Durban, South Africa - Biltong

Durban's Golden Mile

On South Africa’s east coast sits Durban, the largest city in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. A busy port it is one of the most ethincally and culturally diverse cities of South Africa. Zulus are the largest ethnic group, with large numbers of Indians and white English and Afrikaans speakers also making Durban their home. This diversity of heritage is shown in the food that is available in this vibrant city.
Durban City Hall

With friends living in Durban I have been lucky enough to visit the city on several occasions, at one time sitting my accountancy exams at the University (when my plans had gone awry, not for the first time!). Driving through the city food markets could be seen filling open spaces, with spices galore as the Indians brought their food heritage to bear. Durban Curry and Bunny Chow are two curry recipes that bring together the elements of the Indian/South African heritage and make for a very tasty meal.

I used to like to visit the Biltong man with his stall in one of the shopping centres. For centuries man had been trying to find ways to preserve meat.  Pickling, salting and curing were the best ways to keep meat edible for long periods. During the seventeenth century as Africa fell under colonial rule, Dutch settlers brought recipes with them for dried meat. The raw meat is sliced, spiced and dried in the sun to create thick chewy slices of meat. The word biltong was created from the Dutch for rump – bil – and strip – tong.

As the Dutch settlers, Voortrekkers, moved north-eastward away from the British rule into the interior of South Africa the need for preserved meat was pressing and biltong was the answer. There may well have been other ways of preserving meat in Africa but biltong is the one that has stood the test of time. It is not just beef that is the preserve of biltong (forgive the pun) but any game meat or ostrich will do. I could have put the biltong man out of business with my penchant for tasting all the different varieties on offer but without fail I would walk away from his stall with a bag load of it to chew on.

Quiet beach in KwaZulu-Natal
As the settlers on their Great Trek knew, biltong is a portable meal that does not go off (not for a couple of years at any rate) and it was very handy to have in the backpack when we set off on trips along the coast. On one such trip we stayed at the house of a friend just to the north of Durban. We would all wake early, bathe in the sea which was also a good way to shake off the hangover and after breakfast everyone but me would return to their bunks for another snooze. It was therefore solely my pleasure, as I sat on the verenda reading, to be witness to the dolphins and whales playing in the surf as they made their way along the coast every day. As the dolphins jumped and surfed through the waves, the whales would rise in the deeper water blowing spouts of water before diving back under. It is an abiding memory.

Biltong remains a firm favourite of mine and whilst I have not been back to South Africa for a few years I cannot walk past a South Africa shop without dipping in and coming back out with arms full of biltong. I could, of course, make my own if I so chose. 


The recipe below is an adaptation of a High Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe but the taste, particularly if fully cured, is very reminiscent of the snacks I enjoyed in Durban.


500g rump beef cut into strips along the grain of the meat – the thinner the strip, the drier the biltong

The curing rub

2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tbsp coriander seed, toasted and ground
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
3 tbsp malt vinegar


Mix the spices together and sprinkle then coat the meat in them.  Rub the spices in so that the meat absorbs the flavours. Put into a dish, sprinkle the vinegar over the meat, and then refrigerate for 6 hours or so.  

Shake off any loose seasoning and pat the meat dry with kitchen roll. Hang each strip of biltong in a warm, dry place for at least four days. If you want the biltong to be harder then leave it for longer. Make sure the area in which you are hanging the meat is free from flies.

The biltong will now be semi-dried and will keep for a couple of weeks. To completely dry it either place it in the sun with a good flow of air or if the weather. If the weather is not suitable put it in a very low oven with the meat hanging from the top shelf until fully dried.

Enjoy whenever the urge takes you!


To store the biltong keep it in waxed paper or a sealed food bag in a cool place.


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