It's not fair to describe this bobotie meat pie as an empanada, because it's so, so much more than that. If you want to wax poetic, it's like a taste of Cape Town in a flaky pastry crust. And you can find them in Oakland Park.
The pie is one of more than a dozen you can order at a small African grocer and eatery located off Northeast 20th Avenue in a well-hidden, nameless strip of shops behind Federal Highway. There, nestled between a pet groomer and a hair salon, you'll find Meal In A Pie.
Owners Rod and Tracey Wiggill hail from KwaZulu-Natal, a coastal South African province. Today, after more than a half-decade of business, the couple prepare several of their homeland's favorite snacks for a loyal patronage.
The most popular and beloved dishes are their meat "pies." Each day, the couple and their staff bake an army's worth of pastries stuffed with a number of aromatic fillings. There's beefsteak (chunks of beef in a mild black pepper sauce); chicken curry (shredded chicken cooked in a mildly-spiced yellow curry sauce with vegetables and potato); lentil bobotie (lentils simmered with coconut and a fruit, sweet curry sauce); or sausage roll (seasoned ground beef or pork).
While one can satisfy any midday hunger pangs, a couple of these dense, savory meat-and-vegetable-stuffed pastries can be considered a solid meal — a meal in a pie, to be exact. Out of the 13 flavors available, try the traditional bobotie, here a fine-minced ground beef seasoned with curry and sweetened with a sweet fruit chutney.
In cities like Cape Town, restaurants will bake bobotie — sometimes lamb, but most often beef — with a custard of egg and milk until it reaches the requisite golden brown. The meal dates back to the 17th century when Malay slaves were brought to the Cape of Good Hope aboard Dutch East India ships that used the port as a midway stop between Indonesia and Holland. At the same time, Dutch colonizers lent their taste for fruits and sweets, while Indian immigrants offered curry spices.
Today, the balancing act between spicy, savory, and sweet is part of what makes traditional bobotie so wonderful. If you're not a meat eater, the vegetarian lentil pie here is just as good, cooked with a coconut-infused and mildly-spiced curry sauce that lends a warming heat. Both are nestled into a buttery dough that bakes up to a crisp, golden brown and flakes between your fingers. With just a touch of sweet, it's the perfect companion to the savory meat and vegetable fillings.
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While most of the pies are available cooked and ready-to-eat in the shop's heated display case, the full menu can be purchased frozen to enjoy at home. Packaged individually, each are stamped with a different symbol — an "x" for steak and kidney, or a "/" for Shepherd's Pie — so you won't have any trouble figuring out what's what when you pull them from the oven.
If you're planning a trip around lunchtime, consider calling ahead to place your order. The staff will be happy to pop a few of your favorite flavors in the oven so they're hot and ready to go by the time you arrive. And be sure to ask for a side of their spicy chutney sauce, the ketchup to the South African meat pie.
Meal In A Pie is located at 4440 NE 20th Ave., Oakland Park. Call 954-202-9118.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.