Culinary Traditions

What the heck do pickled fish, lamb & hot cross buns have to do with Easter?

29 March 2018 - 00:00
By Jessica Brodie
Roast leg of lamb with spiced yoghurt.
Image: Matthew van Lill Roast leg of lamb with spiced yoghurt.

Families across the country will celebrate Easter this weekend by serving up lamb, hot cross buns and pickled fish — hopefully not all on the same plate.

We explore how these dishes became a traditional part of our holiday feasts and share some easy recipes to make them.


Why do we eat it?

The serving of pickled fish on Good Friday is a uniquely South African tradition with a history that's as mysterious as the sea itself. One thing everyone agrees on is that this food tradition hails from the Western Cape. Beyond that, the jury is out. 

Some say it came about because fishing boats didn't used to go out over the Easter weekend making the pickling of fish a necessity in the days before fridges and freezers.

How to make it:

Where to buy it:


Why we eat it?

The tradition of eating lamb on Easter actually has its origins in the Jewish holiday of Passover.

In the biblical story of the Exodus, Moses petitioned the Pharaoh of Egypt to free the  Israelite slaves. When he refused, God punished the Egyptian people with 10 plagues, the worst of which was the death of their firstborn sons. The Israelites were told to mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificial lamb so that the Angel of Death would know to 'pass over' their homes and spare their children.

Accustomed to eating roast lamb on this Jewish holiday, Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition at Easter, which often coincides with Passover.

Christians also refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God", the sort of symbolism which enshrines lamb as the most beloved of Easter meats.

How to make it:


Why we eat them:

There isn't one clear explanation as to how hot cross buns made it on to our Easter menus. The most convincing story as to their origin is that an Anglican monastery started producing the buns in the 12th century, decorating them with a cross in honour of Good Friday. Over time the sweet treats gained popularity becoming an integral part of Easter celebrations.

How to make them:

RECIPE: Choc-cross buns
8 years ago

Where to buy them: