Bobotie revisited


[As I am currently on holiday, this is a re-posting of one of the first traditional South African recipes that I ever posted on this blog, over five years ago in 2004.]

Bobotie is a classic South African dish and if you visit a restaurant serving traditional South African foods you are almost sure to encounter it.  It’s also one of those dishes that reflects the history of the country and the many cuisines that melded together to create what we now know as South African cuisine.

(Oh, and by the way, I now love bobotie – started liking it in my teens. And I have never figured out why I hated it so much when I was 5.)

When the Dutch settlers, led by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company, arrived at the Cape in 1652 they found that to work the land they would need slaves, as the indigenous people were, unsurprisingly,  none too interested in slaving for the colonists. The first Malay (the term “Malay” indicates Muslim belief and tradition, but not any particular place of origin) slaves arrived from Java and various Indonesian islands in 1658 and over the years their influence on Cape cuisine and the emerging Afrikaans language has been considerable (for example the word baie meaning very is unknown in Dutch as it is derived from the Malay word baiang). Being slaves, the Malays often ended up in the Dutch kitchens and their influence remains apparent in dishes such as bobotie. The origins of the name are not clear, but the curried spice, turmeric-yellow rice and the use of fruit in a meat dish are all indicative of this dish’s Malay roots.

Incidentally, descendants of these slaves still live in Cape Town in the historic Bokaap (say “boor-carp”, or Malay Quarter) on the slopes of Signal Hill in Cape Town, where they originally settled and it remains a tight-knit community who preserve their traditions and faith.  And while we are having a history lesson, don’t make the mistake of confusing the Cape Malay population with the Indian population of KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast – these are descendants of the indentured labour force which the British government authorised to be brought from the Indian subcontinent in about 1860 to work on the Natal sugar cane fields. They constitute the largest Indian community in South Africa and have made their own rich contribution to the cuisine of South Africa, including such delights as bunny chows.

The dish itself is a gently-spiced mince dish full of raisins which is then oven-baked with a layer of savoury egg custard on top to form a crust and keep the meat moist.  It is traditionally served with yellow rice and sambals.  There are dozens of variations – this one is was posted by Sean Borman, who obtained it from the Kaapse Tafel restaurant in Cape Town. If you are in a hurry and can’t be bothered to source all the spices, there is an easy way too – simply buy a Nice ‘n Spicy bobotie spice pack which comes complete with instructions and all the spices you need! Ideal for the lazy gourmet… and you can buy off the Net!

BOBOTIE Serves 4 to 6 persons


1kg steak mince (or lamb mince)
1 large onion
1 tablespoon oil
1 thick slice stale bread without the crust (white)
1 cup milk (more or less)
1 tablespoon apricot jam
juice of half a lemon (you can add more if you like it less sweet)
10-12 dried apricots
2 tablespoons seedless raisins
3 Tbsp slivered almonds
1 teaspoon curry powder (more if you prefer it stronger, but the dish is meant to have a mild curried flavour)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger grated
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
6 lemon leaves (or 3 bay leaves as a poor substitute) -you could grate a bit of the rind of the lemon before you squeeze it for the juice and add it to the bay leaves but add carefully so as not to allow the lemon to dominate
2 eggs


Lightly fry chopped onion over medium heat in oil till golden. Add chopped garlic and grated ginger. Remove from heat.

Soak bread in half a cup of milk, then crumble with a fork. Add to the mince and mix well.

Return the pot to the stove on medium heat. Add a little oil if the onion has absorbed it all. Add the meat and all other ingredients except the rest of the milk, the lemon leaves and the eggs.

Mix well to avoid lumps of mince. Cook until soft and cooked through, to the stage when meat is getting brown and not pink.

Check for seasoning and add anything you think is missing.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat mixture to a baking dish with about 5cm high sides

Reduce any residual gravy left in the pot by gently cooking without a lid.  When reduced sufficiently, add it to the baking dish – the meat should not be dry but there should not be any gravy pooling at the bottom of the dish.

Lightly beat the two eggs. Add 1 cup of milk plus what is left of the milk in which the bread was soaked. Total should not exceed one and a half cups. Mix well, add salt and pepper.

After beating well, pour the milk and egg mixture over the meat.  Place lemon leaves (or bay leaves & a little grated lemon rind) on top.

Bake uncovered in moderate oven (350-375F / 180-190C) for 30 to 40 minutes until the egg mixture has set. Hot with turmeric rice and chopped tomato and onion salad.

Serve piping hot with the yellow rice – see recipe below.



2 cups long-grain rice
4 cups water
2 Tbs oil (approx)
1/4 tsp turmeric
sutanas – as many or few as you like


Heat oil a little. Add the rice and stir till coated.  Add water, salt and rice.  Add the powdered turmeric (a little at a time till the shade of yellow you like has been achieved) and sultanas.

Cook gently for 15-20 min, covered and simmering on low heat. When most of the water is absorbed, switch off stove & let the rice swell before serving.

