South African yellow rice is a delicious fragrant rice. While traditionally served with South African bobotie, this rice recipe can also be served as a side dish to any other curry. The rice gets its yellow colour from turmeric spice and its sweetness from the raisins. Adding a cinnamon stick completes the full aroma of this dish.

long shot of south african yellow rice with raisins and cinnamon stick in 2 bowls

What is yellow rice or ‘geelrys’?

Yellow rice is an interesting twist to a classic bowl of plain white rice and goes well with curry dishes. It’s basically a flavoured rice with spices. Locally in South Africa, yellow rice is also known as ‘Geelrys’ which translates literally to ‘yellow rice’ in Afrikaans, which is one of the 12 official languages of the country. In South African cuisine, this yellow rice recipe is traditionally served as a side dish with a Cape Malay curry called Bobotie.

The Cape Malay are an ethnic group of South Africa who originate from Malaysia and Indonesia and came to South Africa in the 17th century as slaves and have since found a home in Cape Town, hence the name ‘Cape Malay’. So basically South African yellow rice does not originate from South Africa itself, but became part of the local heritage after it was introduced by the Malay people. Cape Malay cuisine is known for its full aromatic flavours. The food is also known for being mildly spicy with a rather fruity taste.

South African yellow rice with turmeric raisins and cinnamon in a green and black bowl

Yellow rice ingredients

South African yellow rice has a subtle yet complex aroma, however, this South African dish has just a handful of ingredients.

ingredients yellow rice with cinnamon stick turmeric raisins
  • Rice: Usually South African yellow rice is made with basmati rice. If you have no basmati rice at home, you can also make this yellow rice recipe with long grain white or brown rice. Just keep in mind that both white and brown long grain rice have different cooking times than basmati rice. It is best to follow the instructions on the packet to cook the rice.
  • Raisins: Add either raisins or sultanas to get the typical fruity flavour in the rice.
  • Turmeric: This yellow coloured spice is what gives the dish its beautiful bright yellow colour. As for taste, ground turmeric is quite pungent and earthy and when using too much it will make your dish taste bitter. The key is to find the right balance of quantity which will give your dish the right taste.
  • Cinnamon: Adding a cinnamon stick infuses the rice with a warm and rich aroma which makes this rice side dish a complement to any curry or bobotie.
  • Salt: Add a bit of salt to the water to give extra flavour to the rice.
  • Sugar (optional): Sugar is added to the rice for an extra sweet taste, however, for me, the raisins add enough sweetness, so I leave the sugar out.
top view long yellow rice with cinnamon and sultanas in a black bowl

How to make yellow rice

Note: All the exact quantities of the ingredients can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

This fragrant yellow rice has such a delicate and beautiful aroma that most people might be overwhelmed by making it themselves. You will be surprised how easy and quick it is to make this yellow rice from scratch.

  1. First of all, place the uncooked basmati rice in a colander or fine mesh strainer and rinse well under cold running water to remove excess starch. Make sure the rice is drained well.
  2. Put the rice in a medium saucepan or pot, add the turmeric, cinnamon stick, raisins and salt.
  3. Add the correct amount of water. For basmati rice, the ratio is 1 cup of rice to 1,5 cups of cold water. With this ratio there is no need to drain excess water. It’s important to use cold water for the correct cooking time of the rice.
  4. Bring the water to a boil. As soon as the water boils, immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover with a tight fitting lid so the rice can steam. It’s important to not lift the lid during the cooking time to allow the rice to steam evenly. Cook for 12 minutes.
  5. After 12 minutes, lift the lid to ensure all the water is absorbed. Cover the pan again and take off the heat. Leave to rest covered for 10 minutes.
  6. Fluff the rice with a fork after resting time. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Serving suggestions

Traditionally, South African yellow rice is served as a classic side dish with South African bobotie, which is a Cape Malay minced meat curry. It’s also served with the vegetarian bobotie with lentils. Both dishes complement one another perfectly well. When in South Africa, go find a local restaurant and order ‘Bobotie met geelrys’ or ‘Bobotie with yellow rice’. You’ll love it. It is usually also served with various sambals, like this tomato and onion sambal, as well as with chutneys.

Fragrant yellow rice goes really well with any curry dish, as well as various meat stews and lentil dishes. Even with seafood and fish, like South African snoek, yellow rice tastes really great.

top view of yellow spiced rice on an african table cloth

FAQ – Tips & Tricks

Can you make this rice ahead of time?

Even though the rice tastes best when serving immediately after cooking and resting, this yellow rice can be made ahead of time. Just store in the fridge immediately after cooking in a closed airtight container and reheat when ready to serve. The easiest is to reheat it in the microwave. When reheating in a pan, make sure to stir so the rice does not stick to the bottom of then pan.

How to store yellow rice?

Store leftover cooked rice in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 1 day. Don’t leave the cooked rice out for too long, try to put it in the fridge within an hour after cooking.

Can you freeze South African yellow rice?

Yes, you can freeze yellow rice, in a sealed bag or airtight container. Defrost or reheat either in the microwave or in a pan on the stove just before serving.

Can you replace turmeric to make the rice yellow?

If you don’t like turmeric or you don’t have this spice at home, you can also use curry powder. Curry powder contains apart from turmeric some other spices, so don’t use too much, otherwise the taste of your rice will be different to the traditional yellow rice.

South African yellow rice with turmeric raisins and cinnamon in a green and black bowl
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South African yellow rice

South African yellow rice is a delicious fragrant rice. Traditionally served with South African bobotie, this rice recipe can also be served as a side dish to any other curry. This yellow rice gets it colour from turmeric and its sweetness from the raisins. Adding a cinnamon stick completes the full aroma of this dish.
Prep Time3 minutes
Cook Time12 minutes
Resting time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: South African
Servings: 4
Author: Sabine


  • 1 cup (8 oz or 200 g) uncooked basmati rice rinsed and drained
  • cup (12 oz or 360 ml) water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric
  • cups (3.5 oz or 100 g) raisins
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • Put the rice into a colander and rinse well under cold running water.
  • In a medium saucepan, add the rice, raisins, turmeric, salt and water and bring to the boil.
  • When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to a minimum and cover with a tightfitting lid. Let it simmer for 12 minutes. Do not remove the lid while cooking!
  • After 12 minutes, take the pan off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes, still covered with the lid.
  • After resting time, fluff the rice with a fork.
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South African yellow rice with cinnamon raisins and turmeric
South African yellow rice with cinnamon raisins and turmeric
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