How to make dombolo: an expert’s guide

How to make dombolo: an expert's guide

Dombolo are a well-loved South African tradition, and if you’ve never made your own, it’s time to change that. We’re enlisting the help of Metse Petunia Thebe, owner of Cosmo Dumpling in Johannesburg, to learn how to make the best dombolo yet.

What are dombolo?

Dombolo are steamed dumplings, made using flour and yeast. They’re often served with a stew, either steamed separately or on top of the stew. Though they’re simple to make, there are some tricks to separating a good one from a great one, so we’ve asked Metse Petunia Thebe, owner of Cosmo Dumplings, to help us.

how to make dombolo

How can you tell if a dombolo is a good one or not? What are you looking for in a properly made dombolo?

A good dombolo is light and fluffy – when you press it, it immediately bounces back into shape.  If you press your dombolo and it doesn’t bounce back and remains stuck together, you know you’ve got a bad one. You’ll also know a bad one when you eat it – it’s often gluey, sticks to your teeth and your palate and makes it difficult to swallow.

What is your advice for someone making dombolo at home? How does someone know if they’ve made their dough correctly?

Dombolo can be a very sensitive product to work with. My first piece of advice is to be in a good, patient mental space. You’ll know when the dough is mixed correctly when it’s no longer watery and smooth, and evenly combined. Remember, you are in control of the dough, not the other way round!

How do you know when the dough is ready?

The best advice here is to be patient. Start kneading until the dough stops sticking to your hands. Then allow it to rest and rise to its full capacity before kneading again and allowing to rest once more. This time the quality relies on the level of elasticity. Then you are ready to steam.

How do you get the shape and size right? Do you make large or smaller, individual-sized ones?

We are still old school! We shape them by hand by making a nice ball and putting them into a muffin pan, which is why we call them muffin dumplings. We have both large and cocktail size.

how to make dombolo

How do you cook your dombolo? How do you know when they’re ready?

I prefer to cook my dumplings the original way – no microwave or oven bake, just by adding some water to my stock pot and steaming for 25 minutes at a very high heat. My dombolo can go both ways – they’re ready to eat, but if you want you can also add them to a stew. It’s worth noting that steaming them in the stew means they will suck up the gravy, so make sure it’s very saucy. I prefer not to put raw dough in my stew to prevent them from absorbing too much sauce. However you cook them, after 25 minutes prick the dombolo with a knife and if it comes out clean, they’re ready.

What other tips do you have for people wanting to make them at home?

You must steam dombolo in an airtight pot and avoid removing the lid too often. If you do that, it can stop them from cooking to perfection. Only remove the lid after 25 minutes’ cooking time to make sure you serve perfect dombolo.

bone marrow soup with mini dombolo

Here’s how to make dombolo with a step-by-step guide:


  1. To make the dombolo, combine 520 g cake flour, 1 T salt, 2 T sugar and 2 t dried yeast in a large bowl. Using your hands, make a well in the centre and add 1 1/4 cups water. Combine to form a dough. Knead for 8–10 minutes until elastic. Place in a greased bowl and cover with clingwrap or a clean tea towel. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.

    Step 1

  2. Once risen, knock down the dough and cut into pieces large enough to fill 8 ramekins.

    Step 2

  3. Place the ramekins in a large saucepan and fill with enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for 25–30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

    Step 3

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