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How to incorporate local foods into a wedding menu

In the proclaimed South African cookbook Indian Delights’, used by generations of local cooks to mass cater for weddings, nuptials are spoken of as being traditional occasions to call for the feasting of clans. The book goes on to say ‘Near and far-flung friends and acquaintances and the entire neighbourhood, whatever its colours, creed, class or social habits are invited. None are forgotten. None dare be forgotten, for when the guest list runs into hundreds then such overlooking is akin to an insult.’

South Africa is a smorgasbord of cultures. If you’ve watched any of the country’s popular reality wedding shows, you’ll see that for every cultural wedding, there is a list of traditional wedding dishes to be had.

Visit any wedding across the country and you will find a range of local food dishes traditionally suited to the occasion.

Local starters and canapes

The secret behind serving the best locally flavoured starters at any South African wedding is to experiment with ideas while keeping the ideas behind the ingredients of a local dish intact. This could mean taking favourites like traditional bobotie or sosaties and downsizing them into bite-size canapes or finger foods.

For a twist on traditional Indian samosas, fill them with local tastes like samp and beans or braai-style fire-roasted pulled chicken or grilled crayfish.

These types of flavour arrangements can be suited to almost any type of canape including tartlets, wraps and mini sandwiches. Popular on the menus of many couples in the last year are mini versions of the actual local dish itself with a teaspoon or miniature fork to enjoy it with. These mini dishes can be served in bowls about half the size of a ramekin bowl. They are a great way for guests to taste a full range of local dishes while leaving space for the main meal. For this idea, think about dishes like miniature pap and tomato smoortjies or vegetable or meat-based curries.

Guests opting to have canapes laid out on a table charcuterie board style have a range of locally manufactured olives, jams and meats to choose from. Accompany these with South African favourites like fresh roosterkoek or steam bread and butter from a local farm.

Local main dishes

“Our country is home to so many flavourful dishes,” notes Chef Norman Heath, Executive Chef at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. Each of them developed with unique stories behind what made them trend before they became set in stone as local favourites.”

A popular traditional South African wedding gift among many cultures is the traditional blanket. The history behind this was that in the past, members of a clan would slaughter an animal for the occasion and gift the animal’s hide to the bride and groom to use as a blanket. The offal was removed by the men and the meat was then given to the women to cook. Women would spend the day before the wedding cooking all sorts of traditional dishes in large pots over an open flame.

Mass cooking at weddings is still incredibly popular in  South Africa, particularly among Indian and African cultures. The most popular dishes for mass cooking across cultures include starch-based meals like traditional biryani, pap and phutu and soji. An assortment of vegetables are cooked separately and main meals consist of stews or curries.

These dishes are then served in large bowls on each wedding table for guests to either be served by waitrons or self-served.

Traditional wedding desserts

South Africa shines with its array of local desserts from across all cultures. From Indian sweetmeats, to English tartlets to traditional malva and milk tart, we really are spoiled for choice.

Guests enjoy being able to sample as many desserts as possible, so couples would do well to choose a selection of four to five small desserts that guests can choose from.

These local sweet flavours do not have to be relegated to the dessert table alone. They can also be the inspiration for flavouring your wedding cake. Ideas could include milk tart fillings for vanilla cakes, malva pudding and caramel cream flavours and even peppermint crisp fridge tart cake.

“This year South Africans are looking for the most convenient and unique local culinary experiences to cater for their weddings, adds Chef Norman. As a result, local wedding food trends that top the list do so because of their cultural elements and most importantly, their taste,” he ends

However you choose to cater for your wedding, rest assured that South African flavours can be added to virtually any area of your menu, big or small.