This post is part of a new series for 2010 called Sundays in South Africa.  As the entire football-conscious world knows by now, the FIFA World Cup 2010 will be taking place for the first time ever on African soil – in my home country of South Africa!  I can’t tell you how proud this makes me, or how good it is to see that all the stadiums that the naysayers said would never be built on time standing tall and proud and beautiful.  The country is, of course, anticipating a huge surge in visitors and I know that many people will see the cup as a reason to visit a country they have long been meaning to visit, and use the tournament as a jumping-off point for visiting other, non-football South African destinations. With this in mind, as well as my backlog of posts about my South African trips, I will be trying to post a review of somewhere South African, or a South African recipe, every Sunday in the run-up to the tournament.  I can’t pretend it is going to be a comprehensive guide to South Africa – but it will certainly be enough to give you some ideas!  Click here for previous posts in the series.


If you enjoyed reading this, please consider sharing it using the social media buttons below the post. I'd also love to hear what you thought about this post so please do leave a comment below. Hope to see you again soon!

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  1. says

    I had heard of this dish but never seen a recipe for it before – it looks surprisngly accessible, whereas I thought it would be super complicated!
    I really like your idea for the Sunday series – can’t wait to see more!

  2. says

    I grew up eating substandard babotie (sorry mom), and I could never figure out why people made such a fuss over it. But then I tasted
    one that was properly made, and boy, I was hooked. Yours looks just beautiful!

  3. says

    I think I would love this dish! I love all of the flavors in it. And it looks scrumptious.
    And what, football? Really? Humpfh! Me want rugby! But I’ll tell you one thing, I will not be rooting for the French team come the football world cup…

  4. Susan says

    Fossilised Granadilla Pips !!!! sorry to change the subject, but read somewhere you wrote about Fossilised Granadilla Pips – what on earth , and how on earth ??
    Am so intrigued .
    Please educate me.
    Also, I have hundreds of Granadillas at the moment,can’t pick them up fast enough. making Granadilla and Ginger Juice (delicious) but I am tired of Cheese Cake and Meringue as suitable options.
    I am looking for something exotic and exciting, can you help

  5. says

    I was so excited when I saw this dish – I knew it because Bruce had made it for me once. I’m so glad you gave us all a run down of the history as now, when he makes it the next time, I can recite most of this back at him. That should impress him =)

  6. says

    Very interesting recipe. I’d definitely love a taste and more. I think your idea for Sundays in South Africa is great. Lastly, congrats to the World Cup being played in your homeland. That’s exciting.

  7. says

    Ooh, I love Bobotee. I ate it quite a lot when I first arrived in England, as I had a SA flatmate for 6+ months. I think this was the only decent dish she knew! but I’ve kept it in my repertoire ever since (yes, I love meatloaf too). Your recipe varies a little from mine in the additon of lemon and ginger, (which I’ll definitely nick) and uses apricot instead of apples which sounds even more delicious. It’s the right weather for it, so I think it’s definitely time to make again. Thanks!

  8. says

    This is why I keep coming back, J. Thanks. My last bobotie wasn’t good at all, I think the minced meat wasn’t right. I’m gonna give this recipe a go.

  9. says

    As a South African in Brooklyn, NY and newcomer to the world of blogging (sometimes about food) — it is a delight to find your blog. I see a bobotie in my very near future. thanks for sharing your recipe!! i’m looking forward to the whole Sundays in SA series

  10. says

    Bobotie is a classic that will hopefully never go out of style! I know lots of people detest the raisins in the dish, but it’s one of the reasons I love it.

  11. Mogamat KAMEDIEN says

    Bobotie with yellow rice and sultanas have always been in our household a perennial winter season’s favourite dish serving as comfort food of choice. Bobotie, remains the signature dish of the regional Cape Malay cuisine of distinction served on an accompanying bed of yellow rice with sultanas. No wonder this classical recipe was accepted , adopted, and declared the national dish of South Africa by the United Nations Women’s Organisation in 1954. This South African heritage food has been embraced by food lovers across our shared diverse culinary traditions. This is our World Cup 2010 Food Challenge, long after the national soccer team, Bafana Bafana played their matches, this national dish will compete for placement on the World Cup multi-national menus across the globe.

  12. Ian says

    That looks absolutely delicious. Bobotie is one of the dishes I have really missed after leaving South Africa. Thank you for the great recipe. I will definately try it.

  13. Bunnie says

    Ihave been making this dish for about 15 years now and your recipe
    has too many ingredients – it is really a simple dish and there are
    varients in the make up of it. I use 2 tbs Mango chutney inplace of
    your Apricot jam and all the fruit. No ginger, garlic or almonds
    in the original recipe – dont know where you got that from and it
    would make it a completely different dish. However, if it suits
    our western palate – fine. Enjoy it is a great dish however it is

  14. says

    Hi Bunnie – thanks for visiting and for your comment. I believe you will find that there are many slight variations on the recipe, as there are with most recipes this old, and it is probably no longer possible to say what the “original” recipe was. I grew up with this version and I see that Cass Abrahams, one of the most respected figures in Cape Malay cooking, uses garlic, almonds and fruit in her version too.

  15. Susan - New Jersey says

    I am South African and moved to the states a couple of years back- and let me tell you every now and then i crave everything South African!!!
    Good thing i bought mince yesterday cause tonight is BOBOTIE NIGHT!!! Thank you for the awesome recipe!!!