My Culinary Heritage

Dombi - Steamed Bread

It’s Heritage month and I’m entwined in a net of thoughts and memories about my culinary heritage. What were the dishes, tastes, textures and aromas that inspired me to get my family to spend close to R100 000 on sending me to a culinary school? Please note that my family is not one that owns mining companies, or got the cushy B-BBEE tenders, yet somehow when I decided to pursue a career as a chef, my family of cooks enthusiastically obliged.

The irony is that the bouquet of dishes that inspired this bold and expensive move is the humblest collection of dishes you’ll ever eat: bean curry, fettuccini alfredo (for the longest time that was all I ordered when we went out), tripe and dombi (steamed bread), biryani, ginger beer and jam biscuits, or even just some fresh avocado with a delicate sprinkle of salt. My cousins and I would sit on the front stoep, each with their own half an avo, and spoon up the creamy deliciousness like it was gelato.

My culinary heritage is a complex one. There were dishes I scoffed down gleefully and there were dishes that I once hated but are now the definition of home and love for me. It was while I lived with my grandmother in Wentworth Durban that my love affair with spices began. Gran used to make a dazzling bean curry. Eating it was something I never tired of. It was a two-part saga: there was the steaming hot version eaten the day it was made, and the leftovers were delicious eaten cold the following day.

She would serve her bean curry with dombi. For years that steamed bread was a menacing lump in the corner of my plate that I had to eat, or suffer the wrath of a strict grandmother, who believed that wasting food was on a par with blasphemy. Oddly enough I only fell in love with it once she passed away. Now I enjoy what once made me gag, retrospectively. I remember that she had a way of making her dombi so fluffy and light. To this day I cannot figure out what her recipe and technique was. Yes I can crank out a curry and get a decent loaf of bread made, but my culinary creations lack the magic and finesse that Gran accomplished with such ease.

The second saga of bean curry would be the cold version served the next day, when it would be sandwiched between some bread for lunch at school. I can’t help but laugh at this point because I used to be sooo embarrassed by those curry sandwiches. The other kids teased me relentlessly about not having something trendy like polony and cheese. The beans were irrefutable evidence that I was not of the right financial demographic. So I developed a love/hate relationship with the bean sandwich. I enjoyed it, but it was costing me too many cool points.
Now, as I don my chef whites to poach lobster or some other overrated thing, it’s Gran’s good old-fashioned bean curry and dombi that I’ll be missing.

~ Keitumetse Segoai

*Blog post image kindly shared with us by the lovely Tuleka of My African Food Map. If you’re a food enthusiast, you should definitely give her page a visit.


Bean Curry Recipe


• 750g dried sugar beans
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped
• 1 Tbsp ginger, garlic & green chilli paste (easily made by pounding 3-4 medium garlic cloves, 2.5 cm ginger and 1 – 2 green chilies in a mortar).
• 1 tsp ground coriander
• ¼ to ½ tsp red chilli powder
• ¼ tsp turmeric
• ¼ tsp to ½ tsp garam masala
• ½ tsp cumin seeds
• 2 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp oil (or 3 Tbsp butter for a richer curry)
• 2 to 3 Tbsp cream
• water
• salt


  1. Rinse and soak the sugar beans in enough water overnight, or for 8-9 hours.
  2. Discard the water, rinse the beans and cook in a medium-sized pot, covered with fresh water until they are soft, which could take about 2-3 hours.
  3. Prepare the vegetables and spices while the beans are cooking.
  4. Heat the butter (and oil if using) in another pot. Add the cumin seeds, stirring until they crackle and brown.
  5. Add onions and sauté until they caramelize, taking care not to burn them as this could impart bitter tones to the curry.
  6. Stir in the ginger-garlic-chilli paste and sauté for a few seconds on a low flame.
  7. Add the tomatoes, stirring until they soften.
  8. Add the spice powders one by one – turmeric, red chilli powder, coriander and garam masala.
  9. Stir the whole masala mixture till the fat starts to separate from the masala.
  10. Strain the beans and add them to the masala.
  11. Add salt and stir well to amalgamate all the flavours.
  12. Simmer without a lid for 10-12 minutes until the curry thickens slightly. It should not be watery.
  13. When you have the right consistency which is neither too thick nor thin, add the cream.
  14. Stir and simmer for one more minute to heat through.
  15. Serve and enjoy… with dombi 😉

About: Keitumetse Segoai

Being both a writer and a chef I am an incorrigible storyteller, be it with words or fresh produce. I am forever on a mission to fill every blank page and empty plate with as much delicious enchantment I can muster.

Catch up with her on:

Twitter: @SegoaiK


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