South African bobotie is a fruity and spiced minced meat dish covered with a creamy egg custard. Often considered as South Africa’s national dish, this Cape Malay curry has a perfect balance of spice and sweetness. Traditionally served with a bowl of fragrant yellow rice and various sambals as side dishes, and due to its mild flavor, it will surely become a new family favorite.
I learned to prepare bobotie, pronounced as ‘BO-BOOR-TEA’, many years ago when I worked in South Africa as a safari guide. I always cooked this dish for the tourists while touring Southern Africa and I can only say that this Cape Malay bobotie recipe is a big crowd-pleaser for all ages. It’s also a great dish to cook to see how all the flavors blend into a delicious meal.
People often ask me what bobotie is made of, or what the most traditional bobotie recipe is. I can only say that there is not one single authentic recipe for bobotie. Ask various people and each one will share a slightly different version about which spices and other additional ingredients to add. However, there are a few key ingredients that make the basis of this dish and which any easy bobotie recipe should at least contain to give this classic South African dish its typical sweet and slightly spiced taste and aroma. Also do try this vegetarian bobotie with lentils which is made similar but completely plant-based.
Origin of bobotie
The introduction of bobotie in South Africa can be traced back to the 17th century. There are however various versions about the official origin of the bobotie recipe. One version suggests that it was brought by the Dutch to the Cape who had adopted the recipe from their colonies in Asia. Another version says that it was brought by the Malay people themselves who came to South Africa as slaves and who eventually settled permanently in Cape Town, hence the name Cape Malay. Even though the origins are unclear and whether the dish was introduced by the Cape Malay or not, or by the Afrikaners (the Dutch), bobotie is now part of the South African heritage. It symbolises the ‘Rainbow Nation’, as South Africa is also called, where 2 South African culinary traditions (Cape Malay cuisine and Afrikaans ‘boerekos’) meet in one national dish.
Which ingredients to use
- Minced meat: Lamb, ostrich or other game meat mince is often used in South Africa to make bobotie. Ground beef is also quite common, which is what I used for this recipe.
- Garlic and onion: Garlic and onion can be considered staple ingredients to season any curry as well as bobotie.
- Raisins: Raisins or sultanas are added to put the lovely fruity flavor into the mince mixture making it deliciously sweet.
- Apricot jam: Apricot jam adds a hint of sweetness giving bobotie its typical taste.
- Bread: Adding bread helps with the consistency and thickens the curry.
- Milk and Eggs: Both ingredients are the base of the egg custard which is the top layer of the bobotie.
- Bay leaves: Bay leaves are added to the egg topping and flavors the custard as it’s baking in the oven. Additionally, it adds a colorful and fun touch to the dish.
It counts for any Malaysian or Indonesian inspired dish that quite a lot of spices are added, so this is where recipes can vary quite a bit. Over the years, the spices added to bobotie have been simplified to just a couple of teaspoons of mild curry powder, making it more accessible to make for many people. Not everybody has a cupboard full of spices. For this reason I have simplified the recipe and only added spices that most people should already have at home.
I have used turmeric, ground cumin, ground cinnamon, mild curry powder, a dried herb mix (basil and oregano), pepper and salt. I have also added a little bit of cayenne pepper to the dish for some extra heat, but you can leave it out if you just want to make a sweet bobotie.
If you have more spices at home, feel free to add them. The following spices can be added according to your personal taste: ground ginger, fennel seeds, ground fenugreek, ground mustard seeds and a tiny bit of ground cloves and nutmeg. If you add these spices, reduce the amount of curry powder in the recipe. And add maximum half a teaspoon per spice.
- Add dried apricots instead of raisins or add a bit of both for the best fruity experience.
- I also love to add chutney to bobotie instead of apricot jam, and more specifically the world-famous (from South Africa) ‘Mrs. Balls Chutney‘. It’s absolutely divine! This chutney is made with dried peaches and apricots and is finger-licking good. In South Africa, the locals use either chutney or apricot jam to prepare bobotie, so feel free to use either one of them.
- I have seen recipes using mango chutney, which is a great alternative as well. I have never used mango chutney in any of the bobotie dishes I’ve prepared, so I cannot speak from personal experience as to how it would taste.
- Red lentils: I often add a handful of red lentils. They are a healthy addition to this dish and soak up the liquid which makes the bobotie a bit firmer.
- Almond flakes: The taste of almond combines really well with bobotie. It gives that extra touch of flavor.
How to make bobotie
Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
South African bobotie usually contains quite a lot of ingredients, especially spices, but making bobotie is not as difficult as it seems. The key is to get as much flavor as possible into this dish and to get these flavors into a perfect balance. So just follow the steps below or in the recipe card and you will be able to serve a delicious South African curry.
