I recently cooked bobotie for the first time. How it could take me eight full years to try out this quintessential South African dish I have no idea, it is possibly as close to a national dish as you can get in this multicultural nation. Bobotie is a curried mince bake, made with beef or lamb. It’s topped with a layer of egg custard and often contains sweet, dried fruits like sultanas. Whereas the idea of a mince bake probably originally comes from the white settler Afrikaner community, the curry powder that is used to spice it gives it a distinctly Asian or Cape Malay touch.
In Tortoises and Tumbleweeds: Journey through an African Kitchen Lannice Snyman writes that the name bobotie is derived from the Indonesian bobotok and that the dish has it’s origins in the Dutch East India Company colonies in Batavia (now Indonesia). I followed a recipe in Tastes of Africa by Justice Kamanga under the supervision of my friend Maresa, who’s grown up on bobotie. In her family bobotie is traditionally served with sliced bananas covered in shredded coconut and with a tomato and onion sambal. And, most crucially, Mrs Ball’s chutney.
I hadn’t thought of any of the condiments so I ended up serving my bobotie with a spicy mango chutney I recently made from a recipe in a French food magazine. It worked out okay, but a tomato sambal would have been good too. The recipe called for 2 cups of double cream for the egg custard topping, but since there was no double cream in the shop I went with 1 cup of creme fraiche and 1 cup fresh whipping cream instead. It prompted Maresa to tell me that her mother says that traditional cooking is generally not as fat or sweet as modern recipes.
Originally a dish like bobotie, apparently known since the 17th century, might well have been made with milk rather than cream. In any case, it is super easy to make and certainly a great comfort food for cold winter evenings. The dish we made could have been a little more spicy according to Maresa. I thought it was a little dry, which might be because my owen is almost also from the 17th century and very temperamental. When she got back home to Stellenbosch in the Western Cape Maresa was kind to send me her mother’s recipe of bobotie, which I will try next time:
- 75g dried apricots
- 50g seedless raisins
- 75g dried apple rings
- 500g mince meat
- 1 thick slice of bread
- 500ml milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 large onion (chopped)
- 25ml butter
- 15ml curry powder
- 30ml sugar (can leave out or reduce if you want)
- 30ml vinegar
- 10ml salt
- 2ml black pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- A handful of almond slivers
Soak the dried fruit in water or lemon juice until it is rehydrated.
Soak the bread in 100ml of the milk. Mix it with the mince meat and put aside. Sautee the onions in butter till soft. Add the curry powder and stir another minute or so over a low heat. Add the sugar, salt, vinegar and pepper.
Measure off 100ml of the water in which you soaked the fruit and add to the mixture in the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes until it has thickened slightly.
Remove from heat and mix with the mince. Put the mixture in an oven proof dish. Push the bay leaf and almonds into the meat mixture.
Beat the eggs and remaining milk together and pour over the meat mixture. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until golden brown on top and the custard mix is set.
Serve with a tomato and onion sambal, some sliced fresh bananas (dusted with coconut if you want) and chutney (Mrs Balls).