In South Africa, the informal sector, including food vending, is either criminalized or ignored. This is despite the fact that it plays an important role in the economy in terms of employment, income generation, food distribution and livelihoods for the urban poor. This paper assesses the nature, operations, strategies and challenges of the informal food sector in Cape Town. Data was collected through a survey of over 1000 informal food vendors in the city. Most of the enterprises were single-owner businesses, financed from personal savings and started by owners seeking employment, independence and improved financial security for their families. Most businesses had little or no access to finance from government agencies, banks and micro-finance lenders. Entrepreneurs faced various challenges ranging from insufficient sales, competition, changing consumer food needs and rising stock prices. To survive in a challenging economic environment, they adopt various innovative strategies including changing the types of foods they sell, increasing food stock variety, monitoring formal food retailing prices and negotiating with suppliers for favourable stock prices. Despite the various challenges being experienced, the informal food sector has become an integral and indispensable component of the food system of the city.