RECIPE: Steam Bread / Steamed Bread / Isonka Samanzi


This bread is made by steaming the dough until it’s cooked.    If I tell you it’s divine, you’ll just look at me and wonder what’s divine about steam cooked bread?  Wait until you try it. It’s a perfect example of a simple pleasure.

I worked on the recipe December last year during the holidays with my adorable 9-year-old nephew.  He was just watching in amazement, adding the ingredients and sifting them.  When we were done and the bread was cooked I cut it into slices and put some margarine on it while it was still hot.  I called my mom, sister and brother to come have a look and taste (my taste panel haha).  I can’t remember why but I disappeared from the kitchen and went to another room.  By the time I got back to the kitchen the bread was gone.

Steam Bread


I asked what happened, my 18-year-old brother calmly replied: “haibo big sis, ucinga uba sizotya islice esiyi one and then sisiyeke simnandi kangaka esa sonka” which means it was impossible for them to just taste one slice and leave the rest…the bread is too nice.  The same incident happened recently in Cape Town during the shoot.  My other sister and 20-year-old cousin were assisting me.  The bread was ready and the photographer just called to let me know he was outside so I needed to go and get him.

A quarter of the bread was gone….when I came back…

When I asked, they just continued chewing, saying the bread is nice.  Crazy huh?

Steam Bread Isonka Samanzi
Steam Bread – Surface Image


Steam Bread Recipe

4½ cups cake flour

500ml warm water

10ml instant dry yeast

10ml salt

20ml sugar


1.     Grease an enamel dish or bowl with butter or margarine.

2.     Sift the dry ingredients and mix them into a bowl.

3.     Knead until the dough is combined and does not stick to the hands.

4.     Transfer the dough to the greased bowl.

5.     Cover it up and let rise.

6.     Add some water into a big saucepan and put the greased bowl inside.

7.    Steam for at least an hour or until cooked.

8.    Cover the saucepan during cooking.

9.     Serve warm or cold with veggies, soup, meat etc.

Thuli’s Tip:

The water should not get into the bowl otherwise your bread will be soggy.


BTW:  Steam Bread is one of those traditional South African dishes you have to master.  When you are done mastering this dish, I challenge you to try your hand at this delicious Dombolo and Lamb Stew.

About Author


Thuli Gogela is a Food Technologist with 8 years of experience developing products in food manufacturing. She is dedicated to discovering wholesome traditional dishes and recipes with a distinctive taste from different parts of the African continent. Thuli is well known for her food blog, Mzansi Style Cuisine which was established in 2010. She saw a gap in the traditional food market that people were hungry for. From there, it didn’t take long to build her brand. In 2013, she started writing a recipe column for the Cape Times for and has collaborated with some of the biggest brands in South Africa namely, Knorr, Nedeburg Wines, First Choice and Spekko rice. Not only does Thuli feature traditional African dishes, she’s also open to developing recipes, food consultations and brand collaborations.

Comments ( 71 )

  • Debra

    I am so glad I found this recipe. When I was a little girl our nanny used to make this bread for us then we got home from school. I have searched the internet and could not find it. At 50yr I now at last have the receipt, THANK YOU. I am going to try it this weekend.

    • So glad I could help Debra! Enjoy!

    • Anonymous

      How many people does this recipe serve

      • Please feel free to try it and let us know. 🙂

  • Hi Thuli – this is just such a good recipe! I am always looking for recipes that can be cooked over a fire for campers, and this will be a great recipe for that.

    I am so enjoying your traditional recipes – keep them coming. And you were great on Pasella, too 🙂


    • Hi Zabwan, you are reminding me of something that might help during your camping; my mom and aunt sometimes steamed the bread in a plastic bag instead of a bowl. Just make sure your plastic bag does not leak otherwise your bread will be soggy. The results are as good as when you are using a bowl. I appreciate all your comments. Thanks!:-)

  • Corah

    Iyo! dankie Thuli,this is great!

