!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement! So glad to have you as a reader from Canada! I’ve never been to Canada before, but I have a trip planned there this year and I’m SO excited to finally get to visit this country I’ve heard so much about and long wanted to go to!

  • Anna says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these posts about your South Africa trip, Crystal! It gives all of us a little taste of what a different country is like, and I really appreciate your authenticity about all of it – and the amazing photos!

  • Lana says:

    Thanks for sharing! I find grocery stores very interesting when I am away from home, too.

    • Cathy Graham says:

      I agree that it’s always fun to go to a grocery store in another country to compare the products. Recently I was in Cuba and found it very sad to go to their grocery stores with the limited amount of products that only the richer Cubans could afford. Hopefully with Obama loosening the trade embargo, things might improve for the Cubans. Let’s hope.

      It made me very grateful for the variety and selection that I take for granted here in Canada.

  • susie says:

    I enjoy shopping in other countries too! I like your brown skirt- its very cute!

  • Kristen Golson says:

    I enjoyed hearing about your food adventures – we LOVE Grapetizer and Appletizer, but could never find them in the States. We’ve been here in SA a year and a half, and still haven’t had Pap or Samp. We’ve seen it dished out and served when we’ve helped at a local soup kitchen, but haven’t tried it.

    Another staple is Sweet Chili sauce, and Mrs. Balls Chutney. If you like hot, the chili chutney is really good as well. Two other SA staples are Bobotie (a meat dish with raisins, eaten with chutney) and Malva pudding (not a pudding, just a cake-like dessert) on your next trip – both South African traditional dishes to be sure!

    It was funny what you said about whole aisles being dedicated to things you’d never heard of (rusks). I felt the same way about custard – there’s a whole section just on custard! 🙂 We love this country, and always enjoy seeing it through the eyes of people who visit it for the first time!

  • Bryony King says:

    Hello Crystal,

    I LOVE your blog post! A friend sent it to me and I think you did a wonderful job of capturing some of South Africa’s colorful spirit. We have been in the US for 2 years and miss SA terribly. One of the things I miss the most about the food is the lack of corn syrup and additives in EVERYTHING!! The meat in SA is so much more flavorful and fresh. We make our own borewors and biltong and couldn’t do without it! Next time you have to have the rusks and bunny chow! Thanks again, Bryony

    • I can only imagine how much you miss it! I was only there for less than a week and miss it!

      I didn’t get a picture of them before they were all gone, but I brought home Smarties for my kids and could not believe that these M&M-like candies were made *without* food coloring!!

  • Leslie says:

    Just read Jackson’s interview….”…And sometimes you can understand what other kids are saying because we’re connecting — even if you don’t speak the same language”. THIS made me cry at my desk. Maybe it was Lisa Jo’s introduction about his heartache that did it, but wow nonetheless. Thank you for sharing a glimmer of your experience Crystal.

  • What a sweet surprise!

    I’m totally with you on the shopping. Compared to clothes/shoes shopping, food shopping is almost like vacation, lol. (The mall on the other hand…. {shudder})

  • kim says:

    I loved reading this post, although all those pictures made me feel rather home sick!! Oma rusks – one of our favorites, appeltizer is the best drink around and of course biltong! Did you get to try a SA dessert or snack called a koeksister?

  • Jacky says:

    What we enjoying making in our household is mixing a can of sweet corn into the pap, or mushrooms and bacon to add some flavor. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip so much:)

  • Jennifer says:

    I am SO jealous (in a good way!) that you found a local store that sells biltong! My husband and I lived in SA for a year and reading about your experiences brought a lot of memories back! We live in Canada and have yet to find a place that even knows what biltong is. Sounds like you had a wonderful trip!

  • Carla says:

    What good memories reading this brings back. I lived in Botswana for a year before getting married and got to travel quite a bit in S. Africa.

    I’m sure you are well aware of this but though the food prices are lower, so are the incomes. Most people in the villages still can’t even begin to afford those foods. The family I lived with in a village for a couple of weeks only ate twice a day. The first meal being something like that Pap in SA. The second meal was rice (which I had to pick bugs out of before cooking) and the wild greens. They were one of the better off families.

    I’ll have to read your other SA posts. So glad you got to have the experience!

  • Heather says:

    I went to South Africa on a mission trip for the first time in 2010, and loved it so much I went back in 2011, 2012 and 2013! I would love to go back and hope to get to some day. I would LOVE to take my 15 year old sister for the very same reasons you describe on your latest blog. I was in Cape Town and I’m sure that the townships were very similar.

    If you love the Appletizer, you should try the other versions…grapetizer, peartizer, and white grapetizer. (I would love to find a place in town that sells any.) YUM. Also, if you are out stop at a Mugg & Bean and have a rooibos red latte. Lays potato chips has a Carribean Onion and Balsamic Vinegar flavor that you can only get in South Africa that I still dream about. And Nando’s. You must go there.

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