Bread is plentiful in South Africa, and some of it is downright cheap. It’s not unusual for working folks to eat a loaf of bread or several rolls for lunch. When we moved in, the owner advised me to always have brown bread and peanut butter for Evelina, the domestic worker, and Collins, the gardener, to eat while they had their sweet, milky rooibos tea or coffee.

In the bigger cities, there are bakeries specializing in bread. Here in Witbank, there are some artisanal breads in most of the grocery stores: rustic looking round loaves with a crack down the middle; long thin loaves; short fat loaves; flat breads covered in sun-dried tomatoes and onions. They cost between R15 and R32 ($1.50-$3.20) Oftentimes those breads are just sitting out in the air with pre-priced brown bags beside them. Occasionally they’ll have netting over top to deter the bugs.

There’s also shelves with rows and rows of square loaves in plastic: white bread, brown bread, best of both white & brown, low gi with nuts and seeds, oatmeal, and even low kilojoule/low calorie (They can’t get it down quite as low as in the US, though. I think they don’t slice it thin enough!) These loaves cost between R9 and R13 (90 cents and $1.30) You learn quickly to check the plastic sleeves for holes – your bread only has to be hard as a rock once as your lesson. You also learn to hang on to the little tabs they close the plastic bags with, because schoolkids save them to turn in to a charity that somehow allows them to purchase wheelchairs for invalids when they get 3,978,652 of them. That’s a rough estimate, obviously. They can also be turned in at the DisChem Pharmacy at the Highveld Mall.

Over by the bakery in the grocery stores are  shelves of unsliced white and brown bread loaves. Brown bread that hasn’t been sliced is the cheapest, about R7.5. If they have unsliced bread, they also have a machine that you can use to slice it. People get tickled when they see my delight at the process, which I think is pretty awesome.

Picture
This is Blue Ribbon brand, but there's also Albany and Sasko brands.
Picture
Bread cutting machine
This is the unbelieving bakery lady at PicknPay Grocery Store at the Highveld Mall in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga allowing me to video her using the bread cutting machine

Picture
Uncut white bread, 85 cents; Uncut brown bread (in back) 75 cents
One day I was walking past the fish & chips store, and there were four men sitting at an outside table with a loaf of bread and a big square of paper covered with chips (fries), which in turn were covered with tomato sauce (ketchup). Not too unusual, I guess, until I noticed that they were taking a slice of bread, folding it in half, tucking the fries into it, then eating it like a sandwich! What? I stopped short of taking a photo of them, but they were very confused when I asked, incredulously, if they were eating chip sandwiches. Their attitude was “duuuuhhh,” but they simply nodded in the affirmative. Then I noticed that on the menu board you could buy a chip roll for ninety cents.

A week or two later Steven and I were at a church picnic, eating his delicious chicken salad with lettuce on tasty little rolls when I looked over at some friends and asked what they were having on their sandwich. Crisps! Potato chip sandwiches! This time I couldn’t resist the call of the camera and asked our friend Nielen Toerien to let me take pictures of the process. He says he and his boys enjoy chip sandwiches whenever his wife allows it or doesn't know. His wife, Alet, watched apologetically as she ate healthy food and her men ate chip sandwiches.

Apparently this is a nationwide phenomenon; as we were driving up to Lesotho for our mission trip, a few of the men brought the ingredients and shared chip sandwiches.

Eish! (That’s South African for “For crying out loud!”)

Many thanks to Nielen for demonstrating the recipe that apparently every man in South  Africa knows! (Hovering over the photos brings up the captions)
 


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