Sweet and spicy, the Cape Malay style of cooking

Cape Malay cooking is known for its rich and intense spices and flavours. It has its origins in Malaysia, Java and Bengal, whose people were brought to the Cape of Good Hope as slaves in the late 1600s by the Dutch East India Company. They brought with them many spices that were not common in the newly settled South Africa at the time – many hot peppers and chillies, as well the liberal use of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and all-spice in their cooking.

Today the Cape Malay style of cuisine is still best described as regional, and very prevalent in the Western Cape. However, and South African mother-in-law will tell you that a cook who doesn’t know how to make a decent bobotie, is not worth their salt in the kitchen!


Many of the Cape Malay recipes are now a regular feature on many a local dinner table. Bobotie, for instance, is a spicy mince dish baked in eggs. It’s often eaten with chutney, a sprinkling of desiccated coconut, sliced banana and finely chopped onion and tomato – particularly if it contains chilli. Hot, hot, hot! Chutney is a thick, sweet sauce that is made from fruit, and can also come in spicy varieties.

Another favourite from this unique style of cooking is the sosatie – which is small pieces of meat, usually lamb, that are skewered on a stick, and have been marinated in a curry sauce overnight. Sosaties are often included in that popular South African tradition – the braai!

Yet another Cape Malay stalwart is the ‘bredie’. A tomato bredie, for instance, is basically a lamb and tomato stew. A waterblommetijie bredie is a lamb stew that is made with a waterblommetijie – which directly translate in English as a ‘water flower’. A waterblommetijie is a type of water plant that grows in the shallow marshes of the Cape, and is sometimes also called the Cape asparagus.

The koeksister is also a popular Cape Malay treat, although it is made differently from the Dutch method, which is plaited. The Cape koeksister is in a rounded, oval shape and is rolled in coconut before being served.

Bobotie recipe – make your own!



1kg mince (beef or lamb)

3 eggs

¼ cup milk or coconut milk

1 thick slice of crustless white bread, soaked in milk

2 onions, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

Pinch of salt

1 TBS curry powder

6 bay leaves

1 chilli, finely chopped (optional)

½ cup vinegar

1 TBS lemon juice

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp chutney

Handful of crushed almonds or raisins (optional)

1 orange, 1 lemon – cut into wheels



Fry the garlic, onion and curry power together with a little oil – then add the mince meat and brown until it is almost cooked right through. Take the slice of bread you’ve soaked in milk, squeeze out the excess liquid, and add the bread to the meat. Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar and chutney together, and then add to the mince as well. Cook together for a few minutes, and then remove from the heat. Take a medium-sized oven dish, and layer the bottom with a few bay leaves, and some wheels of orange and lemon, before adding the mince mixture on top. Add the almonds or raisins to the mince before doing this, if you’re using them. Next, beat the eggs and milk/coconut milk together, and then pour over the mince in the oven dish. Cook uncovered for 45 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.

Bobotie is usually served with ‘yellow rice’, which is rice that has a dash of turmeric added during the boiling stage to give the rich yellow colour, as well as cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods.