The one meal that I really miss, the meal that meant that makes me think of family and laughter and good times is a braai. More commonly known as a bbq outside of South Africa, this meal, this way of cooking is part of us, part of who we are as a people. Every South African I know takes pride in their ability to build a fire and cook meat to perfection.
But it’s not just about the food that’s produced at the end of it. There’s the ritual of stacking the wood just right so that air can move around and let the fire breath. Then you have to tend to the fire until it’s just right and ready to accept the meat. Knowing what meat to start with. Chicken on the bone takes the longest but you can’t put it on when it’s too hot or the outside will burn before the inside is cooked. Eveyone braais their fish differently too. To foil or not to foil? If foiled…to add apricot jam or not? Despite the various methods people have to braai their food, I don’t think I’ve ever had ‘bad braai’. Have I just romanticised it in my head? I don’t think so.
Atmosphere comes to mind when I think about braai. Depending on who you’re braaing with, there may be some alcohol flowing. (This is not a prerequisite to a good braai.) I think of the conversations that I’ve had around the fire. I remember my Dad teaching me to stack the wood to make my first braai fire. I remember standing outside with him chatting while I braaied for us for Sunday lunch or whenever we fancied a meal cooked outside. Happy days. Whenever we go home to South Africa for a holiday, there has to be at least one braai.
Even when I went through a (6 year) phase of not eating meat, that didn’t exclude me from enjoying braais. Thankfully I was sensible enough to still eat fish. Ah the good old fish braai – snoek to be precise. (A South African fish, of course.) So I could eat fish and all the wonderful salads that accompany a braai. Delicious, nutritious and not so nutritious salads. yum. Potato salad. Pasta salad. Beans salad. Green salad. Salads with cubes of cheese. Salads with chunks of cooked butternut. Salads with whatever you felt like adding because it didn’t matter. Anything tastes good at a braai.
Oh and then there’s the smell. That wonderful smell of fire and cooking meat and fish and (sometimes) vegetables. The smell finds its way everywhere. Into your clothes, your hair. Horrible? Not at all. It’s one of my favourite perfumes. Although if you sleep with your braai clothes on then your bedding will smell of braai too.
That’s what I miss about home. Been able to invite family or friends over for a braai. I miss being invited to braais. For a short time, I lived in a house with a garden and from time to time on the rare occasion that it was warm, we braaied. It was nice because my housemates were South African too but there was still something missing. Maybe it was the knowledge of being home. Or maybe it was not being with the people I have been braaing with all my life. I’m not sure.
From the ceremony of building the wood tower to watching the fire blazing. From listening to the meat sizzling to your mouth watering as the scent of your meal wafting into your nose. From licking your fingers once you’ve devoured that last piece mouthful to clearing away the dishes. There’s nothing quite like a braai. There’s nothing that evokes the same sense of nostalgia. And quite frankly, there’s nothing quite so tasty.
Like my friend James often says at a braai..
“Dit proe as of ‘n engel op my tong gepiepie het.”
Roughly translated it means ‘It tastes like an angel has peed on my tongue.’ You get the picture.
Sunshine…braai…and my friend James
Ps…braai day is actually a ‘thing’ in SA. 24th September is unofficially called Braai Day and officially it’s Heritage Day. It also happens to be our wedding anniversary 🙂
Thanks for reading. x
Writing 101 – the task:
Tell us about your favourite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.
Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.