Easy Cape Malay Biryani Recipe

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Easy Cape Malay Biryani Recipe

One kitchen-savvy Bo-Kaap local shares her take on this traditional South African dish

Last Updated: 13 April, 2017

Biryani has a history as rich as the dish is flavourful, with some culinary historians fixing the aromatic stew’s first appearance in time as far back as 2 A.D., when Tamil cooks would conjure up the rice and meat combo to nourish military warriors before battle. 

Since then, the traditional recipe’s made its way from the barracks of Persia to the royal palaces of India and all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa, where it’s become the stuff of legend in Cape Malay households. 

“Everyone makes theirs a bit differently,” laughs Gamidah Jacobs, a local resident who leads Cape Malay cooking classes out of her charming Bo-Kaap neighbourhood kitchen. 

But lucky for us (and you), Gamidah’s not too perturbed about sharing her own biryani recipe, a method that’s been passed on to her by her mother, mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who have all refined it along the way.  And while she may have a sixth sense for how much of which spice to use, we certainly don’t; nor do we expect you to have such an awesome superpower.

So, what follows is an easy-to-follow breakdown of the beautifully piquant dish, which is best enjoyed with a group of ravenous friends and family! 

Serves 10 – 12 


  • 1kg mutton or lamb, cubed
  • 15mL grated ginger
  • 10mL garlic, finely chopped
  • 5mL salt or enough for taste
  • 100mL cooking oil
  • 300mL hot water
  • 6 –7 potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 625mL rice of your choice (recommended: basmati rice)
  • 250mL lentils
  • 3 onions, sliced
  • A few dollops of butter 


  • 3 sticks cinnamon
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 2  green chillies
  • 2,5mL turmeric
  • 5mL roasted masala
  • 30mL garam masala
  • 5 whole cloves
  • A few strands saffron
  • 1 tomato, grated
  • 250mL buttermilk 


Step One: Prepare your meat by washing it and draining it in a colander. Rub ginger, garlic and salt into the meat and set it aside.

Step Two: Combine marinade ingredients (just mix them all together in a bowl, adding them in no specific order) then marinate the meat for about three hours.  

Step Three: Combine the lentils and water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil until the lentils are tender (for about 20 minutes), then rinse and drain them.

Step Four: Rinse the dry rice with water and allow to drain.

Step Five: Heat 50ml oil in a large pan over medium heat, add rice and toss to coat well (with the oil). Add 100ml hot water to rice and cook covered over medium heat for five minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

Step Six: Heat the remaining oil in a large pan and fry the potatoes until golden brown. Remove the potatoes and set aside.

Step Seven: Add the meat, marinade and two-thirds of the onions to a saucepan and cook covered over medium heat for about 30 minutes. Remove meat and set aside.

Step Eight: In saucepan, lay ingredients as follows: potatoes, rice, meat, potatoes, rice, meat and finally the lentils and reserved onions on top.  Dot with butter and sprinkle with 200ml hot water.  Cook covered over high heat for five minutes, then simmer for 45 minutes to one hour over low heat. Alternatively, you can layer the ingredients in a glass baking dish and bake in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for roughly an hour (or until the rice and meat is nice and tender).

To serve:
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with atjar or sambal.

All of the spices mentioned above and more are available at the long-standing Bo-Kaap store Atlas Trading Company.

*Photo compliments Alpha


Thanks to Gamidah Jacobs for this biryani recipe. Click here to read more about her Cape Malay cooking classes. Contact info: Lekka Kombuis Cooking Classes | +27 (0)79 957 0226 / +27 (0)21 423 3849 | lekkakombuis@mweb.co.za


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