South Africa: Guest at the braai

“Wait, are you in a hurry? Have you ever been here braai?” Mr. Guqa, the chairman of the electoral commission, stops me at the door as I am about to leave his house in one of the suburbs of Cape Town. In a chat over a cup of tea, we just discussed the state of South African politics, from corruption to racism, and what Nelson Mandela would probably say to all of this if he were still alive.

“He wasn’t”, I answer, and that morning I made a plan for this afternoon and evening. Because if I want to know South Africa, I definitely have to stay braai. It is the South African form of barbecue or, as we would say in the Czech Republic, grillováčky. I would almost say yes braai is one of the few things that unites the very diverse South African society. The flavor here in southern Africa is to choose, every kind of meat imaginable is used: lamb, chicken, beef, pork (either farmed pig or warthog), antelope, ostrich and some seafood will also be added on the grill.

With friends

In the blink of an eye, Mr. Guqa fires up the barbecue in his large garden, which is always masculine on this occasion (at least for traditionalists like him). He prepares steaks, who knows what, cutlets and special “braai” sausages made of ground beef, seasoned with coriander, nutmeg or black pepper. At home, his wife and daughter prepare pastries and salads in the kitchen, and people gradually gather in and outside the house for friendly conversations.

Then, as the temperatures outside drop and darkness descends on the suburbs, the hustle and bustle of the garden creeps into the rooms. And as if men and women have nothing to say in such an evening, society is divided into the women’s kitchen and the men’s living room; they obviously don’t want them talking about sports and politics in the living room from the kitchen. After a while, the atmosphere here will be dominated by TV variety shows in style Ein Kessel Buntes.

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Already in a rather sleepy mood, I accept the offer of one of the guests to return to the city center with uncertain gratitude. With uncertain because the guest had a little to drink. He doesn’t do much of it, and neither do I, because I’m in a similar situation. These paths, when you don’t dare to guess in advance how they will turn out, seem endless. But we survived, so I can continue to taste South Africa.

Uneven cuisine

It’s complicated here with the kitchen. Braai is perhaps the only definition of it that can be generalized in any way. Maybe more biltong it has spread among all ethnic groups: thickly seasoned slices of dried beef, antelope or ostrich meat South Africans like to devour in front of the television instead of chips. The first European settlers came up with the idea long ago to ensure the permanence of food supplies. Perhaps it should be mentioned again the pope, a corn porridge that is a traditional side dish throughout East and Southern Africa. In Zambia and Malawi it is called porridge nshimaback in Kenya ugaliin Rwanda ugugali and for example in Zimbabwe soot. It is a mixture of cornmeal, water and salt that lacks a characteristic smell, let alone a taste. And I seriously can’t think of more unifying points, every population group has its own culinary habits.

Cape Malay

The most famous ethnic cuisine of South Africa is certainly the Cape Malay cuisine. Cape Town was once a Dutch colony, just like Indonesia or parts of Malaysia, from where the Dutch brought many slaves to the south of Africa. Today, their descendants form a large national and, as usual, Muslim and religious minority. Indian influences also mixed in, when the British gained dominance over an area in the Netherlands – and India was once a British colony.

And the descendants of these forced settlers also have their recipes. Everything “Malay” is very spicy, saffron, cinnamon, a lot of curry and chili are used, so the consumer sometimes cannot say for sure what kind of meat he is actually eating, but he knows 100% that there is curry. In any case, home cooks pay special attention to the choice of spices.

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As the center of the community and their goodness we can declare the neighborhood of Cape Town called Bo-Kaap, which was formerly called the Malay Quarter. Today it is a famous tourist attraction, not only because of its traditional restaurants, culinary tours and the oldest mosque in the city. The attention is mainly drawn to the colorful houses that line the local streets. It is said that when the former slaves got the right to buy real estate, they painted the originally white houses in rich colors to show everyone that they were gaining the desired freedom. That’s what it’s called. But I read somewhere that this story is more of a myth.

Emjayev bobotie

Even my friend with the French name Marcelon has these Asian roots. I don’t know how much he likes that name because he prefers to be called MJ (“Emjay”). A wiry man in his thirties, with an elongated face, disheveled expression and, according to his own account, probably quite a hot head, he was once a street brawler and cigar-chomp. He went boxing and when one day he had enough, he started a career as a janitor and started cooking. And I can confirm that he is doing well. So we arranged a gastronomic exchange meeting, he will bring something from the Cape Malay cuisine and I will bring pork and cabbage – MJ does not subscribe to Islam, so he can tolerate this Czech food.

