International Cooking: Food from Botswana

I didn’t get a lot of responses to my post in the Botswana subreddit, and what I did get were suggestions for the dishes I was already considering making, and a few I couldn’t or wouldn’t make. So this turned out to be a light week. I’m pleased with the small selection of food from Botswana I did manage to try.


Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, characterized by flat terrain with 70% of its territory being the Kalahari Desert. With a population of 2.3 million, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world.

The region was first inhabited over 200,000 years ago. The Tswana ethnic group, who currently make up the majority of Botswana’s population, are descended from tribes who came from further north around 600 AD.

The British colonized the land in 1885, giving it the name Bechuanaland. When the country became an independent Commonwealth republic in 1955, it changed its name to Botswana.

Around that time, Botswana was one of the world’s poorest countries. But its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and now Botswana has one of the highest GDPs per capita in sub-Saharan Africa. Its economy is based primarily on mining and tourism, and it is the world’s top diamond producer in terms of value.

Botswana has been battling an HIV/AIDs epidemic during the last few decades, but in recent years the country has made progress by providing proper treatment and lowering the rate of mother-to-child transmission.

What Do People Eat in Botswana?

People in Botswana enjoy a varied diet, and much of their food is similar to that of other South African countries. Meats such as beef, lamb, and goat are common and often sourced locally. You can also find meals containing fish, Mophane worms (a type of caterpillar), and an indigenous chicken called Tswana chicken.

The main crops grown in Botswana are sorghum and maize, and they are featured in lots of meals. Botswana also grows many kinds of beans and vegetables.

It is believed watermelons originated in Botswana, and they are plentiful when in season. Another kind of melon, called lerotse, is also common.

Wheat was not part of the traditional diet, but it is imported. Over the years, various bread recipes have appeared and can be considered part of modern Botswanan cuisine.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Botswanan dishes I didn’t make!

Vetkoek (Fried Bread Rolls) with Curried Beef and Vegetables

Vetkoek

Vetkoek, meaning ‘fat cake’ in Afrikaans, is a fried bread roll. It’s crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside. It can be served as a snack at any time of the day with jam or cheese. It can also be filled with a curried meat and vegetable mixture to make a kind of South African sloppy joe. I enjoyed these rolls a few ways throughout the week.

I chose to go with a curried beef filling, which also contained potato, tomato, and carrot. There were supposed to be peas too, but I didn’t include them as I was trying to make a small serving and just didn’t feel they were necessary.

This came out tasting much more delicious than I was expecting. I didn’t think it would be bad; I just wasn’t very excited about this dish. But the rolls were really good, even though I did end up with way more than I was expecting, and the curried beef was really tasty.

I used the recipe from African Bites, though instead of cake flour I used all-purpose flour with a little cornstarch.

Seswaa and Pap (Pulled Beef and Cornmeal Porridge)

Seswaa and Pap

Seswaa is Botswana’s national dish, and it consists of slow-cooked beef or goat meat. The meat is shredded and served with green vegetables and pap, which is a porridge traditionally made of just cornmeal and water.

The seswaa recipe I used, from My Burnt Orange, included onion and bay leaves in the cooking liquid, which I think helped result in very flavorful meat. I used boneless chuck since I already had it in the freezer.

I was apprehensive about the pap because I still remember the fungee I made from Antigua and Barbuda, which was not at all pleasant. However, I decided to try again. It seemed this mixture would not be as stiff as the fungee and maybe if I cooked it long enough, it wouldn’t be so grainy. I also got white cornmeal, which seems to be the authentic option. I immediately noticed that it was much finer than the yellow cornmeal I had, though there was no indication on either box as to how fine the grind was. This made me hopeful that the pap would end up turning out alright, texture-wise.

I used the recipe from Global Table Adventure, but this is something that’s so simple, once you know the correct ratio of water to cornmeal, you don’t really need a recipe. Traditionally, pap is pretty bland, getting its flavor from whatever you serve it with. Most of the pap recipes I came across used stock of some kind rather than water, including the one I used, and so I cooked my pap with chicken stock. I wanted to give myself the best possible chance of liking it!

I am pleased to say that this was actually quite delicious, and I think using the white cornmeal made a big difference. It went well with the seswaa, which was also really good. I wasn’t expecting so much from such a simple meal. I served this with broccoli on the side, but it would probably be more authentic to include some kind of leafy greens.

Phaphatha (Flatbreads)

Phaphatha

These are simple flatbreads that are a lot like English muffins. Someone on Reddit said they are their favorite food from Botswana, but they never replied when I asked how they liked to eat them. Phaphatha can be enjoyed alone as a snack or in a variety of ways, such as with stew or jam, which is what I ended up doing.

Phaphatha with Jam

I also ended up eating a few with eggs and cheese. They are really versatile!

I used the recipe from Family Gems.

  • Bogobe jwa lerotse – a popular breakfast porridge made from maize or sorghum. It is flavored by the lerotse melon, which looks a bit like watermelon but with yellow flesh. I’ve seen pumpkin recommended as a substitute because the flavor is apparently similar.
  • Dikgobe – beans mixed with either corn, samp (roughly ground dried corn), or whole grains, cooked over low heat. It can be served with meat or eaten alone.
  • Mapakiwa – sweet buns, often served with tea for breakfast. They usually have raisins or other dried fruit in them.

Final Thoughts

I liked all the food from Botswana I tried this week, but if I had to choose a favorite dish it would be the vetkoek with curry filling. I am unlikely to make the rolls often since they are fried, but I may just make the filling and eat it with regular burger buns.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Brazil.

Join the Conversation

  1. I was very interested in the recipes from Botswana as I am a big fan of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency which is set in that country. They are often eating fat cakes and they do seem delicious especially with that tasty filling that you showed. Wish I had one (or two!) here now. Love your cooking and also your down to earth comments on the various dishes.

    1. Thank you! I was pleasantly surprised by how good the food in Botswana is.

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