Cape Town’s cuisine is as diverse as its inhabitants. To some Capetonians, Cape Malay curry is the city’s quintessential dish. To others it’s boerewors: a local sausage (literally “farmer sausage”) traditionally cooked on a wood-fired barbecue, or braai.
The Portuguese contribution to the pre-colonial Cape was piri piri — a spice made from bird’s-eye chilies — which locals still spread liberally on all kinds of food. While South Africans have been brewing sorghum beer for centuries, the Dutch are partly to thank for the quaffable brews served today.
But Cape Town’s modern gastronomy goes far beyond the country’s historical influences. The city’s restaurant scene is peppered with food from farther afield. As the number of visitors increases each year, so do the people who visit the Mother City and never leave.
Your tastebuds will thank them for sharing their culinary secrets at these restaurants in the cosmopolitan city center.
TOMO Japanese Restaurant
When Chinese-born entrepreneur David Yan relocated to Cape Town, he was horrified to discover a dearth of authentic Japanese restaurants. “People think Japanese food is sushi,” Yan exclaims. “I decided to show them what real Japanese food is like and opened TOMO.”
Yan is as fond of Japanese cuisine as he is well-traveled, and TOMO’s menu includes a few of his favorite Chinese, Mongolian and Vietnamese flavors. The result is one of the city’s hottest Asian restaurants, where elegant Japanese decor and original Chinese calligraphy meet an adventurous fusion menu.
You’ll find handcrafted Chinese dumplings — some with delicate skins, some fried street-food style — and beef fillet teppanyaki that tastes like Tokyo. The signature Viper Roll pushes every culinary boundary, combining avocado and cream cheese with braaied eel dressed in teriyaki sauce.
The Cousins Italian Trattoria
If you blink, you’ll miss The Cousins Italian Trattoria, but you won’t get far without smelling the fresh aromas coming from this restaurant in the trendy East City.
When three cousins from Italy’s Adriatic coast began hankering for the simple, delicious food they’d grown up with, they opened The Cousins. Cousin Andrea makes fresh pasta every morning — “Just like Mama does.”
Whatever you do, don’t leave town without trying their signature dish. The Cousins Pasta combines fresh tagliolini pasta with a creamy mushroom and thyme sauce. The stroke of genius is swirling the pasta around in a giant wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese right at your table before serving the gooey glory directly onto your plate.
The almost cruel twist is the fact that the cousins have shared the recipe on their website — but just one heavenly morsel will convince you that this pasta was not prepared by mortals.
Addis in Cape
Whether or not you’ve been to Ethiopia, this restaurant will leave you feeling the warm fuzzy hospitality of communal eating back in Addis Ababa. It strikes a perfect balance between coziness and elegance, with ornate decor and a warm ambience. This is gourmet Ethiopian cuisine at its best, and Addis is the longest-standing restaurant in Cape Town serving food from one of Africa’s oldest civilizations.
Ethiopian cuisine is known for its rich aromas and generous use of herbs and spices, which can be traced back to historical spice routes.
Experience a unique style of eating, with a selection of stews and sauces all served on a central platter, perfect for sharing. Each dish is served atop a giant type of pancake, called injera. Just tear off a piece of injera and use it to scoop up the closest dish. Suffer from a gluten intolerance? Addis’ food is all gluten-free.
If you’re wondering about the etiquette of eating (and sharing) food with your hands, wonder no more. Before your meal arrives, the attentive staff will introduce you to customary Ethiopian hand-washing, where warm water is poured over your hands and caught in a bowl below — all from the comfort of your seat.
Try one of the classics: Doro Wot, boneless chicken marinated in fresh lime juice and slow-cooked in berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend. Complement it with the Tanzanian-inspired Prawns Addis in Dar, which combines spicy sauce from landlocked Ethiopia with the Swahili coast’s finest seafood.
The perfect end to this sensory dining experience is a traditional coffee ceremony. Wafts of fragrant frankincense accompany a pot of thrice-brewed coffee, poured into small cups, with a side of popcorn. When people describe Ethiopian dining as a feast for the senses, they aren’t kidding.