Jean's bobotie

By Caitlin Butler

Bobotie is a staple dish in  Chris Butler ’s household and serves as a reminder of his South African heritage. Photography by Caitlin Butler.

Bobotie is a staple dish in Chris Butler’s household and serves as a reminder of his South African heritage. Photography by Caitlin Butler.

Where does it come from?

Pronounced ba-boor-tea, the national dish of South Africa is a mixture of curried meat and dried fruit with a creamy golden topping, not dissimilar to moussaka.

The origin of the word bobotie is most likely from the Malayan word boemboe, meaning curry spices; it has been adopted by the Cape Malay community.

The dish has a varied heritage. The Dutch brought ground meat to the local cuisine, the spices were introduced by the slaves from Indonesia and the presentation is reminiscent of English shepherd’s pie.

Today, bobotie is much more likely to be made with beef or lamb, although pork lends the dish extra moisture. It works surprisingly well with Quorn, for vegetarians.

This is a family recipe by Jean Butler, modified slightly by her son Chris.


300ml milk

2 slices white bread

2 onions, finely chopped

450g mince (beef or lamb was used by Jean, but soya or Quorn mince works well too)

25g butter

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons Mrs Ball’s chutney (find in large supermarkets)

2 tablespoons raisins or sultanas

2 tablespoons dried apricots, chopped

6 bay leaves

1 or 2 teaspoons turmeric

25g flaked almonds

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 large eggs, beaten

How to make it?

  1. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

  2. Put the milk in a bowl, add the bread and allow the bread to soak. Set aside.

  3. Melt the butter in a large heavy pot or pan and brown the onions over a medium heat. Add mince and brown.

  4. Stir in the garlic, cloves, cumin, curry powder, salt and pepper, Mrs Ball’s chutney, almonds and dried fruit. Simmer the mixture briefly.

  5. Squeeze the milk from the bread, using a sieve over a bowl, while retaining the milk. Mush bread to a fine pulp and add it to the mince mix. Add eggs to milk and whisk with a bit of turmeric.

  6. Place the main mixture into an ovenproof dish, then pour milk/egg mixture over the top. Place the bay leaves on top of the whole thing in a nice pattern.

  7. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the top becomes solid, firm and golden.

 Enjoy with basmati or yellow rice and more Mrs Ball’s chutney.

Photography by Caitlin Butler.

Photography by Caitlin Butler.