    • Hi Corah! I’m glad you like the recipes! Have you tried any of the dishes?

  • Hi Thuli

    Thanks for this one – I’ve done it before with a variation of mixed herbs and served it with chicken stew. Since I don’t have a steel bowl, I’ve used a steel colander and it has served me faithfully.

    With finger-licking regards


    • Hi Nomvula, you are making me hungry when you mention a chicken stew! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  • Elaine

    Good evening. I made your steamed bread last night. YUM! Rubbing the dough with butter not only stopped the dough from drying out while it was left to rise but it also browned the crust during the cooking process. I cooked the bread in a pot that was placed into a larger pot of water. I placed a damp towel over the pots ( the lid did not seal the two pots) and then I placed a large inverted saucepan over the top. Worked like a bomb. Thank you for the recipe 🙂

    • Hi Elaine! Thanks for trying out the recipe and also for your lovely feedback! I’m glad you tried it! 🙂 I’ll also rub my dough with some butter, thanks for the tip.

  • Viwe

    Luuurve ths bread, reminds me of my school days in E.C . Sana i’m proud of you, i love wat i c truly authentic Mzantsi food. As a foodie myself i take my hat off ur work!

    • Thanks doll! You’ve made my day 🙂

  • Thank you for your website been looking for such a website for ages! I currently live in the UAE and miss a lot of home cooked meals and you came to my rescue. Thanks alot!!!!! mcwa!mcwa!mcwa

    • Hi Koketso!

      Thanks so much for your comment! I love hearing from the people that read and use the recipes on the blog!! I’m glad I could help! Keep well! xoxo!

  • Amandla

    Mmmhh i’m definitely making this with my tripe on Saturday. thanks thuli 🙂

  • Nonto

    I learnt abt u on I am woman and just had to find yr blog. Thank u for taking thos initiative, my cooking will no longer be boring. I have always cookes amadumbe and just enjoyed them salted, I never thought there was ever another way. Tonighy’s dinner is chakalaka chicken with creamy amadumbe, I’m drooling already!
    Thank u Thuli, may God bless u dear!

    • HI Nonto,

      Thank you for watching the show! I look forward to sharing recipes and cooking tips with you!

      Enjoy dinner and PLEASE let me know how it goes!

      Love, Thuli

  • Maxo

    Hi Thuli

    I am sooo happy to have found your site. I am currently living in Germany, being far from home can make u miss the little things you enjoyed as a child like steam bread and dumplings. You are such an inspiration, I watched your story on Youtube, I was very touched. You will still go far with your kind of determination and beautiful spirit.

    Thank you!

  • akhe

    My granny taught me how to make this bread! Its awesome, never had a recipe always used my judgement and my boyfriend always wants me to prepare it. Now that I found the site I’ll refer him here for all the xhosa dishes. Enkosi kakulu sis wam!

  • Amanda

    Wow sisi,I’ve tried your steamed bread and vetkoek my goodness DIVINE .Still licking my fingers,I’m never buying again lol.Thank you so much,keep them recipes coming.

    • Hi Amanda! Glad you tried the recipes and have enjoyed them. Thank you for making an effort to give feedback! Lots of love, Thuli

  • Adrian

    Hi Thuli. I don’t have an enamel plate or bowl, what else can be used?

    • Hi Adrian,

      I sometimes use a soup bowl or any other glass bowl. Just spray it with a baking spray or grease with butter.

      • Adrian

        I have a steel bowl, will that be ok? Also, does the bowl fit right into the pot or is it ok if the bowl sits on the edge of the pot and the steam cooks the dough from underneath?

        • I’m assuming by steel you mean stainlesss steel. The water shouldn’t be in contact with the bread. Otherwise it will be soggy.

          • Adrian

            Yes it is a stainless steel bowl. So its fine if the bowl sits on the pot and gets steamed from underneath and the pot is covered?

          • Lets just say the water shouldn’t be in contact with the dough/bread and yes the lid has to be on.

  • When I was very little Bernice, our nanny, cooked steamed bread for us in one of those old Heart triangle pots. We sat on the floor in her room and ate chunks of it broken off straight out of the pot. I will never forget the taste of that bread! I am so glad I found this so that I can try to recreate that moment. I was only about 5, but I have never forgotten it. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Hi Liezl, thanks for your comment and for sharing your story. Hope you can try the recipe! Just browsed through your blog. Looking forward to reading all about your adventures and travels. xx

  • Lindi Duma

    My bf proposed to me a week after i made bread from your recipe…thanks to good timing or he just couldnyt believe a completely urban girl could make this…he says it reminded him of home 🙂

    • Halalaaaa!!!! Nguwo Nguwo! Congratulations! I keep saying this, African man love their food. Infact, if it weren’t for them wanting these traditional dishes, our food heritage would die. They say how you get him is how you keep him therefore keep it up sisi! Happy for you!

  • Serah

    Hi, Thuli i just want to find out if do you cover the enamel dish with plastic or you just put the enamel dish just as it is in the boling saucepan.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Sorry for the late response. You just put it as is, however, if you do not have an enamel or even a glass bowl you can put your dough in a plastic bag. Enjoy!

  • Thando

    Am cooking isonka samanzi as we speak and I wasn’t sure for how long should I cook. I decided to Google and am glad I found you. My beef stew iyatsho nayo ngapha. Yummy. Thanks Thuli.

    • Hi Thando!

      Thank God for google! Glad you found the site. Good luck with our steam bread. Simnandi kakhulu xa usitya siseshushu. Usithi nyhibhe ngebhotolo. Ekhaya basigqiba sonke siphele sishushu njalo. Enjoy!

  • Sonia

    Thuli today I’m going to cook your cow heel with butter beans recipe with isonka sa manzi Mmmmm I am already licking my fingers and nomfino ka Samkelisiwe

    • Hope you enjoyed the recipes Sonia! 🙂

  • Amukelani

    Thuli what am i doing wrong with my bread, i have tried the recipe twice and both times the outside looks beautiful, but the middle comes out raw and if i put it back for longer it becomes tough and dense. the aroma is so beautiful that it pains me to have to chuck it. please help.

    • Ai jinne Amukelani! 🙁 First of all, thanks for your interest in the recipe and for trying it out. I’m sorry you’ve been having bad results. You have to knead your dough thoroughly. Even if it means kneading it for 10 minutes. When it’s good you’ll see it won’t stick on the bowl and your hands will be clean. It will be elastic and pliable. That is the only problem I can think of. Oh, and let it rise properly until it is double in size. Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

      Xx Thuli

  • Takue

    just tried the steamed bread …it came out so perfectly….thankx

  • Nomthie

    Oh my word, I’ve always tried and failed but after reading your method, I have finally succeeded and my man couldn’t help but think of home when he enjoyed my bread.thanks sisi.more steamed bread for my house this season!!

    • Whoop Whoop! Love the sound of that Nomthie! Thanks for the feedback and I’m glad I could help out! Enjoy! 🙂

  • Nangamso

    Hi Thuli, thank you so much for the recipe. I added hald a cup of digestive bran because my husband requires higher fibre content in his diet. It was lovely, thank you.

    • Hi Nangamso,

      Thank you so much for the feedback. Adding digestive bran is clever! I’m very happy you guys enjoyed it! 🙂

      Xx Thuli

  • Monica

    Hey Thuli – thanks for sharing. tried it. So yum:) Do you have other African recipes. I always want to cook tripe but i always wonder about how it’ll turn out. do you have any fool proof tripe recipes?

  • Nicole


    Although I am a bit confused. Is there only one bowl being used?
    Also, when does one throw the water in? I am soooo confused

    • Hi Nicole,

      Thank you for your interest in the recipe. Hope this clears up the confusion.

