Sunday, 28 April 2013

Flavours of South Africa: Bobotie

Being part of a large blogging community has some interesting side effects. One of them being the greater awareness of what goes on around the world in terms of culinary arts, if you will.

You also get ideas about the mood of the month and what is fashionable or not. I am also a member of the Flavors of the World community on Google+. This is quite interesting from a historical perspective, as South African cuisine is a fusion of flavors from the Far East, East Africa and Europe.

This is a result of the closure of the overland silk and spice route through the Middle East and Constantinople (now Istanbul) around the early 1400's. This led to the opening of the spice and tea route around the southern tip of Africa and the eventual establishment of the victualing station at Cape Town. Which led to my being a white African, so to speak. But that is another story.

The resulting food is quite delicious and flavourful, known as the Cape Malay style of cooking. This style of cooking is kept alive by the very colourful Cape Malay people in and around Cape Town. And the rest of South Africa as well, especially for a dish like bobotie.

Pronounced boh-boo-ti. “Boh” as in “bottom,” “boo” as in “booty,” “ti” as in a short cuppa. Close enough phonetics, I think.

The dish originally was made using minced lamb, which is relatively scarce or unobtainable. Unless you mince your own leg of lamb, of course. Lean ground beef works as well. Bobotie is a baked dish, consisting of spiced minced meat, covered in an egg custard. The flavour is on the sweet side and may be made mild to quite spicy. It is usually served with yellow rice with raisins as a very traditional South African dish. It is quite easy to prepare and well worth the little effort for the exquisite result. It took me longer to do this write-up than to prepare the dish, bar the baking.

The dish will go well with a fruity dry white wine, perhaps even slightly off-dry, depending on the spiciness of your specific version of bobotie. I normally have a light red wine with meals like this, where the South African Pinotage variety is the wine of choice.

I used fresh masala paste instead of the garlic and chilli. There is also some chopped up dried apricots to add to the sweet and tangy taste. Don't fret if you don't have chutney, just use a little more apricot jam and chilli. Or just a little more chopped up dried fruit. The vinegar and other spices will do the trick just fine. Or add some raisins.

I only used the freshly toasted almonds and chopped dried apricots. The result was outstanding. Toasting the dry almonds strengthens their flavour by a large margin, so you can use less, lest the nutty flavour dominates the rest of the spices. The bay/ lemon leaves I substituted with dried curry leaves.

This recipe will be enough for about four to six servings, depending on who dishes up!


500 g lean ground beef
1 thick slice bread/ 2 normal slices
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped and minced
15 ml curry powder of choice
15 ml turmeric
15 ml apricot jam
15 ml chutney
5 ml of brown vinegar or lemon juice
5 ml Worcestershire sauce if you feel like more flavour.
50 ml almonds, preferably freshly roasted, then chopped/mashed finely.
50 ml seedless raisins. I substituted 50 ml dried apricots, chopped finely.
some salt to taste.
8-10 lemon leaves or bay leaves.


Chop the bread into small cubes/large crumbs and soak it in the milk. Toast the almonds whole in a dry pan. When they are brown, mash them into coarse crumbs. Squeeze the milk from the bread and keep the milk, add the soaked bread to the meat. Add the chopped apricots, the almond crumbs and all the wet ingredients, except the milk and eggs. Mix this thoroughly.

Rather use less of the vinegar, chutney and apricot jam than more, as these may dominate the other flavours.

Fry the chopped onions until they start to caramelise. Add the garlic and fry until the garlic is also done. Add the dry powder curry and the turmeric and fry for 10 seconds, then add the meat mix to the pan and fry until the meat is done. The meat will turn a nice brown if you used duck fat instead of cooking oil for the frying.

Whisk the two eggs into the milk. Add a little more milk if required. You need about 1 to 1½ cups of the egg mix. Spread the meat in a shallow oven proof dish and arrange the bay leaves/ curry leaves/ lemon leaves in the meat. Pour over the egg mix, then bake this at 180ºC / 350ºF for twenty minutes or until the egg custard has turned a nice light brown in spots.

Remove the dish from the oven and let it rest for another twenty minutes to develop flavour. Or switch off the oven and leave the dish inside for another fifteen minutes.

You can remove the leaves before serving, but it is rather nice to lick them off during the course of your meal...

Serve with yellow turmeric rice.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Adapted from this recipe.

Last updated on 2013-04-29


  1. This a fabulous and well known dish, great for chilly evenings or midday outdoor meals. Great job Ziets! You can even make it in advance and reheat it gently.It's nicer fresh though!

  2. once again a brilliant post. I LOVE a good bobotie and this is definitely one of them.

    1. Thanks Anél. It was just that type of weather in the Cape crying out for a nice bobotie. My first one ever.

  3. I just tried bobotie for the first time in my life in the restaurant in Atlanta. We went there with our good friends Theo and Rene J. on the weekend you post the recepie -:) Loved the dish! Planning to cook it soon. Definitely will use your recepie!

  4. Nice recipe! We had some halfway decent Bobotie just this weekend at Yebo restaurant in Atlanta. Served as a "bunny chow" in white bread. I do prefer the yellow rice though.René Jooste

  5. I had bobotie for the first time in my life this past weekend, while visiting Atlanta with our good friends Theo and Rene J. Love it. Will try to make it.

  6. Thanks for the support, Rene and Alina! You should be able to get all the ingredients quite easily over in the USA. Easy dish, easy to get addicted!

  7. I wanted to add that contrary to our usual reluctance to order blended wines, we were curious and subsequently enjoyed an Ernie Els Big Easy with our meal, remarkably smooth and not bad at all!

    1. Good for you! The blended wines are almost beginning to rule over here, there is a plethora to choose from. Most of the wines are now made to drink now, not to be stashed away.