What is Bobotie?

Deborah Walker

In the 17th century, the recipe for Indonesian bobotok was carried by Indonesians aboard Dutch East India Company's spice ships which also transported Malay slaves to South Africa. Over time, bobotok morphed into the traditional South African dish known as bobotie. Minced lamb, pork or beef combined with several different herbs and spices, and sometimes dried fruit, makes a sweet, tangy meat pie that features an egg topping. Bananas, chutney, a spicy fruit relish, sambal, a chili-based condiment, and shelled walnuts are often used to garnish bobotie. Plain boiled rice and a green salad typically round out the meal.

Walnuts are often used as a garnish for bobotie.
Walnuts are often used as a garnish for bobotie.

To make a plain bobotie that is quite similar to the original recipe, begin by removing the crust from two slices of stale white bread and soak them in two tablespoons (30 ml) of hot water. While the bread is soaking, heat two tablespoons (30 ml) of cooking oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add one thinly sliced onion to the hot oil. Cook the onion until it is soft and golden. Following cooking, removed them from the oil and set aside.

Minced meat is a primary ingredient in bobotie.
Minced meat is a primary ingredient in bobotie.

Next lightly beat two eggs and add them to one pound (about 454 g) of minced beef, lamb, or pork. This is followed by the addition of the cooked onion, hot water, two tablespoons (30 ml) of lemon juice, the soaked white bread, crumbled, one teaspoon (5 g) of turmeric, and two tablespoons (30 g) of sugar to the meat-and-egg mixture. All of these ingredients are mixed together very thoroughly and put into a greased glass baking dish and baked in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit (163 degrees Celsius) oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown. At this point, the dish is removed from the oven and the topping is poured on.

To make the topping, one egg and one half cup (125 ml) of milk are combined, beaten together, and poured over the cooked bobotie. The cook arranges several bay or lemon leaves prior to putting the bobotie back into a 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176.7 degrees Celsius) oven until the egg topping is set. After removing the bobotie from the oven, allowed it to rest for five minutes. To serve, cut the bobotie into 4 inches x 4 inches (10 cm x 10 cm) squares, and garnish with sambal, chutney, bananas, and shelled walnuts. Rice and a green salad are often served as sides.

The earliest recipes for this dish arrived from Indonesia in the 1500s. Spices and Malay slaves were taken to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company. The Malay people used leftover meat from Sunday dinner and created bobotie to eat the following day. South Africans took note and adopted the recipe for this tasty dish as their own.

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