Dr. Buis’ South African Bobotie

This savory and aromatic dish pairs well with summer.

By Elizabeth Czajkowski | Columnist
April 17, 2021
Photo: Shutterstock.

This week, Johann Buis, an associate professor of music in the Conservatory, brings us a special treat from South Africa — the country’s national dish, bobotie (pronounced bo-BOO-ty). According to Buis, this South African dish of the Malay community in the Cape Town area is incredibly delicious but does take some time to prepare. 


For those of you unfamiliar with the dish, bobotie is essentially a meat casserole with a wonderful mixture of onions, spices, curries, lemon juice, brown sugar, dried fruit, nuts and an egg custard topping. It is described as “a true comfort food” and often served with a yellow rice called geelrys. The name of the dish is believed to have originated from the Malayan word boemboe, meaning “curry spices.” 


The dish also has ties to Indonesian cuisine. In the 17th century, Cape Town (a port city in South Africa) was set up as a stopping point for Dutch traders in their journeys to and from Indonesia. It is said that these traders brought back different Indonesian spices and recipes, one of which was for bobotie. This original recipe was later adapted to make use of available ingredients in South Africa. The first recorded recipe for bobotie appeared in a Dutch cookbook in the early 1600’s and is now a well-loved South African meal. 


Buis shared in an email that his mother “hailed from Cape Town, where the dish is very popular. So, she always baked the dish for special occasions.” During his 26 years living in South Africa, Buis said that he never had the chance to prepare this meal. “Having four sisters around my mother, I did not stand a chance in the kitchen,” he said. However, after moving to the States, he rediscovered a recipe for bobotie and has since found many opportunities to make this dish that reminds him so much of home.


“During graduate school in the USA,” Buis recounts, “I was on a tour in the Midwest with our college’s chamber choir. I sat on a couch next to a bookshelf in the home of our host in Warsaw, Indiana, when I saw a series of Time Life books on recipes around the world. My curiosity was piqued. I reached to the recipes from Africa, and lo and behold, there was the recipe for bobotie!” 


He says that he copied the recipe down by hand, right then and there, and has been using it ever since. As a personal example, when Buis was my Passage professor during freshman year, he invited our group to his home and prepared bobotie for us to enjoy.


If you want the chance to experience some of the unique flavors offered by South African cuisine, below is Buis’s recipe for this warm, appetizing and traditional dish. It goes well with yellow rice, salad or naan. And, if you are looking for a yummy South African dessert to finish off your meal, try out Malva Pudding, a sweet cake made with apricot jam and cream. 


Dr. Buis’s Bobotie Recipe:

Serves 8


2 lbs. ground beef

2 tbsp. butter

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tbsp. curry powder

1 tsp. ground turmeric

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. black pepper

2 slices thick white bread, torn into pieces

¼ cup milk

2 tbsp. brown sugar

Finely grated rind and juice of ½ small lemon


1 egg, beaten

3 ounces dried apricots, chopped (can also use 3 tbsp. apricot chutney)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped

¼ cup sultanas (golden raisins)

1½ oz. slivered almonds, roasted in a dry frying pan

4 bay leaves



1 cup milk

2 eggs

½ tsp. salt

2 bay leaves


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter a large casserole dish.
  2. In a small bowl, add torn bread and milk. Allow milk to soak into the bread. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook until they are translucent (approx. 8 min). Add garlic and cook for one minute.
  4. Add meat to skillet and break up meat into small bits until it just starts to brown.
  5. Drain any excess fat.
  6. Stir in curry powder, turmeric, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer over low heat for approximately 25 minutes, until the meat is tender.
  7. In a separate bowl, mix together the wet bread, brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, egg, apricot, apple, raisins and almonds.
  8. Add the mixture to the ground meat and mix well.
  9. Transfer mixture into the prepared casserole dish, pack meat tightly and level top.
  10. Roll up bay leaves and bury them in the bobotie at regular intervals. 
  11. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes until bobotie is firm and well cooked.
  12. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 400°F. Remove foil.
  13. Mix ingredients for the topping: in a small bowl, beat the eggs and add in milk and salt.
  14. Pour over the beef mixture and lay 2 bay leaves on top.
  15. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, uncovered, until cooked and lightly browned.
  16. Enjoy!


*adapted from Epicurious

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