Sunday, June 13, 2004

The KwaZulu-Natal braaivleis

When my friends, Jannie and Andre, come around to my house I somehow find that I am not allowed near my own braai. This, they say, is for two reasons. Firstly, I talk too much and don't pay enough attention to the very serious matter of burning meat well and, secondly, I am an Englishman and don't understand the nuances and finesses that are required for the performance of the KwaZulu-Natal braaivleis.

To start with, there is the stance. Left foot slightly forward and the tongs held at just the right angle. For the
Free State braaivleis you have to wear an old pair of blue rugby shorts and long socks with optional moustache, but for the KwaZulu-Natal braai you can wear khaki shorts or longs and wave the tongs to emphasise points in the conversation. Apparently it is easy to miss some of the artistry involved when a braaieur of provincial class is in action. There is the timing that is involved with the exquisitely turned boerewors. It all depends on the sizzle. One must almost act on a sixth sizzle sense, which requires a combination of eye, hand and nose co-ordination. One could easily miss the moment if one was talking about one's compost heap over a glass of Robertson's chateau black box.

Then comes the cooking of the steak, known as the
KwaZulu-Natal steak ritual. This can only be done by a male. In fact, the whole KZN braai ritual is a deeply sexist affair. As couples enter the garden they must split up. It is permissible for the man to meet his wife or girlfriend again to obtain cigarettes or matches or on his way back to the kitchen fridge for refuelling purposes from the Chateau Spar 2002.

The ritual begins after the men have cordoned off the braai with a discussion of where to get the best steak in town and involves telling a lot of lies about what price one has paid for the steak.

The women then sit down together at a distance on garden chairs or on the stoep. Conversational topics for the men's group can be chosen from, "I see you have bought a new 4x4, Nigel", "Old Mike was sinking them well at the club last night" and "Are the Springboks ever going to pull themselves together?". The women's group can choose from "What is that new diet you said you were on?", "I've had to give the maid the day off tomorrow and we've got people coming for the weekend" and "My gynae says it was the biggest one he has ever seen".

As the evening progresses, the most experienced braaieur will hold a hand over the heat and may ask his vice-captain to check that the temperature is just right. Judgment is then made and variations on steak preparations and sauces are proposed.

I have - and I would rather you did not tell anyone else about this - on occasions invited Mrs H. S. Ball to add her peach chutney to a piece of rump before sizzling it on the flames. I imagine Mrs Ball (which is a very singular name) to be a rosy-cheeked, jovial, rotund farmer's wife but I lie awake at night wondering what her initials H. S. stand for.

My friend Pottie tells me that the preparation of the KZN steak is everything. His eyes light up as he describes it in anticipatory delight. Half an hour before the steak is put onto the flames, he states emphatically, one must rub a mixture of curry powder, ginger and garlic into the steak. After offering this recipe, others will immediately chip in with their own versions.

Now I have heard that at some braais in the Upper Montrose and Very Upper Wembley areas they drink wine from bottles and not boxes. This has lead to an ongoing dispute among KwaZulu-Natalians of the upper crust as to when is the right time to take the cork out of the bottle of red wine. Some like the wine to breath deeply for an hour or two by removing the cork after breakfast and just occasionally picking up the bottle and wistfully looking at the label as the day goes on. Others like to just test the wine from time to time and see that the respirations are regular. One does not want it to get too long in the leg, as they say in the classics. It should haunt rather than linger on the palate in order to release its honeyed eloquence.

There is, though, one thing that KwaZulu-Natalians have consensus about, and this is the wisdom with which I leave you, and that is that once the cork has been removed it should be thrown away as far as possible.

One would not want someone passing by to see it and put it back in the bottle.

·  Chris Ellis is a city GP and author.
Publish Date:
20 July 2002


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