International Cooking: Food from Botswana

Botswana is a landlocked country in South Africa, and it’s one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. It was once one of the world’s poorest countries, but the economy has grown quickly in recent years and it is now much more prosperous.

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 (I didn’t want to make tripe stew and I couldn’t obtain a key ingredient for another dish). So this turned out to be a light week. That’s alright though; sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of a break.

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, and it can be combined with sorghum, maize, or millet flour to make a porridge. This was one dish I was interested in but didn’t make, since lerotse isn’t something I can get.

Wheat isn’t part of the traditional diet, but it is imported and over the years various bread recipes have appeared and can be considered part of modern Botswanan cuisine.

What I Made

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, and it can also be filled with a curried meat and vegetable mixture to make a kind of South African sloppy joe.

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 regular 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 really unsure 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 ended up using 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.

Final Thoughts

This week was pretty good and I liked everything, but if I had to choose a favorite dish it would be the vetkoek with curry filling. I am probably unlikely to make the rolls as often since they are fried, but I may just make the filling some time 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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