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. It's one delicious meal.
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My mum has a bit of a habit of picking up cook books on her travels to help her enjoy some of the dishes she had tried while there. I can completely relate, as food definitely brings back memories for me, in a good way, and it's nice to relive tasty moments.
I remember her enthusiastically making bobotie after a trip to Cape Town and the South African wine region, and I could understand why. Since then, I have played around with recipes, and this version is one we all love.
What are the origins of bobotie?
Bobotie is often considered South Africa's national dish. It originates from the Cape Malay community, which has given a number of dishes that are now considered core to South African cooking including sosaties and bredie.
The community initially developed due to the Dutch East India Company exiling enslaved Indonesians resisting the company's rule. They were sent to South Africa, another location on their trade route.
The name Cape Malay is due to the group originally being Malay speaking in the Cape Town region. But the group came to include enslaved people from other cultures, or more broadly Muslims in the region.
As the community evolved, they stopped speaking Malay, and now largely speak Afrikaans or in some cases English, but have kept many traditions from the early days. And many of the foods, like this, that evolved from adapting flavors from their origins to South Africa are now national staples.
Fruit in with the meat?!
Having fruit in with the meat may seem a bit unusual but if you've ever tried a tagine, like lamb tagine with apricots, you'll know it works.
The fruit and onions mixed in with the meat here keep it lovely and moist. Along with the other great flavors in there, you can hardly help but find it delicious.
In actual fact, fruit isn't in all versions of bobotie. Like a lot of dishes that have been around a while, there are a number of variations. Personally I think it works really well so it's a must in there for me.
The dish is topped with a simple egg and milk mix that firms up to form a slight crust when it cooks. In the pictures here, my dish was a bit wider so the layer is thin, but with a less wide but deeper dish, it will cover a little thicker. Either way, it will taste good.
See how it comes together in the short video!
What do you serve with bobotie?
The traditional way of serving bobotie is with some yellow rice, then often with slices of banana and some pickle or chutney on the side. We also added some green beans - other green veggies would also work well for contrast but complimentary flavors.
Similar to a lasagna or moussaka, you can make this dish ahead and either keep it in the fridge or freeze it. Personally I'd prefer to do up until you put the topping on and just make this and add when you are ready to cook. For one, I am never as keen on keeping dairy/eggs exposed, plus it may sink in to the base if left too long.
Bobotie is such a comforting dish with a wonderful mix of flavors. Savory and meaty, but with that touch of sweetness and spice. It's no wonder it's a South African favorite, and hopefully it will soon be one of your too.
Try these other comforting international dishes:
- Youvetsi (Greek lamb-beef and orzo stew)
- Crawfish etouffee
- Slow cooker lamb rogan josh
- Bo kho (Vietnamese beef stew)
- Aji de gallina (Peruvian chicken stew)
- Plus get more comforting winter recipes in the archives.
- 1 tbsp butter 10g
- 2 onions medium
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 slice bread large
- 1 cup milk 240ml
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 ½ lb ground beef 680g, or ground lamb/beef or lamb mince or a mixture of both
- 1 apple peeled, cored and grated
- ¼ cup raisins 35g
- ½ lemon juice
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 eggs
- Melt the butter in a large skillet/frying pan. Dice the onions and crush the garlic then add both to the pan and cook until soft, around 5mins.
- Meanwhile, cut the crusts from the bread and soak it in the milk.
- Preheat oven to 325F/160C.
- Add the curry powder, turmeric and cumin to the onions and stir well, cook for a minute then add the ground meat/mince.
- Cook the meat, stirring ever minute or two, until browned.
- Add the apple, raisins and soaked bread to the pan - do not throw away the milk.
- Stir the pan to mix everything in then remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and one egg and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and press down flat.
- Mix the remaining egg with the retained milk and pour over the meat mixture. Top with a bay leaf (optional).
- Bake in the oven for around 40-50 minutes until the topping is set and lightly browned.
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This post was originally shared in March 2016 and has been updated with new photos, video and additional information.