Southafricanisms: Potjiekos romantically translated “Pot food”


In this country a man is measured by the quality of his Potjiekos (Poy-kee-kos). You just can’t get much more South African than this traditional boere kos (farmer fare).

Named after the pot that it is made in; a Potjie is a round three legged cast iron pot, like a witch’s cauldron. Afrikaners might well argue that at least as much magic goes into this trademark stew.

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There are any number of Potjie recipes, passed down through generations of gigantic beer drinkers, but the gist is:

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Meat (lots of) usually lamb, cooked first at the bottom of the pot, after which layers of vegetables, placed carefully according to cooking time from the bottom up and around the sides to allow room for the rice in the middle.

Dried fruit is often added along with local spices, herbs and the obligatory “secret ingredient” which is I suspect is always beer.

The pot is then cooked for a LONG time sometimes 24 hours or more over a very cultivated slow heat. Generally two slow burning hardwood fires are made and “lekker” (nice) coals are moved from the preparation fire to the actual cooking fire.

To my shame I have never owned my own Potjie, but I have eaten from a good few and I must say they are fantastic and unlike any regular girlie stew.

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The problem is owning a Potjie can become like a second job filled with cleaning and maintenance!
The “cook in” procedure of a new Potjie can take literally days before you can use the darn thing.
This is done to remove the lacquer, cast iron taste and soot, but also to season the pot. Below is the edited procedure:

  • Make a fire inside and around the pot to burn off lacquer and iron dust.
  • Scrub the entire pot with sandpaper thoroughly.
  • Wash the pot and grease with pork fat.
  • Now time to “cook in the pot”
  • Fill pot with leftover vegetables including peels and off cuts, porridge, anything!
  • Cook for a few hours!
  • Repeat the process 3, 4 or 5 times!!!
  • When finished wash with warm soapy water and coat the inside of the Potjie with fat for storage.
  • The more you use your Potjie the smoother and shinier it will become and if well cared for will last you for life.

Is it worth it?. Yes! as it is one of the five pillars of Afrikanerdom, but I can easily see myself dropping one from a cliff, if the results were not life altering in flavour.

Tourists to Cape Town might have a hard time finding an authentically cooked Potije other than in someone’s back yard, so do your best to find some barrel chested friends and invite them round to their house for a beer and a Potjie.