      You grease one bowl and set it aside – this is the bowl you will use for cooking your bread.

      In another bowl, you sift all your dry ingredients and knead the dough. The water is added to the dry ingredients.

      Let us know how it goes.

      Thuli Xx

  • Genara Gourgel

    Hi there,
    I’ve got a coffee shop and want to know where I can get a steamed bread supplier as I won’t have time to bake them myself.
    Can you suggest any please?

  • Genara Gourgel

    Hi there,
    I’ve got a coffee shop and want to know where I can get a steamed bread supplier as I won’t have time to bake them myself.
    Can you suggest any please?

  • Sewela

    Hello Thuli

    I cant thank you enough for this recipe, i followed it to the T and just woooow, i felt like a dumpling pro.

    For years i couldn’t come across a great recipe for steamed bread.

    I was completely blown away by the taste of this bread

    Thank you so much dear, you are appreciated.

    • Hi Sewela,

      Thank you so much for the feedback. 🙂 Your comment has made my day <3 My family finishes this bread in a matter of minutes. They love it hot with lashings of butter. Yours will love it just as much! 🙂

      Thuli Xx

  • Refiloe

    Good morning Sis Thuli

    I tried your dombolo recipe last night , what a winner! thank you so much , Everyone at home loved it:-) it came out perfectly ! tonight we try the gemer recipe , God bless you

  • Mosidi

    Hi sis Thuli, eish I mistakenly bought self raising wheat flour. Will it work?

    • Hi Mosidi,

      It will work. Just do away with the yeast in the recipe and also remember you have to cook your bread immediately after you finish kneading it.

      Let me know how it turns out.

      Thuli Xx

  • Johann

    How awesome is this! Thank you so very much Thuli!! On the farm our helper use to make this once a week!! I LOVED IT, she served it with peppery marogo or sometimes chicken hearts with the most delicious gravy!!! This brings back soooo many good memories!

  • sisb

    hi must I cover the pot with lid or towel

    • Hi there,

      Cover with the lid. 🙂 Enjoy!

      Thuli Xx

  • MeLissa

    Hi, I love how simple the recipe sounds. But can you tell me how do you actually “steam” the bread?

    • Hi MeLissa,

      Thanks for stopping by. It’s easy, just follow the instructions on the recipe and you should be fine.

      Thuli Xx

  • Mpho

    Hi i was always struggling to get my dombolo right but i
    Came across your recipe and am totally impressed the way it came out and how nice it tasted.
    Thank you

    • Hi Mpho,

      Thank you for the feedback. I’m glad you finally found a dombolo recipe you can trust. It’s all in the kneading – you have to knead the dough until your hands are clean. A lot of people don’t want to do that and that is why they end up with floppy results. Enjoy it with ox or lamb liver, it’s also great with mogodu. Yum!

      Thuli Xx

  • jaide

    Good Day Thuli

    The bread looks delicious. Please let me know how i can steam this bread in my pressure cooker

  • Hannah

    Hi Thuli – I tried this last week and my problem was that the steam kept condensing on the lid of the pot and dripping down on top of the bread making it all soggy. It cooked internally, but it was slimy and terrible. You’re not supposed to cover the bowl itself, right? I mean, you cover the pot that the bowl is inside so there is a covering over the bowl but no second cover for the bowl, yes?
    Please help I don’t understand what I’m doing incorrectly 🙁

  • Khanyisile

    hi Thuli
    Thank you so much for the was lovely. Thank u

  • Sitshengisiwe Mutsikira

    Hi Thuli

    Thank you so much for the recipe
    Have always wanted to learn making idombolo and today gave it a try after coming across your recipe, hope it turns out well

  • Khetsiwe Sacolo

    Tried recipe n came out well. Used tea cups for steaming instead of one bowl. Thanx dear

Post a Comment