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Let’s look at 5 South African cookbooks that have powerful visuals and storytelling elements that take their reader on a culinary journey.

I feel that it’s important to look at different media types and the ways in which they tell stories to get a better idea of what storytelling elements exist outside of online media.

As someone who enjoys to eat food as opposed to cooking it, I like that I can be a part of the author’s journey to tell their story in relation to and with food.

These books appear in no particular order but I love the visuals, the stories, and the homemade feel that each book radiates.

There are so many incredible South African cookbooks and I strongly encourage you to find more after this list.

Chocolate by Katelyn Williams

This book is 100% a visual experience that brings chocolate to life. Amazing photographs (taken by Hein van Tonder) and an incredible book layout (done by Peter Bosman) joined together with anecdotes and stories from Katelyn Williams herself.

When I was a kid, I thought my prayers had been answered when a chocolate factory shop, aptly named Sweet Dreams, opened up on the route home from school.

Chocolate, page 167
Source: Instagram

The chapters themselves are divided into chocolate traits such as Fruity, Crunchy and Creamy that appeal to any chocolate lover’s senses. It’s an interesting way to classify recipes and in turn tell the story of chocolate and its many delicious facets.

Appealing to the senses is a great tip when it comes to storytelling. If people can imagine what you’re sharing with them in a tangible way, they’re more likely to relate to your stories.

This recipe book is an excellent example of how powerful visuals and appealing to the senses can help to tell a story and in turn personalise an experience for the reader.

Also. Chocolate.

Simply Delicious by Zola Nene

This is Zola Nene’s first cookbook and it is filled with simple, clean, delicious images taken by Dawie Verwey. This cookbook is organised in such a way that it breaks up her story into stages of her life making the cooking experience deeply personal.

Each chapter begins with a collage of moments from her life, which immerses the reader into her own cooking experiences such as her “scrumptious scholar days”.

I took a two-year study break and ventured off to the UK to see if I actually wanted to make a career of my love for food and cooking.

Simply Delicious, page 63
Source: Instagram

Zola includes a recipe from her mom and dad under “nostalgic nibbles” that adds to the idea that cookbooks need not be instructional manuals but rather personal experiences that add to the reader’s understanding of a recipe.

This cookbook shows how effectively cookbooks can tell stories with a careful selection of memorable recipes tied together in a meaningful way. An audience responds well to someone that they can relate to and Zola’s infectious personality is definitely one people can relate to!

Just Add Rice by Ming-Cheau Lin

This cookbook shares a family history embedded in culture that educates the reader not only on Taiwanese food but Taiwanese culture itself. Telling the story of one’s culture through food is a way that enables other cultures to experience your own through the creation of shared recipes. A pretty magical feat.

Learning and understanding the cuisine of my parents’ culture gave me a stronger sense of self and helped me connect with my Taiwanese ethnicity, while learning to embrace the South African assimilation as part of my identity.

Just Add Rice, page 17
Source: Instagram

There is an In My Pantry section that introduces the reader to many of the ingredients used in the cookbook and offers explanations for each to help broaden the reader’s understanding of the ingredients. I found this section incredibly valuable as the explanations of each ingredient helps you understand how these individual elements come together to create a dish.

This cookbook isn’t just filled with delicious recipes but acts as a way to educate the reader on Taiwanese cooking and all that goes into it. The stories and explanations throughout the book show just how effective storytelling can be to take the reader on a journey while educating them.

The Lazy Makoti’s Guide to the Kitchen by Mogau Seshoene

Mogau Seshoene first hosted The Lazy Makoti cooking classes before turning her love for food into a cookbook that focuses on South African favourites.

Having “guide” in the title suggests – and is mentioned in the book’s introduction – that it is a cookbook to be used and enjoyed. An effective title that encapsulates the contents of the cookbook perfectly.

The recipes are clear and simple while some include an anecdote that personalises the recipe. These are lovely to read as they transport the reader into Mogau Seshoene’s kitchen and get them to understand her connection to a recipe.

When I was growing up, my Saturday mornings began with the smell of my mother’s banana bread filling the house, forcing my sister and me to get out of bed. To this day, the smell conjures up nostalgia and fond memories of my parents’ house in the small township of Mankweng, Limpopo.

The Lazy Makoti’s Guide to the Kitchen, page 24
Source: Instagram

The book itself has a homely feel to it as all the recipes look homemade and achievable. Achievable is a key word here as it allows readers to see themselves in the recipes and say to themselves: I could do that.

This cookbook is a great example of a book that is consistent with its storytelling throughout: delicious, simple and South African.

High Tea at Home by Astrid Field

This book is a baker’s dream. Its title is definitely present in the vibrant photography that creates an atmosphere perfectly suited for, you know, a high tea at home.

The touch I like the most is how Astrid Field has arranged the recipes into different high tea menus including South African, Chocolate, and more. It’s a fun little serving suggestion that shows people how they can use and pair the recipes.

Anecdotes help to add personality to the recipes as Astrid shares helpful tips and stories about the delicious recipes that make up the book. Having descriptions helps to bring to life and contextualise recipes letting readers understand their function even more.

My love of salted caramel is so strong that I could not resist making a macaron version.

High Tea at Home, p. 87
Source: Instagram

The vibrant photography (taken by her husband Brett Field) creates an atmosphere that resonates throughout the book. The power of visuals is certainly evident here!

Final Thoughts

There you have it! 5 incredible South African cookbooks that tell shareable, personal stories that we can definitely learn from when it comes to content creation.

  1. Appeal to the senses.
  2. Create meaning.
  3. Educate your audience.
  4. Keep your story consistent.
  5. Vibrant visuals add more.

I think there will have to be a part 2 at some point as there are just so many more incredible South African cookbooks that are excellent examples of storytelling.

Keep an eye out in the future! My collection of cookbooks is ever growing.

Feature Image: Pixabay


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