Photo by Charl Cater

Photograph: Charl Cater CC BY 2.0

Nobody likes a dry koeksister! That phrase may sound like a sassy admonishment along the lines of “Yo Mama”, but it is, in fact, a uniquely South African bit of cooking advice.

If you’ve never delighted in biting into the crisp exterior of a koeksister, saliva glands erupting as your mouth fills with a syrup, you’re probably not eligible for a South African passport.

The koeksister – pronouced cook-sister – is a jaw-achingly sweet South African confection with a calorie count so high your hips grow an inch if you just breath in the vicinity of a tray of them. And, for some unfathomable reason, they are made in batches that require a tray.  Even though another piece of sage advice warns you not to eat more than a single koeksister in a sitting, lest you crystallise the blood in your veins or strip the enamel from your teeth.

The origins of these plaited deep-fried syrup-soaked dough cakes are a little murky, with the descendants of the Dutch settlers and the Cape Malay staking a claim. Generous historians give credence to both claims, accrediting an oval fried spicy dumpling to the Cape Malay, and the crisp syrupy plait to the Afrikaner. All South Africans no matter their origin, however, have koeksister memories. Mine was stuffing my gob at my Afrikaans auntie’s laden table at her garden parties until it felt as though my teeth would fall out.

KoeksistersSugary, syrupy, gooey, sweet and very, very sticky, the koeksister is not for health conscious calorie counting Capetonian banting community (banting is a uniquely South African diet a bit like Paleo).  Unless you make Living Spot’s Paleo Cape Malay Koeksisters, in which case you feel free to stuff your face and still keep all your teeth. The rest of us will keep sneaking a koeksister with our moer koffie when no one is looking.

Factoid: When Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, he visited the widow of Apartheid architect HF Verwoed in Oranje, where they shared a plate of koeksisters.



Bobootie_1Bobotie, pronounce bow-booa-tea, is a uniquely South African culinary experience of spiced minced meat with a savoury egg custard topping (say what?). Bobotie is especially favoured in the Cape, and it’s DNA can be traced the Indonesian dish Bobotok, which is sometimes made with bee larvae (and you thought South Africans were strange).

The theory goes that colonists from the Dutch East India Company probably brought it to the Cape, where it was adopted by the Cape Malay. The Cape Malay, not keen on the bland Dutch version, threw in whatever spices they could lay their hands on and served it with a spicy sambal.

Back in the day, and by the day we mean the 17th century, bobotie was most likely made with a mixture of mutton and pork (probably because sheep and pigs were easier to bring over by ship than cows). Modern cooks can use any minced meat (lamb, beef, or pork) though beef is most popular. Hipsters can use ostrich. There’s even a veggie version made with lentils. Back in the day, the meat was flavoured with ginger, marjoram and lemon rind. Nowadays, we chuck in curry powder and add sultanas and raisins for sweetness.

South Africans have much to thank the Cape Malay for. Not least of which is the unique fusion of sweet, savoury , curry and custard that we fondly call bobotie.

Click here for the Afrogem family’s Meat Free Monday Golden Bobotie recipe, accompanied by our searing Ruby Sambal. We’d love to hear about your favourite family recipes.

Factoid: The first bobotie recipe ever published appeared in 1609 in a Dutch cookbook. #SouthAfricanCulture