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Southern Africa Part 1; The Braai

A Braai is not to different than our version of a barbecue. The idea is basic – friends come over with meat and drinks, a fire is lit, and food is made in a friendly, communal atmosphere. However, there are some pretty noticeable differences.

On my tour of Africa, I was primarily traveling with my Mom and she really wanted to visit her friend and former teaching colleague, Heather. Heather and her family live in a small mountain town called Modjisiskloof, about 5 1/2 hours by car from Johannesburg. Heather, in anticipation of our arrival and long journey, had arranged for a braai at her house, inviting many friends and family members over for some fun on a Friday night. Not unlike our BBQ’s, food and drinks are the center of attention. As guests arrived, wine was opened and some small bites were passed around. Homemade Samosas, some small spring rolls, and the obligatory chips & dip. It’s fun being in other parts of the world and experiencing local brands and flavors. For example, the chips (crisps) were primarily Thai Chili flavor, or Balsamic Vinegar and Onion. A bit strange to the American eye, but very tasty.On to the main event. Traditionally, a Braai is centered around a big fire pit, kettle drum or open brick pit filled with wood. This is where the main differences lie. American BBQ’s are typically gas powered or Kingsford charcoal-filled-webber grillers with hot dogs and frozen beef patties. In Africa they use wood, a huge flavor difference, which makes anything you put on the grill taste incredible. The types of wood don’t vary too much (it depends on where you are and what is available) but it is all hard wood, hot and long burning. This common way of cooking in Africa is a very unique experience for the average American. The next fun difference was the meat. Africa has incredible meat sources. Most of their beef is all organic, grass fed, free ranging, etc (there are no fences or paddocks), and tastes amazing with just a little salt and pepper. Then there’s the other red meats. Kudu & Impala (types of venison), Ostrich, Guinea Foul, and crocodile, just to name a few. These are even more tasty than the traditional beef. Over the course of my travels, Kudu became a sought after menu item. It tastes like a perfect cross between beef and lamb. Not too gamey and not too tough; a delicious combination. Meat is grilled, and then passed off to hungry guests with out much formality. Utensils are optional, as most everyone uses their hands to eat everything. Note: there also isn’t a large availability of napkins or paper towels. This was a common theme among most of my eating adventures.

In this particular Braai, weather was not cooperating on our end, but modifications were made and the food was still great. We had a lovely beef curry w/ rice and flat bread. The condiments were a bit out of the ordinary. Sliced bananas and coconut flakes, oddly worked very well with the curry. Accompanied by some delicious flat bread and tangy yogurt sauce, this home cooked meal was just what I needed after a long journey. The dessert was exeptional. Malva Pudding is a very traditional South African dessert found in many places (including airplanes!). Its a cupcake (for lack of a better description) soaked in a sugary liquid, sometimes booze or sometimes not, it all depends on the cook. Then it is served with vanilla pudding, and in our case some fresh whipped cream. This is where I learned how good the dairy is in South Africa. This dish was awesome, and set the standard very high for future meals. Although the braai didn’t offer the traditional fire and meat show, it was still a wonderful gathering of new friends filled with good food, wine and music. My kind of meal. Thank you to Heather & Louie for putting on such a wonderful meal!