Abroad, it is called barbeque. BBQ. At the Southern tip of Africa, it is called a braai, which means to “grill.” You need a visa and a foreign passport if you want to be doing a BBQ in my neck of the woods. And people will decidedly frown upon you.
We traditionally only braai real meat, not fornicatious food such as burgers, hotdogs, etc. No bockwurst, knackwurst, Frankfurters or Russians on our braais around here, if you are a proudly South African patriot with deeply rooted values. Lamb chops, beef steaks, Boerewors (Google this) or garnishings like pork or chicken also allowed. Fish, of course, also do qualify. My own two favourites are lamb leg chops and snoek, a South African relative of the barracouta found elsewhere.
Men braai to save their ladies the trouble of cooking. The ladies then team up in the kitchen and produce all sorts of very nice side dishes, salads and the like, yet this hardly ever is of any consequence. After all, a braai is about meat, isn’t it? One cannot braai a salad, can we? Recently, however, we were invited to a braai at Klerksdorp in the Northwest Province of South Africa. Already, the meat coming off the braai grid was in a league of its own. A father and son combination who obviously understood the finer secrets of a great braai very well. The surprise came when we sat around the dining table and Mrs S produced a few dishes, each a solid meal in its own right. A sweet, sticky bread baked in a casserole, I suppose it had lots of cream and maybe brown sugar in it, in dollops. Nothing else can produce that kind if taste and texture. Then, there was a paptert. A dish made of corn flour and other secret ingredients, wanting anyone to dish up again and again. This is quite uncommon as we never saw a decent paptert in all the years we lived up-country. Surely, Mr S had chosen the right wife!
A quick way to make enemies, is to interfere with anyone’s braai. Don’t meddle with a fire made by another, don’t be a braai-backseat-driver. If you can do it better than your host, go do it elsewhere, say nothing.
Firewood is the first preference, but charcoal briquettes are also great, even though the visual effect and social factor may be less prominent. A yellow fire eating proper wood is a first choice. Alien trees such as Port Jackson and its cousins Black wattle and “Rooikrans” provide red embers more quickly, but these glow at around 280 degrees Celcius and, like vines, don’t last long unless you were lucky to fell some very old trees that had grown rather slowly. Peach, apricot, lemon, orange and even guava wood are better for a braai, but my own personal choice is camelthorn. This wood glows at 400 degrees centigrade and lasts for a day, if the going is good. It won’t let you down.
Of course, many “cannot” braai without being inspired by alcoholic beverages, yet most of our friends are teetotallers to whom a “kuier” means a great visit with friends, true to the original meaning of the word. It is also interesting to note that all the best braai artists I know, are all sober people. They build better fires, braai meat more perfectly and have no memory loss by the next morning. We had three braais in Klerksdorp, each of which was memorable.
Noteworthy to mention my friend Quinten Pendle, with his permission to do so. This gent taught himself to braai at age 28 only, as he wasn’t allowed to braai when he grew up. He does it differently from others, using charcoal only and elevating the braai grid higher above the glowing charcoal, to ensure there isn’t too much heat. His braai meat always emerge from the grid perfectly grilled, or braai’ed as we would say around here. He washes his hands well, and often, as he uses them as braai utensils. Yes, he turns the hot meat with his hands and always gets it done perfectly, one of the five best braai guru’s on this planet. His extraordinary way of doing it was born from the fact that he cannot see, so he cannot turn meat without knowing what he is doing. The very slow braai process therefore makes for meat or chicken grilled to perfection, evenly from the outside to the bone. Nothing burn slightly black, as most guys would have. He has impressed me very much as I come from a lineage that do understand the art of braai rather well.
When we arrived home via the luxurious, yet affordable PremierClasse train, we were picked up at Monument Station in Cape Town by a dear family friend, who had invited us to hers for the weekend, prior to us finally going home. Where I have been living since 2006, we were not allowed to braai and I love every opportunity I can get. Therefore, I was glad when I was asked to braai while the two ladies were doing beading. There were nice, thick pieces of wood and these were properly dried out, yet not chopped through. That is how I love my firewood.
Sitting outside in a backyard, the dogs at my feet, the starts above –
well, one could call it heaven, I suppose. A salty fresh ocean smell from the Atlantic pond two hundred yards away added to the bliss. So we braai-ed four times within a fortnight, more times than in the previous ten years!
All is well that ends well. The dogs are my witnesses, as they had their own thick pork chops while we had lamb ribs, Boerewors and lamb chops. Kath apologised for not having prepared a salad, offering to open a can of baked beans which she was going to add some attitude to. She was relieved when I discouraged her, as we are BRAAI people, meaning that we are carnivores!
My son is excellent at braai-ing and he told me on the phone when he called last night, how he manages to get it done sooo right. He braais on hearing, not on sight, despite having keen eyesight. Maybe he shares a little secret with Quinten, that meat speaks from the gird, asking to be turned? Thinking back to so many braais in my life, I think there is truth in that.
Speaking of braai, will you excuse me for a little while, i have a little something to attend to…….