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Can an Asian Dish Really Be the National Dish of South Africa?

South Africa has a number of inhabitants from all over the world. The population includes indigenous tribes, immigrants, and those locals native to the country. The cuisine of the country reflects this same diversity. In fact, the national dish Bobotie originated in Asia.

Throughout history, the indigenous tribes were considered to be "hunters and gathers". In other words, they lived off the wealth of the land. As Europeans began to immigrate, they brought the dishes of their own countries. As time went on, the combination of these "foreign" dishes and the native tribal dishes met somewhere in the middle, and South African cuisine saw a metamorphosis. After the apartheid and the country began to change, another renaissance in cuisine occurred, thus giving way to the cuisine of today.


When I was in South Africa, many of the people in my group indulged in the meat of the wild game and felt like they had experienced the cuisine of the country. From the research I have done regarding the cuisine of this diverse country, there are really lots of choices and many have European roots. The closest dish to what one would refer to as a "National Dish" is Bobotie (ba-boor-tea). Most of the immigrants to South Africa are Dutch, French, Indians and Malaysians. Bobotie was actually introduced by the Asians.

Hot Out of the Oven!

Hot Out of the Oven!


Simply put, it is similar to Moussaka of Greece but is a mixture of curried meat and fruit with a creamy golden topping. Basically, it is ground meat simmered with spices, most often curry powder, miscellaneous herbs and dried fruit. After the Bobotie is assembled, it is then topped with a mixture of egg and milk, similar to a béchamel sauce. Once topped, it is baked until set.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

30 min

40 min

1 hour 10 min



  • 2 slices white bread
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2.5 pounds packet lean, minced beef
  • 2 tablespoons curry paste
  • 1tablespoons dried mixed herbs
  • 3  cloves
  • 5  allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons   peach or mango chutney
  • 3 tablespoons    sultana
  • 6 bay leaves

For the topping

  • 1 1/4 cup full-cream milk (heavy cream or whipping cream)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated parmesan (optional- but I do use this)
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  1. Pre-Heat oven to 350. Pour cold water over the bread and set it aside to soak.
  2. Meanwhile, sauté the onions in butter, stirring regularly for 10 mins until they are soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic and beef and stir well, crushing the mixture into fine pieces until it begins to brown. Stir in the curry paste, herbs, spices, chutney, sultanas, and 2 of the bay leaves with 1 tsp salt and plenty of ground black pepper.
  3. Cover and simmer for 10 mins. Squeeze the water from the bread, then beat into the meat mixture until well blended. Place ingredients into a greased (or sprayed), oval ovenproof dish (9x13 in and about 2-3 in deep). Gently press the mixture down well and smooth the top using the backside of a spoon. This can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated without the sauce.
  4. For the topping, beat the milk and eggs with seasoning over low- medium temperature on the stovetop. If you are using the parmesan cheese, add it to your milk/egg mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until your sauce begins to thicken. Once slightly thickened, pour over the meat. Top with the remaining bay leaves and bake for 35-40 mins until the topping is set and starting to turn golden. A few minutes before complete you can top with additional parmesan cheese or paprika to enhance the color.


In keeping with tradition, serve Bobotie with some yellow rice, and with slices of banana, and some pickle or chutney on the side. I hope you enjoy your Bobotie, the National Dish of South Africa. Please re-visit my site and let me know how it turns out for you!

Until next time, friends, remember "To Travel is to Live!"

Until next time, friends, remember "To Travel is to Live!"

© 2022 Dee Serkin

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