Boeber is a creamy, sweet, delicious and warming Cape Malay dessert type beverage flavored with browned butter, cinnamon and cardamom; thickened with vermicelli and sago and sweetened with condensed milk and finished with rose water.
In our home there were two things we always had to have for breaking the fast at the time of iftar, soup and / or boeber. Soup and Boeber are usually eaten with Daltjies spinach and corn fritters or Cape Malay Pancakes with coconut or Sweetcorn fritters. As a child I must admit I was not very fond of soup, so my mother (may ALLAH have mercy on her soul and grant her the highest paradise) always made boeber too, although my father preferred meat and vegetable soup.
Origins of Boeber
I had never heard of anything named similarly but our ancestry always made me wonder if there was something out there I was yet to discover. One night I was re-watching an episode of John Tirode’s Malaysian Adventure, and heard his Malaysian guide for the day mention a dish they always had at iftar called Bubur Lemak. It turned out to be a porridge of rice, meat and spices eaten at iftar. Further research brought me to a dessert dish called Bubur Cha Cha in which the Malays use coconut milk and sago!
In Dubai I was introduced to an Indian vermicelli and milk dessert referred to as Seviyan Kheer and similar Semiya Payasam. Both look like Cape Malay Boeber but tasted nothing like it and I found them too sweet and not very flavorful.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that my mother’s recipe for Boeber is the best I have ever eaten. The difference between hers and others I have tasted is the browned butter that gives it a rich and nutty flavor, and the condensed milk used for sweetening instead of sugar. Although my mother had standard quantities of milk to vermicelli and sago, I have not seen her make it in many years and have developed my own recipe based on her list of ingredients.
It was customary during Ramadan that the 15th iftar was commemorated with the making of boeber by all the Cape Malay households and it became known over the generations as ‘Boeber Night’.
I must admit that as a child I found it weird, because we had boeber served on most nights at iftar. However, on Boeber night my mother would send a jug of boeber to our neighbours in addition to the normal sweet or savoury snack plate.
The smell when the boeber is cooking will perfume the home with the most delightful fragrance. It requires slow simmering and occasional stirring to ensure that the milk doesn’t catch and burn. However, it is worth the end result.
As I came into the kitchen and smelled the cooking boeber my first thought was ‘it smells like my mother’s kitchen’. May Allah have mercy on her soul and those who have left this life, and grant them the highest paradise.
Alhamdulillah, it is delicious and has all the flavor components that I recall from my childhood. As it simmers and thickens a skin will form on the top… do not strain or remove it. Stir it into the bubbling liquid and it will make it creamier and more luscious.
It can be eaten cold as a dessert, or hot as a beverage. When reheating, don’t add milk immediately because it will become looser as it heats up. If it still looks to thick then add milk and allow to come to the boil before serving.
- 50 grams butter
- 80 grams fine vermicelli approximately 500 ml or 2 cups
- 80 ml sago pearls approximately 1/3 cup
- 5 pieces cinnamon approximately half of a small quill
- 5 green cardamom pods bash open
- 2 litres milk
- 395 grams condensed milk approximately 1 can
- 125 ml water
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 125 ml almond flakes toasted
Rinse the sago, cover with water and allow to soak for 20 minutes.
On a low heat, melt the butter in a pot and add the vermicelli.
Add the cinnamon and cardamom pods and ensure that it fries a little in the butter as this releases the essential oils.
Allow the butter to brown while stirring the vermicelli, but do not allow it to burn. This should not be longer than 5 minutes.
When you can smell the brown butter and the vermicelli is golden, add the milk.
Increase the heat to medium and allow the milk to come to a slow simmer.
Stir regularly to ensure that the milk does not burn on the bottom of the pot.
After simmering for 20 minutes add the sago.
Allow the boeber to simmer on low heat until the sago pearls are completely clear and cooked. This may take 15-20 minutes.
Add the condensed milk and fill the empty can halfway with hot water and add to the boeber.
Stir thoroughly and simmer for five minutes more for the flavors to combine.
Add 1 teaspoon rose water and stir to combine.
Serve topped with toasted flaked almonds.
The boeber will thicken as it cools but don't add milk until you need to use it again. Check the consistency after it warms up before adding more milk, if required.
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This recipe was first published on 22/06/2015 has since been updated.