South Africans are a very passionate people: they can be seen gesticulating wildly on many a street corner, debating the merits of Eddie Jones’ coaching abilities, whether Zuma is really an alien life form and where the best dried meat can be found. But more than anything, they are passionate about their barbeques, or to get technical, The Braai.
To the rest of the world, it is a wood fire over which a selection (never just one type) of meat is cooked. To the South African it is a Braai, a way of life, an excuse to drink copious amounts of beer and wine (with ice in it *gasp*) whilst the fire is made, it is a GOD GIVEN RIGHT. They even have a national holiday: Braai Day (this is not a joke). And on Sundays the air is perfumed with wood smoke, underlined with a bit of char from last week’s meats of choice. As an outsider looking in there are a few observations I’ve made about this curious social interaction.
First there is a lot of conjecture about the type of wood used, where you should get it, how much you should pay for it, delivery and stacking methods. I have witnessed South African males converse on this point for hours. HOURS!!!! It’s important. Apparently.
Then there is the procurement of the meats. There are all the usual suspects like steak, lamb chops and chicken kebabs (sosoeties), but that’s not enough variety. Kudu loin, bacon roly polys, lamb ribs, springbok chops… And if you’re vegetarian, better bring yourself a salad because the one provided will no doubt have bacon or chicken in it. May God and Zuma help you if you’re vegan.
Hungry? Or just bored? We haven’t even reached the stage where there is a lot of fussing over twig and stick placement in the braai vessel, the obligatory removal of a piece of clothing from the men making the fire and the emergence of the Alpha Braaier. Don’t start yawning yet though; the South Africans have a fantastic way of staving off the urge to just microwave some baked beans for dinner: Alcohol. Once the wood is in place but before a match is thrown at it, the beers are opened, the wine is poured, drinks are mixed and you are officially braaiing.
As the fire dies down to coals, a new player will emerge from the smoke and chatter: The Alpha Braaier. He will be apparent from his puffed out chest, unsuitable choice of footwear near a 300 degree cooking implement, beer and extreme reluctance to leave the braai area. He will sidle up to the owner and rightful cooker of the braai and through subtle manipulation (“Those are great tongs, may I see? I’ll just see how they turn the choppies”) or outright rudeness (“You’re doing it wrong Doos. Let me!”) and take over. Some can withstand this display of macho cheffing and maintain their position with the tongs, others step aside and give the Alpha Braaier his place.
With much flourishing, the braaivleis will eventually be cooked when everyone is pissed enough to eat just about anything. There will be much pronouncement as to the wonderfulness of the meat, the skillfulness of the Alpha Braaier and a general feeling of contentment will come over the party. At this point it is not unusual for one of the Beta Braaiers to suggest there are still enough coals to cook a boerwors (big dog poo looking sausage) and the process will begin again but at a much more imprecise level due to the buckets of alcohol .
As an interloper from a foreign culture, it all seems a bit silly. But it’s not. It’s lekker!