Traditional Recipes: Potjiekos

24 March, 2024

Food is deeply intertwined with cultural identity in South Africa, serving as a way for different ethnic groups to preserve their traditions, customs, and heritage. Each community in South Africa has its own distinct culinary practices, ingredients and cooking methods, which are often passed down generationally. Today we will take a closer look at one of the South African favourites: Potjiekos.

Potjiekos, pronounced ‘poi-key-cos,’ is directly translated as ‘pot food.’ It’s a hearty stew, cooked slowly in a three-legged cast-iron pot over an open fire. Another iteration of the original potjie pot is now known as a Dutch oven, popular in the US and across the globe. The dish has been a beloved favourite among South Africans for generations.


Potjiekos traces its roots back to the early Dutch settlers who arrived in South Africa in the 17th century. As Dutch settlers adapted to life in the Cape, they brought with them their knowledge of cooking in cast-iron pots: a technique, that would later turn into the art of Potjiekos. Over the centuries, Potjiekos has evolved into a beloved South African culinary tradition, embraced by people of all backgrounds and cultures.

Popular ingredients

Traditional Recipes: Potjiekos

One of the joys of Potjiekos is its versatility with countless combinations of ingredients and flavours to suit every taste and preference. Some of the most popular ingredients used in Potjiekos include:

  1. Meat: Beef, lamb and chicken are popular choices for Potjiekos, with each adding its own unique flavour and texture to the dish. Oxtail, venison and pork are also commonly used for more adventurous palates.
  2. Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, onions and tomatoes are staple vegetables in Potjiekos, providing a hearty base and adding sweetness and depth of flavour to the stew. Other vegetables such as butternut, sweet potatoes and green beans can also be added for variety.
  3. Herbs and Spices: Aromatic herbs such as bay leaves, thyme and rosemary add complexity to the flavours of Potjiekos. Spices such as paprika, curry powder, cumin and turmeric are also often used in the stew.
  4. Liquids: Broth, wine, beer or even plain water are often used to create a flavourful cooking liquid for Potjiekos, infusing the dish with richness and depth of flavour. Cream (normal or coconut) can also be added for a creamy, indulgent touch.

The Art of Cooking Potjiekos

Cooking Potjiekos is as much about the process as it is about the ingredients, with each step designed to enhance the flavours and aromas of the stew.

To begin, lit a fire using wood or charcoal to create a bed of hot coals over which the potjie will be placed. Then heat the cooking oil in a pot until very hot. Brown the meat and onions by searing them in the oil. This “locks” in the juiciness of the meat. Then you can add seasoning, spices, herbs and liquid. Vegetables are then packed on top of the meat, spreading each kind evenly layer by layer. Starchy ingredients (such as potatoes, rice or pasta) are put as a last layer. This traps the steam around the vegetables and allows them to cook evenly. Never mix or stir your layers, otherwise, you might end up with a “mushy mess” on a plate. Potjiekos is cooked slowly over moderate heat for at least 2 hours.

Potjiekos competition

Traditional Recipes: Potjiekos

For South Africans Potjiekos is more than just a meal — it’s a culinary art form that embodies the spirit of community, creativity, and closeness. Potjiekos competition is a popular team-building event: a way to bring people together, celebrate South African culture and indulge in a feast of flavour and fun.

In a country as diverse as South Africa, food has always been a powerful expression of culture, history and identity. Potjiekos embodies the spirit of South African cuisine, bringing people together around the fire to share a meal and create lasting memories!