How bobotie became a traditional South African dish is unknown. The word is derived from the Indonesian word “bobotok”, the recipe for which first appeared in a Dutch cookbook in the year 1609.

Introduced to South Africa by the Cape Malays in the 17th century, it can almost be regarded as an indigenous dish, embellished and perfected by each succeeding generation.

Bobotie as it is made today is regarded as a variation of the original Indonesian recipe (“bobotok”) in which the meat with its custard topping was cooked in a pan of water until the egg mixture set.

A basic bobotie begins with minced lamb or beef, a little soaked bread, eggs, butter, finely chopped onion, garlic, curry powder and turmeric. All are mixed together, put in a pie dish with meat drippings, and baked in a low oven for a time. The moment the mixture begins to brown, the dish is taken from the oven and some eggs beaten up with milk are poured over the top; then the dish is put back into the oven and baked very slowly to a deep brown. The pace of the cooking is important: if the oven is too hot the bobotie will be dry, and that should never happen, for an ideal bobotie is eaten moist, over rice.

Another method used in making this soft-textured dish is to mix the minced meat, preferably lamb, with a little soaked bread, flavour it with a mixture of fried onions, curry powder, vinegar and apricot jam, and bake it in a slow oven to prevent it drying out. The addition of orange or lemon leaves gives bobotie a distinctive aroma, while the egg custard topping, added halfway through cooking, imparts an attractive golden lustre.

What I have described above are only two of many variations, there are almost as many as there are homes in South Africa.

Fish bobotie is flaked fish turned into a fish pie rich with the flavours of Indonesia, like nutmeg, turmeric and bay leaves. It is served topped with an egg custard and accompanied by a traditional chutney.

Serve bobotie with yellow rice, chutney and a selection of sambals.


Category: South African Cuisine

Subcategory: Cape Malay