South African Cuisine | Cape Malay Bobotie Recipe – Travel Belles (2024)

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A tale of South African cuisine and friendship

Tessa was a special lady.

South African Cuisine | Cape Malay Bobotie Recipe – Travel Belles (1)

She had class, talent, and a huge heart. We met in blogland, where we discovered we shared the same deep love for South Africa, her homeland and my dream life destination.

After exchanging numerous comments and visits on our respective blogs, sending back and forth thousands of emails, and chatting online, we brought the friendship to the next level and began exchanging packages, with the promise to one day finally sip Pimm’s in her Norfolk garden.

When the earthquake hit Aquila in April 2009, she delivered a painting of her favorite Abruzzo landscape. When England and illness made the distance from South Africa unbearable for her, I’d send over photographs, and chocolate. I have many paintings by Tessa in my home, and their light comforts me every time I glance at them.After a long and courageous battle against pulmonary fibrosis, Tessa passed away on the 27th of December 2010, surrounded by her family.

One more of her lovely gifts (which always arrived wrapped in personally crafted floral prints and gilded dragonflies) was also her Bobotie, a typical South African recipe of curried ground beef and egg custard.

I’m sharing this special dish for this edition of Cooking Around the World, in her words, as she told it with her musical elegance, and painted in her warm colors, just like her artwork.

“Although I’ve lived in many parts of Africa, Cape Town is where I was born and raised so it seems appropriate that I should take you there. Please, come with me to that beautiful city nestled in the curve of its famous mountain, and allow me to introduce you to the colourful Bo-Kaap area and to the Cape Malay people who live there.

South African Cuisine | Cape Malay Bobotie Recipe – Travel Belles (2)

Cape Malays(Afrikaans: Kaapse Maleiers) are an ethnic group or community in South Africa.

The Cape Malay Quarter, or ‘Bo-Kaap’ as it is known locally, sprawls along the slopes of Signal Hill and presents a scenario of enduring historical and cultural significance. With their soft, caramel skins and wide smiles, the Cape Malay people are a prized and proud element of the South African culture.

Cape Malay cuisine is a delicious fusion of Asian, European and African food genres. From clove laden denningvleis lamb to naartjie (tangerine) zest infused tameletjie cookies, Cape Malay cooking is seasoned with history, infused with culture and full of fine flavours.

The Malay influence comes through in the curries, chilies and extensive use of spices such as ginger, cinnamon and turmeric. More Malay magic comes through the use of fruit cooked with meat, marrying sweet and savoury flavours, with hints of spice, curry and other seasonings. The food has a nuance of seductive spiciness, true testament to the culinary capabilities of Malay women worldwide.

Bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea) is exceptional served hot with geelrys (yellow rice), but just as good enjoyed cold, alongside a peppery green salad with a tart vinaigrette dressing.

Tessa’s Cape Malay Bobotie Recipe

1 large onion, chopped

• 30 gr (1 oz) butter

• 500 gr (1 lb) ground beef

• 3 large eggs

• 2 garlic cloves, crushed

• 1-inch fresh root ginger, peeled and grated

• 2 tsp Garam masala

• 1/2 tsp turmeric

• 1 tsp ground cumin

• 1 tsp ground coriander

• 2 cloves

• 3 allspice berries

• 1 tsp dried mixed herbs

• 50 gr (1/4 cup) dried apricots, chopped

• 50 gr (1/4 cup) sultanas

• 2 tbsp flaked almonds

• 3 tbsp chutney

• 4 tbsp chopped parsley

• 4 bay leaves, plus extra to garnish

• 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk

Preheat the oven to 180° C/gas mark 4 (356° F).

Heat the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions until translucent, and set aside. Heat a large frying pan over high heat and brown the beef, without oil.

Remove from the heat and add the onions together with all the other ingredients except the milk and eggs. Mix well and put into four 10-oz ovenproof bowls, or a large ovenproof dish. Press the mixture down with the back of a spoon.

Beat the milk and eggs together lightly and pour over the mince mixture. Bake for 20–25 minutes for small boboties (and 30–40 minutes for a large one) or until the topping has set and is golden brown. Once the custard covering the beef begins to bake, it will keep the meat moist and absorb the fragrance of the curry and spices.”

Ngiyabonga, Tessa. I miss you.