So what good do we have here on the served table? There is mostly a baking dish bobotie and with that, MJ hit me. “It’s a bit like your meatloaf, but we add curry, turmeric, vinegar, raisins and fruit chutney to create that sweet and sour taste. Then, when the meat mixture is almost cooked, we cover it with a well-beaten egg and put a few balls of butter on top and bake it until golden brown,” says MJ’s recipe for this particularly famous “Malay” dish, for which it is ground. the most suitable is beef, mutton or ostrich meat. In addition, he serves lentils in a bowl away.

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I ate it. Of course, MJ could have chosen others from the rich number of recipes that abound in Cape-Malay cuisine (although the names of those dishes mostly sound African). So for example cultivation and frikkadelsthen also denningvleis or sabanangvleis (think something like mutton goulash, meatballs, spicy stewed mutton and savory scones under those terms), pinangkerrie is one of the many types of curry and meat on a stick.

Do you put “smilies”?

Even cities, as slums are called here, have their own culinary traditions. I went to one of them, the town of Langa, and my guide is a native of Odwa. And here people have their own braai. The entrails of an unknown animal are fried on strange grills on the knees. The smell of not-so-fresh meat floats in the air, because around the corner, on a wooden stand, several sheep’s heads have been lying in the morning, in which the ubiquitous flies lay their eggs. It is now late in the afternoon and about five thirty in the shade. A fire is burning nearby, and three women with yellow faces are sitting around it. The mask protects their cheeks, nose and briefly from the heat. Each of the women holds a tanned sheep’s stick in her hands, as if she wants to use it to tell the future of passers-by, while in reality they are preparing smiley.

“In the morning, the boys bring sheep’s heads, sometimes legs, from the farm. They’ll get them in a few runs, even though they used to be free. But when the farmers found out there was interest in the waste, they wanted to at least get something. These women process the heads on the fire every day from nine in the morning to nine ten in the evening and then sell them,” Odwa explains how the local delicacy, which bears such a cheerful name – smileys, is created. She probably got it because those tan heads are kind of boring.

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For this tasting, I confess to Odwa, I don’t have the courage. “But I’d like to try your beer,” I say as we walk between the shacks and thus make our way to one of them.

What to drink it with

The traditional beer of the Xhosa tribe is called umqombothi and should be pronounced with an accented click instead of the letter “q”. In a rusted tin and tarp clad home, we sit in a circle with a group of local guys staring at me like an apparition, but hopefully those stares will disappear as we drink together. Such umqombothi is collected in a large bucket and circulated. The gentlemen are probably waiting for me to rate their mok, but woe betide me if I don’t praise it. I am entitled to the first locomotive. “It’s pretty good,” I say, “definitely a little unusual, but interesting,” and then I prefer to remain silent.

Brewing the unusually sour “beer” made from corn and sorghum was traditionally the responsibility of women to contribute to the family budget. During apartheid, alcohol was banned because the government elite could not afford to drink it. The local population did their best. “When the police came, the children playing outside started singing special songs, and the adults immediately knew to hide and cover their tracks,” Odwa describes the former beer custom.

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And since we have already started drinking all the various South African dishes, I must not forget to mention the two drinks that are most characteristic of this country. The first is made from the Cape tea bush, which is grown on plantations around the town of Cederberg and nowhere else in the world. Only here is the origin of rooibos tea. Go on an excursion sometime. And the other one? Wine, after all, makes sense. Although South Africans themselves do not drink that much, three-quarters of the production is exported.

The stunning historic wine center of Groot Constantia is probably rightly called the oldest in the country and you can find it a short distance from Cape Town, in fact in its southern suburbs. Or head to the towns of Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, which locals claim are the most beautiful wine valleys in the world. If you take a look at the local vineyards with the Drakenstein mountains in the background. When everything is bathed in the setting sun, you have the desire to put those words to good use.


Seafood and Hout Bay

The coasts of South Africa are washed by the waters of two oceans, so it is clear that seafood is also an important part of local cuisine. To taste them, I recommend that you visit the former fishing village, and today the tourist and port town of Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula. They have a pier where fishing boats are moored, various events are held here marketsespecially fish, and on the mainland in front of the pier there is a modern and beautiful store Mariner’s Wharf Restaurant, in which helms hang from the walls and small bowls hang from the ceilings. The specialties here are shared by staff in navy suits. And the cooking here is great!

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