- Soak raisins and bread: Soak the raisins in a bowl of water to soften them and soak the crustless white bread in some milk which will allow it to dissolve into the mince.
- Sauté the onions: Heat oil in a skillet or cooking pot over medium heat and sauté the onions until translucent. Stir in the spices (turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, curry powder), herbs and garlic and keep frying for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Fry the mince: Add the beef mince, then use a fork or a wooden spoon to break the mince into small grains. Fry until lightly brown. While the mince is browning, add the apricot jam or chutney and mix well.
- Add the raisins and bread: Drain the water from the raisins and the milk from the bread. Before you add the bread to the mince, be sure to squeeze out the excess milk with your hands, then keep the milk in a separate bowl and set aside. Add the bread, raisins and almond flakes to the mince and stir until all is mixed well and the bread lumps have disintegrated into the mixture.
- Prepare the oven dish: Put the mince mixture into an oven dish and flatten the top well with the back of a spoon or the bottom of a jar. It needs to be flat and tightly packed together so the egg custard stays on top and does not seep through the gaps of the mince.
- Make the egg custard: To prepare the egg mixture for the custard topping: In a mixing bowl, add the eggs, spices and the milk that was preserved from the soaked bread and whisk together well. Pour the egg custard over the mince mixture in the oven dish and arrange the bay leaves evenly on top of it.
- Bake the bobotie: Place the dish in a preheat oven (365°F or 185°C) until the egg custard is set.
make ahead tips
Bobotie can perfectly be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for up to 2 days in the oven dish it was baked in, after letting it cool off naturally. Cover the dish with tin foil.
Bobotie can also be frozen, but only if the egg custard has been baked. Or, you can make and freeze portions of mince, then make fresh egg custard as needed when you intend to eat the bobotie.
You can reheat bobotie either on low temperature in the oven or just a few minutes in the microwave.
How to serve bobotie
Traditionally, bobotie is served with yellow rice and tomato sambal (or onion and tomato salad). The fragrant yellow rice and sambals combines really well with the flavor of bobotie. Or consider adding a twist by serving this Greek lemon rice or Mexican spicy rice as a side.
You can serve with a variation of side dishes like curried green beans, sliced banana, various sambals, curried carrots, Italian green beans, mango salsa or South African ‘boereboontjies’, which is a mixture of green beans and potatoes. Additionally, you can add to the side some extra peach or mango chutney or pickled vegetables.
I even love to eat this Cape Malay curry with just a nice piece of crusty bread. Just dip in and eat.
Let me know in the comments how you liked your South African bobotie. Enjoy en geniet jou ete!
More South African recipes to try:
- Braaibroodjies or BBQ grilled cheese sandwich
- Chakalaka – South African vegetable dish
- Fragrant yellow rice
- Tomato and onion sambal
- Spicy grilled pineapple spears
- Vegetarian lentil bobotie
South African bobotie
- 1½ pound (or 700 grams) beef mince
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ⅔ cup (or 100 grams) raisins
- 3 tablespoons apricot jam
- 2 slices white bread remove crusts
- ½ cup (or 125 ml) full cream milk
- 2 tablespoons flaked almonds
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons curry powder mild
- 1 teaspoon dried herbs oregano and basil mix
- pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- 3 eggs
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- salt to taste
- Preheat the oven to 365°F or 185°C.
- Take 2 bowls. Soak the crustless slices of bread in the milk. Soak the raisins in water. Set both bowls aside.
- In a large pan or skillet, heat cooking oil and sauté the onions over medium heat for 5 minutes until translucent. Add all the spices, minced garlic and ground beef while stirring regularly to break down into small grains. Cook for about 10 minutes until brown. Add the apricot jam and mix well.
- Meanwhile, squeeze the milk out of the bread with your hands, but preserve the milk in a separate bowl to use for the egg topping. Drain the water from the raisins.
- Add the raisins, bread and almond flakes to the mixture and stir well together. Cook for another 5 minutes on medium heat.
- Transfer the mixture into an oven dish. Use the back of a spoon to press the beef mixture down and flatten well to make the top smooth. The egg topping needs to stay on top and not disappear into the meat.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, turmeric, cumin, salt and the milk that was used to soak the bread.
- Pour the egg mixture over the meat, arrange the bay leaves on top. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes until the egg custard is set.
- Serve immediately with yellow rice and tomato salad.
- I add a teaspoon of dried herbs (oregano and basil) to the egg mixture for extra flavor. You can leave it out if you prefer that.
- Not everyone is a fan of adding dried fruit to a savory dish or curry. If you prefer to leave the raisins out, just add more apricot jam or chutney to get the same balance of sweetness.
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