Spicy sauces and homemade condiments are enjoying a moment in the sun right now, thanks to the popularity of pop-ups and food trucks with their eminently sauce-worthy offerings of hot dogs, smoky barbecue meat and pulled pork sandwiches. Kate Ferreira goes on a mission to find out what’s cooking on the sauce scene in South Africa.
Clinton Verhoog heads up the South African Chefs Association (SACA) Gauteng committee and runs a catering company called Delectables in Johannesburg. He says he takes great care to follow successful overseas-based chefs on social media, and pays attention to food trends.
“Sriracha is a big one,” he says. “I was in the States in March and it’s everywhere,” he says, predicting that this Thai sauce made from fermented chilli and garlic will soon hit SA in a big way. (In fact, it’s already appeared here.) As to why sriracha has become so popular abroad, Clinton says it’s a fantastic sauce with great flavour. “It works well with so much; [use it] anywhere you would use a chilli sauce.”
Still, Clinton believes that his South African clients generally prefer the traditional sauces they know and love, like All Gold tomato sauce. It’s a view backed up by a recent survey from market research company Afrika Group, which crowned this pantry staple the country’s most iconic brand. (All Gold’s quirky TV ads may have a lot to do with it, too.) Others that Clinton includes as essentials in any South African cupboard are Mrs Ball’s chutney and a classic Dijon mustard. (Read our list of South Africa’s 25 most nostalgic foods for some more local favourites.)
Our editor, Abigail Donnelly, also loves her local sauces. Her pick of them all is the iconic Nando’s peri-peri sauce made with the African chilli, which has garnered the South African brand much love all over the world. “It’s my absolute favourite,” says Abigail. “We have every variety in the side of our fridge.”
Chef, restaurateur and caterer Craig Cormack runs Die Wors Rol, a popular food truck that sells gourmet boerie rolls in and around Cape Town, along with business partner chef Bertus Basson (also chef at 2013 Top 10 restaurant Overture). Hungry clients are offered a mix of bought and handmade sauces, including Heinz tomato sauce (one of the best shop-bought options, according to Craig) and a homemade mustard sauce from a Basson family recipe. (Click here for the recipe.)
In his own catering business, The Goose Roasters, Craig sees that customers tend to be quite stuck in their ways when it comes to condiments. “They stick to what they know, but that’s something that will change in time. The popular ones are, of course, things like barbeque and sweet chilli sauce. We find that people like sauce combinations, especially with upmarket fast food.”
“We do try to stretch those barriers, advising customers on a homemade sauce or the correct way of doing a proper sweet chilli sauce based on the Asian style, which has a nice balance and a blend of quality ingredients,” he adds. (Sorry, Wellington’s! Perhaps your luminous orange heyday is over at last…)
In restaurants, on the other hand, Craig argues that you just can’t beat the classic sauces, like your creamy mushroom forestiere sauce, and the reduced beef stock-based chasseur. Clinton agrees, saying: “In a five-star kitchen they still make their own stock and basic foundation sauces. Those will never change, really.”
What are the trends to look out for right now? “It’s all about chilli,” says Clinton, “and you’ll see there are a lot of varieties on the shelf, a lot more choice, and smaller manufacturers making an appearance. Chipotle sauce is also slowly starting to come in.”
One local chef who’s a dab hand at a homemade chipotle sauce is Shelley Manning, the woman behind Hot Ginger, a food truck and catering service in Johannesburg. “We serve things like pork sliders – which are all the rage this year – and American diner-style food and seasonal bespoke salads.”
Shelley makes all her sauces from scratch, so they’re low in sodium and sugar, with no MSG or artificial ingredients. “Garlic aioli is a must, barbeque sauce you can’t go without, and my tomato sauce, which is tailor made for the food,” she says of the current favourites.
In Shelley’s experience, the degree of adventurousness in her customers is closely linked to geographic location and how “globalised” the group is. She says the popularity of shows like MasterChef is having an impact on local tastes, and admits she watches these for ideas, too, joking that “all chefs are inveterate thieves”.
In this way, Shelley believes food trends are mostly driven by demand from consumers rather than providers – consumers who see something online or on TV programmes such as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and want to try the bold flavours that are featured.
Two other big trends on her watch list are Mexican food and preservation methods like brining, curing and pickling, which used to be considered very old-school. “It’s like fashion,” she says, “these things do come round again if you wait long enough.”
What is your favourite sauce at the moment? Let us know in the comments.