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About the author

Eleonora Baldwin

American-born and Roman-bred Eleonora Baldwin is an active writer, blogger, journalist, gourmet vacation entrepreneur and photographer living in the Eternal City. Her writing appears regularly in several online food and travel columns that focus on Italian lifestyle, culinary customs and recipes, as well as her soon-to-be released cookbook-memoir, due for publication in 2016. Her blogs illustrate dishes, restaurant reviews, and useful tools for parents travelling with kids in Rome. On Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, her most popular blog, Eleonora shared her insider knowledge about the depth of Italian cuisine. She can be spotted in and around the Eternal City guiding epicure travelers to secret food and wine locations, interviewing celebrity chefs, and capturing with her camera the essence, beauty and life that surrounds her.

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South African Cuisine | Cape Malay Bobotie Recipe – Travel Belles (2024)


What is a bobotie in English? ›

Bobotie is a South African dish similar to meatloaf but so much better. Ground beef is seasoned with slightly sweet curry, topped with a milk and egg custard, and baked until golden brown. It's delicious! Submitted by trixie. Updated on February 6, 2023.

Why is bobotie important in South Africa? ›

South Africa's Most Important Dish Is Also Its Most Historical. Beyond its sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors, Bobotie is a dish that shares the storied history of South African immigrants in Cape Malay. In terms of gastronomical variety and quality, South Africa's a hard country to compete with.

What are some fun facts about bobotie? ›

Bobotie appears to be a variant of patinam ex lacte, a dish documented by the ancient Roman writer Apicius consisting of layers of cooked meat, pine nuts, and seasoned with pepper, celery seeds and asafoetida. These were cooked until the flavours had blended, when a top layer of egg and milk was added.

What is the national dish of South Africa that is described as a bobotie? ›

Often considered the national dish of South Africa, bobotie is a fantastic mix of flavors, with fruit, curry and spice in a comforting meaty bake, finished off with a custard-like topping.

What are the main ingredients in bobotie? ›

Who eats bobotie in South Africa? ›

In South Africa, bobotie was adopted and adapted by the Cape Malay community – many of whom were slaves and labourers with roots in modern-day Indonesia – with the addition of curry powder, as well as the spices typically being transported by the Dutch East India Company from Indonesia to the Netherlands.

Is bobotie good for you? ›

This dish has a delightful taste, and it also includes turmeric, curry, and sometimes almonds. Eating bobotie helps in fighting disease, increases immunity in the body system, and helps reduce inflammation. It also provides necessary iron and protein, which helps your organs and muscles function at maximum capacity.

What is Africa's most eaten food? ›

With over 60 million West Africans involved in the production of yam, it's one of the most important staple food commodities in African cuisine. Yams are traditionally eaten boiled and mashed into a starchy dough-like paste known as swallow or fufu, often served with mixed vegetables, eggs, and meat curries or stews.

Who invented bobotie? ›

Others think it originated from Bobotok, an Indonesian dish containing different ingredients. The first recipe for Bobotie appeared in a Dutch cookbook in 1609. Afterwards, it was taken to South Africa and adopted by the Cape Malay community.

Why is it called bobotie? ›

There is more than one theory with regard to where the word 'bobotie' comes from. Some argue that the name comes from the Malayan word 'Boemboe', which translates to 'curry spices'. Yet others are of the opinion that it refers to the Indonesian 'bobotok' dish, which consists of meat with a custard topping.

Which culture eats bobotie? ›

Bobotie is a traditional South African dish that is considered one of the most iconic. Originating from the Cape Malay community, this recipe showcases the rich culinary heritage of South Africa. This flavour-packed dish features curried minced beef infused with dried fruit and topped with a creamy egg custard.

Which people eat bobotie? ›

While the specifics are a bit vague, it is thought by some that the original bobotie recipe came from Indonesia and was adapted to fit the available ingredients. Today many consider bobotie to be the national dish of South Africa, and it has become popular on menus featuring South African cuisine all over the world.

What language is bobotie from? ›

The etymology of the word 'bobotie' is not certain – but that it is a corruption of either the Bahasa (the language native to Indonesia, Malaysia & Tagalog in The Philippines) word 'bobotok' (the plural for 'botok') &/or 'boeboe' (meaning 'spicy') seems to be the most plausible.

What is the signature dish of South Africa? ›

Another dish thought to have been brought to South Africa by Asian settlers, bobotie is now the national dish of the country and cooked in many homes and restaurants. Minced meat is simmered with spices, usually curry powder, herbs and dried fruit, then topped with a mixture of egg and milk and baked until set.

What are two famous dishes of South Africa? ›

From national dishes to sweet treats, here are some of our favourite foods to try in South Africa:
  • Bobotie. ...
  • Boerewors. ...
  • Chakalaka and pap. ...
  • Biltong. ...
  • Potjiekos. ...
  • Vetkoek. ...
  • Durban bunny chow. ...
  • Malva pudding.
Jan 4, 2023

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