Biltong is the birth child of tradition for many South Africans. If there were one food source that spelt out a country’s history, it would have to be this delicious meat snack that can now be found globally. Since the 1800s, South Africans have relied on biltong as a food source for sustenance and to make long journeys for fun.
The traditional meat snack has grown astronomically over the years and has evolved into more than just something to fill your tummy. It has turned into a power supply for fitness enthusiasts and a teething solution for babies, but one thing it will always be is authentic.
Where does biltong come from?
The “Great Trek” was a journey that Afrikaans South Africans took to escape the English and, in doing so, embarked on a decade long journey into the midlands to start colonies of their own. The trip wasn’t easy, and back then, there was no way to preserve your food like we have today. They didn’t have iceboxes or refrigeration and consistently keeping food fresh was a struggle. Livestock cultivation was another tedious process, and so they came up with a way to keep their meat fresh for months at a time without sacrificing too much livestock or risking any illness.
How was biltong made?
When the Afrikaans Boers slaughtered bovine, they would use the skin for warmth in their wagons, and the meat would be eaten or preserved. The original recipe for biltong involved taking chunks of meat and rubbing it in a mixture of salt, pepper and saltpetre to dry it out and prevent it from going off or causing illness. This process would take up to 4 weeks to complete, and 400 years later, it can now take as little as four days.
To prevent their livestock from being eaten too quickly, the farmers sort out game meat by hunting kudu, gemsbok, springbok and ostrich. Buffalo meat was part of the original game line up. Buffalo meat is very tough and doesn’t sell as well as the rest of the game meat does, so finding it can be very hard. The Cape Coloured fisherman made biltong out of fish that is traditionally known as bokkoms. It is preserved with oil and salt for weeks until it turns into leathery consistency, much like the beef or game. Also added to the selection of preserved meat initially sold in South Africa is chicken and bacon. In some areas like Durban, the chicken biltong sells much faster than beef because of the predominantly Hindu culture who do not eat beef.
Today you can find biltong anywhere in the world. Even the USA, with their beloved beef jerky, is giving in to the delicious taste of this meat snack. It is being added to the eating plans of well known global fitness instructors, and it is being added to the meals of everyone else who is hanging out on the couch. If you haven’t tried it yet, then now is as good a time as any. Lockdown is the perfect excuse to eat whatever you want, so go out and buy biltong and see why it’s become a sensation overnight.