Samui Wining & Dining
Rainbow Cuisine

That’s what South African food is known as due to the diversity of the country’s people and culture.

 

14Food, kos, ukudla, ukutya or dijo - English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa or Sesotho. These are just some of the words for food in a country that has 11 official languages. Yes, 11. It’s surprising any communication goes on at all! But one thing ties the country together no matter the skin colour, language or cultural heritage, and that’s a braai – which is the Afrikaans word for barbecue. It’s a word that’s been adopted by all South Africans, whichever language they speak.

      A braai (pronounced br-eye) is much more than just a way of cooking food. It’s an event, it’s a tradition, and in fact, it’s a way of life. Your average South African will braai several times a week, and most homes will have a large built-in braai area outside or even inside. And a gas barbecue is not considered a real braai. Oh no, a real man has to make a fire, not just flick a switch.

      Braai-ing is a social event, and the term ‘bring and braai’ is a common phrase. Call up friends, family or neighbours, tell them you’re lighting the fire and the coals will be ready in an hour, and anyone is free to bring their own meat and drinks and join in the chatter around the fire. In truth,

there’s a certain degree of sexism involved in braai-ing, as generally the women will make the salads and side dishes, and marinate the meat in the kitchen while they catch up on news, and the men drink beer and talk about sport around the fire.

      So what would you cook on a braai? Well plenty of meat firstly – South Africa is one of the biggest meat-eating nations in the world, and the country is known for its excellent beef and lamb. Without a doubt, there’ll be a fat juicy roll of boerewors on the braai – which translates to farmers’ sausage. It’s usually spiced with coriander, and will be a mix of pork and beef. Each butchery has its own recipe, and many South Africans make their own at home, too. Aside from this tasty sausage, there’ll be tjops which is the Afrikaans word for lamb cutlets, as well as T-bone steaks, chicken and often venison, ostrich or kudu (a type of antelope).

       Sosaties are kebabs of any cubed meat on a skewer along with tomato wedges, onions and peppers, which are marinated before going on the coals. Seafood such as whole fish stuffed and wrapped in tinfoil, or crayfish is popular too. Potjiekos is often cooked alongside a braai. It’s a traditional Afrikaans stew made with meat and vegetables and cooked over coals in cast-iron pots. It’s a slow procedure, often taking several hours. Potjiekos competitions are popular in small town communities as a way of getting together.

       On the side you’ll enjoy jacket potatoes, corn on the cob and braai-broodtjies – grilled cheese, tomato and onion sandwiches which get a wonderful smoky taste, crispy on the outside, with gooey cheese inside. Accompanying the food prepared on the fire, will be salads – green, potato, coleslaw, pasta salads and whatever else the house specialty is. And of course, while the fire is on the go, and everyone is waiting for the coals to be just right, you’ll be drinking beer, excellent South African wine and nibbling on biltong, droerwors and peanuts. Biltong is South Africa’s version of beef jerky – whereby meat is salted, spiced and air-dried. It’s usually made from beef, ostrich, kudu or springbok. Droerwors – dried sausage, is literally that. Boerewors that’s been air-dried in the same way as biltong.

      So what do South Africans eat when they’re not having a braai? Well, with such diverse cultures, a lot depends on the area of the country, and who initially colonised that area. For example, Kwazulu Natal, and in particular the Durban area, has a large Indian community so this region is known for its curries and spicy food. A popular dish is called bunny chow. No, it’s not rabbit. A half-loaf of soft white bread is hollowed out and filled with curry. It’s eaten just like that, with the bread forming the bowl and soaking up all the delicious curry juices to be eaten after the filling is finished.

      The Western Cape is home to a group of people now known as Cape Malays, who are descendants of the Malay and Indonesian slaves brought over by European settlers hundreds of years ago. Their recipes, passed down through the generations, have a strong influence on Western Cape cuisine. Cape Malay curries are less spicy and slightly sweeter than Indian curries, and are served with accompaniments such as sambal, chopped banana and chutney. A popular Cape Malay dish is bobotie – a curried beef mince pie. Rather than having a crust, the mince is placed in a dish, and an egg custard is poured over the top before it’s baked in the oven. It’s served with yellow rice. Snoek is a regional game-fish similar to barracuda, traditional to the Cape. It’s sometimes braaied, or otherwise smoked and often made into a paté served with bread.

      As rice is to Asia, maize (mielies) is to Africa, and most native Africans still eat maize as their staple starch, which can be served in many ways. It often forms the starch served at a braai too, cooked as a stiff porridge (pap) and served with a tomato and onion sauce over the top. Some cook it up stiff (stywepap), and others so that it resembles crumbs – krummelpap. Dried and broken maize kernels (samp) and beans, or umngqusho, is a classic African dish. Up to half the arable land in South Africa is planted with maize, which was grown by tribes across southern Africa long before the colonists arrived.

      For the brave gastro-tourists that visit South Africa, there’s crocodile, sheep heads or perhaps mpani worms – which are served dried as a snack. Many European countries have influenced South African cooking as they passed through either to colonise or trade, including French, Portuguese, Dutch and British. Waterblommetjie bredie (water flower stew) is a traditional favourite of meat stewed with the flower of the Cape Pondweed.

      On the sweet side, koeksisters are sinfully sweet plaited pastries, deep-fried and heavily sweetened by being plunged into a thick syrup flavoured with cinnamon and cloves - delicious, but oh-so sugary. Melktert (milk tart) has a soft, silky texture, not too sweet, and again lightly flavoured with cinnamon.

      No trip to South Africa would be complete without a visit to the wine-lands of the Cape. South African wine rivals any of the top European or Californian varieties, and particularly good are the pinotage and chardonnays. And that brings us back to the braai, which is the perfect place to enjoy a bottle, or two!

      

Rosanne Turner


 


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