The South African Pancake Phenomenon

When I was told that we were going to experience some of the best pancakes in South Africa, I was excited. There’s nothing better than properly done breakfast food, especially when enjoyed for dinner. What I didn’t know was that the pancake really wasn’t a pancake; at least not in the way I expected it to be. What it turned out to be was something much more complex, and much more delicious.

South African food doesn’t involve a lot of ingredients that are alien to my palate. But what it does include are odd twists on the expected. Biltong, bunny chow and even pancakes are foods that contain items I like, but delivered in new ways. I was in South Africa as the guest of South African Tourism and traveling with a small group of people exploring the Panorama Route in the Mpumalanga province. We had arrived in the region earlier in the day and were starving by the time we arrived in the small town of Graskop.

Grassy Peak, or Graskop in Afrikaans, was originally established in the 1880s as a gold mining camp, but today the boom comes not from minerals but from the thousands of tourists who drive through it every year. It’s also home to more pancake houses per capita than possibly any other place on the planet. In a one-road town I counted five or so restaurants boasting the best pancakes in town. It was Harrie’s, across the street from Biltongland that won our patronage for the day, for no other reason than it was closest to the van.

Walking in to the establishment full of people I still expected an American style pancake, perhaps served with some additional items. The menu was extensive but not too bizarre; sweet and savory options abounded. I imagined the meats and cheeses to be served on top of the circular pancake, but what I received was completely unexpected.

My ham and cheese pancake arrived, but instead of a large doughy disc, a crepe-like item filled the plate. Ok, I thought to myself, they call crepes here pancakes. Strange, but nothing truly bizarre. Taking my first bite however I wasn’t rewarded with the light, filling stuffed crepe of my expectations, but a dense rolled up meal. The dough was exactly like an American style pancake, heavy and delicious, but the South African version was rolled up, the meats and cheeses all inside.

South Africa pancake

Although heavy, the meal was indeed tasty and certainly filling. Around the table were numerous iterations of the same meal, some with vegetables, others with biltong and cheese. I thought it odd though that they would call this a pancake; a familiar term for something so completely unexpected. Like everything else in South Africa though, even this simple meal didn’t fail to entertain and educate.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

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