Ubuchopho is the Nguni word for the brain. In the Sotho languages, it is known as boboko. Sheep’s brain, or ubuchopho begusha, is more accessible as sheep’s head, also called skopo or smiley, and it has extended itself from the home into South Africa’s street food scene and culture.
Ubuchopho, however, is not for everyone. Many people are happy to throw it away. It is a delicacy for some and bonding food for others. My dad loved to leave the sheep’s head in the fridge overnight and we’d have a medley of all its pieces, including the tongue, as a cold meat snack.
Cooking ubuchopho begusha
With its delicate texture, ubuchopho melts in your mouth. This is why you have to take care, especially when cooking it separately. This cooking method is rare in South Africa. If cooking your ubuchopho separately, make sure to wash it thoroughly or soak it in water to extract the blood. It’s best to put in a plastic bag, tie it, then boil it in a pot. When it’s done, add some salt and enjoy.
The most common way to cook ubuchopho is together with the sheep’s head. In this way, it is safely protected by the compartments of the skull. The bone also adds natural flavour. When the hairs have been completely shaven off, the head is cut in half and boiled. Add salt or stock for seasoning and cook until soft.
Cooking sheep’s head has taken on different variations according to different locations in the country – and abroad. In some parts of Gugulethu, for example, the head is rubbed with oil and spices and placed in a preheated oven for 15 minutes after boiling. In Pretoria, it tends to be cooked juicy and falling off the bone with a chilli kick. Here the ubuchopho provides the balance. Meanwhile, in Australia, it is deep fried and crumbed after boiling.
Whichever way you decide to try it, we guarantee ubuchopho is a treat you won’t soon forget!
Ready to try to make your own sheep’s head? Click here for a delicious baked sheep’s heads recipe.