Seswaa, aka Pounded Beef – Botswana

Seswaa at the Courtyard restaurant in Gaborone, Botswana, served with sorghum porridge and stewed pumpkin leaves.
Seswaa at the Courtyard restaurant in Gaborone, Botswana, served with sorghum porridge and stewed pumpkin leaves.

Lonely Planet just named Botswana the top country in the world to visit in 2016, and I could not agree more. I’ve had the great fortune of spending a lot of time in this stunningly beautiful country over the past twenty years, and stayed for a couple of months with a family in Selebi-Phikwe when I wrote a book about HIV and Aids about a decade ago.

Most recently, I visited a couple of weeks back, spending a truly lovely weekend in the capital Gaborone as I discovered a real gem for African foodies. The Courtyard Restaurant is an open-air eatery, serving traditional setswana food in mini-versions of the three-legged iron pot that is still often used for cooking over fire in backyards around the country.

It was one of those lucky days when all my electronic devices died on me, and instead of browsing the internet or hanging out on Facebook I sat for hours at a table in the courtyard sipping a cappuccino, enjoying the sunshine, listening to the birds singing in a tree, and looking at the cat that slept comfortably on a branch high up in the same tree. 

The Courtyard Restaurant, Gaborone, Botswana
The Courtyard Restaurant, Gaborone, Botswana

I also read through two cookbooks published by Botswanacraft, the shop next to the restaurant, to promote the country’s cuisine – ‘Botswana Traditional Recipes’, and ‘Botswana Traditional Recipes with a Twist’ – which helped considerably when it was time to order lunch from the menu, which lists traditional dishes in Setswana only.

I ordered seswaa, one of the simplest but most delicious African dishes I know. You boil meet on the bone in water and salt, then pick all the bones out and pound the meat to soft shreds. It’s the original pulled meat – traditionally served at festivities and funerals in Botswana. It’s generally made with either beef or goat, and the pounding crushes the natural fats into the meat, giving it a soft, rich taste that is both celebratory and comforting at the same time.

I don’t have my own recipe for seswaa, but share with you here a shortened version of the recipe from Botswanacraft’s ‘Botswana Traditional Recipes’. True to the festive nature of the recipe and the large, generous nature of traditional feasts in Botswana, the standard recipe is for 80-100 servings and involves 40 kilos of beef! Luckily there’s a family version too.

I hope you make it to Botswana in 2016, or any time later in life. When you do, make sure to spend at least one sunny morning at the wonderfully friendly and beautifully set Courtyard Restaurant to try the best of Setswana cooking. It’s a real treat.

A variety of dried beans for sale at a street stall in Gaborone.
A variety of dried beans for sale at a street stall in Gaborone.

Recipe from Botswana Traditional Recipes by Botswanacraft Marketing

Beef Seswaa – Pounded Boiled Meat

Serves 4-6

  • 2-3 kg lean beef on the bone (shin, chuck, or similar)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • Chili powder (optional)
  • Water to cover

Cut the meat into large chunks (about 4 cm), put in heavy stewing pot and cover with water. Add salt to taste. Boil on low heat (or over a slow fire, as it says in the original recipe) for about four hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender and easily comes off the bone. Collect the bone marrow and keep to the side. When the pot has cooked dry, add the bone marrow and lightly fry the meat. Remove the bones and pound the meat with a large wooden spoon or forked stick. The meat should flake into fine fibers, and is then ready to be served. Add chili powder to taste, if you prefer spicy seswaa.


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