The French have their onion soup. The Americans have their apple pie. The Germans have their Bratwurst and Sauerkraut. What do we South African have? Well, to my mind nothing defines us (in a culinary sense, anyway!) better than a braai. As a South African abroad, there are few things that make me homesick as fast as the smell of woodsmoke. One whiff while walking home from the train station is all it takes and suddenly you are transported back to another time and place – maybe a seaside holiday, maybe a student jol, maybe a 21st birthday party. One way or another, the smell of a braai fire is one of the ties that really binds South Africans together. So much so that Heritage Day, our public holiday that falls on the 24th of September, has been declared National Braai Day and is celebrated by South Africans everywhere – even by our national treasure Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu!
Let me start by explaining that South Africans do not barbecue or barbie or have a cookout – we BRAAI. It’s a whole different ballgame and one of the reasons why, for me, South Africa rocks. The South African braai goes way beyond linguistics or a simple cooking method – it has been elevated to the status of a social and cultural institution. Formerly the preserve of white and mainly Afrikaner South Africans, the braai today crosses all cultural and socio-economic barriers and is universally loved – and given the South African climate, it is an activity that we indulge in all year round, with gusto.
Even today, there are still braai puritans who insist that to be a “proper” braai, the meat has to be cooked on an open wood fire (doringhout or rooikrans will do nicely). The making of this fire is usually a skill passed down from father to son – how to pile the wood, where to put the newspaper or kindling and of course, how to tell when the fire is ready for cooking, which usually involves counting how long you can leave your hand above the coals before yanking it away in pain. And woe betide anyone who casts aspersions on a man’s ability to make a good braai fire – this is tantamount to questioning his manhood… The fire is traditionally started hours before any cooking is due to be done, using about 10 times more wood than is, strictly speaking, necessary. This is the “kuiervuur” which is built purely as a backdrop against which the braaiers can stand and chat about rugby (or braaing techniques!) until the requisite amount of Castle Lager has been consumed.
These braai puritans also have fixed ideas on the type of structure to be used for a braai and will pooh-pooh the idea of Weber charcoal grills or fancy grills as “for sissies”. The Real Braaier has been known to make a fire in an old wheelbarrow or in an old washing machine drum – the drum’s little holes provide the correct degree of protection and ventilation, apparently. And the golden rule of the traditional braai is this: while the women may congregate in the kitchen and make side dishes and conversation, it is the men who prepare the meat and do the braaing. They huddle around the fire comparing braai tongs (really!), marinades and braai technique, and all shake their heads sadly when someone deviates from the braai norm by, say, putting their meat on the fire too early/late/at the wrong angle. Mmm… the mingled smell of smoke and testosterone.
At the risk of offending everyone, I just have to say a few words about nationality and braaing ability. Here in London, when we are invited to a barbecue (i.e not an exclusively South African gathering), it is almost always the South African men that gravitate towards the fire and end up doing all the cooking of meat, while the Aussies and Kiwis make lots of suggestions from the sidelines (but don’t actually DO anything) and the Brits nervously clutch their mobile phones, wondering whether the smoke levels warrant a call to the fire brigade. But to be fair, the Brits don’t really stand a chance in the barbecue/braai stakes – summer only lasts about a week, so there is hardly any time to practise and get really good. Poor lambs.
As for what goes on the braai, when I was growing up, it was confined to lamb or pork chops, boerewors (a South African coriander-spiced sausage) and steak. Fish was permissable in Cape Town (more or less) and chicken was seen as the vegetearian option. Luckily, we have moved on and today pretty much anything goes, from meat to fish to chicken and even the occasional vegetable. A couple of weeks ago I asked you to send me your favourite braai recipes for the Braai, the Beloved Country event (for those of you who didn't know, it's a play on the title of the famous South African author Alan Paton' book Cry, the Beloved Country). So let's see just what people are putting on (or around) the braai these days.
First out of the gate was my friend Val of More Than Burnt Toast in Canada. She decided to go for the often-neglected niche market: vegetarian braai dishes. She comes up with a mouth-watering dish of bell peppers on the grill filled with pesto and cheese. Inspired!
Up next was the lovely Lady Raven from Add to Taste in Cape Town. Inspired by the sight of my sosaties, she came up with two delicious kebabs: Moroccan sausage & lamb skewers; and cheese & vegetable skewers. The cheese & veg skewers in particular would come in very handy for vegetarian guests (who are usually the poor relation at South African braais!).
Ally of Simply Delicious (my fellow-finalist in the South African Blog Awards 2010 – congrats, girl!) eally got into the spirit of things and decided to tackle an entire week of braai recipes! Here, she gives us the low-down on how to marinade, starting with a whopping five delicious marinades for chicken and then wowing us with her sticky pork rib and her lemon & rosemary lamb chop marinades.
All the way from Australia, my friend Barbara of Winos and Foodies also fired up the grill to join in the fun. Now usually I'd pooh-pooh the idea of hamburgers on the grill… but when you see these gourmet burgers that her son whips up, you will change your mind as fast as I did Delicious.
Back in South Africa again the talented Marisa of The Creative Pot uses heritage day as a springboard to ponder her own family heritage. One thing is for sure – good taste must run in her family because the coconut and coriander grilled chicken that she dreams up is good enough to become a family heirloom recipe!
Staying in South Africa, we hear from Claudine & Mr B (Claudine assures me it was a joint effort) of Purple Lips & Perfect Smiles. Boerewors is a delicious coriander-spiced sausage that is made in long coils and usually served with pap (literally porridge, but made of maize meal and actually a swhole lot more like polenta) and tomato & onion stew. Claudine gives a new twist to an old classic and serves the combination up as canapé-sized boerewors & pap bites. I love it!
The "definitely beyond the call of duty" must go to Sally of My Custard Pie – who also gave us the only sweet contribution to this event. Sally lives in UAE and wanted to take part so badly in this event that she fired up the barbecue… in 40C heat!! I'm impressed. The fruits of her labours were some delicious honeyed fruit brochettes with rosewater cream. I think we're all in agreement that her suffering was worth it in the end
And back to South Africa again where my dear friend Nina of My Easy Cooking has also been cooking up a storm for Braai Day. As she correctly points out, there are always loads of meat recipes for a braai, so she decides instead to wow us with a side dish. Her perfect pasta salad wth mushroom pesto looks like the ideal cool, chewy accompaniment to hot, crispy lamb chops. Hungry now…!
Of course, no event around here would be complete without the participation of my beloved sister-from-another-mother Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey? She shares with us the almost mythical status of sausages in her current home of Germany, where every market tempts you with the smell of the local sausages sizzling on the grill. Having had a bratwurst fresh off the grill when I visited Dresden with her in the summer, I can see the attraction!
Back in South Africa, Tara of C'est la Vie submitted two recipes well within the deadline… but to the wrong e-mail address! They have now finally reached me and a good thing it is too as they are delicious! First up are her peanut butter, mushroom and bacon snack bites (not pictured). I order you to suspend your disbelief till you've tried these delicious little bites of sinfulness! She also contributed a fabulous kudu neck potjiekos and an easy guide to potjiekos in general – make sure not to miss it!
As for me, I kicked the event off with a reprise of my old friend Cecil's curried lamb and apricot sosaties. Every year he brings them to our annunal summer braai; every year there is not a single leftover. Say no more.
And if those don't rock your world, try my…
Or my spectacular roast butternut squash stuffed with spinach and feta
Don't know about you… but I'm hungry now! Thanks ever so much to all those who took part in this event, and as for you, my dear readers – what are you still doing here? Go and fire up the braai!
HAPPY HERITAGE DAY, EVERYONE!