To host a successful Braai Day, the first thing to do is to figure out what it is.
In case you haven’t heard, Braai Day is a South African national holiday inspired by the spirit of barbeque and to celebrate multiculturalism. Braai is the Afrikaans term for barbeque – a popular pastime in South Africa (note to self: add South Africa to travel list).
There is something about a fire burnt down with people gathered round eating a communal meal; a party where everyone is welcome. South Africa celebrates Heritage Day on September 24 — and to celebrate, some African wineries are hoping that you take up the tradition and host a Canada Braai Day party. In Canada, we aren’t known for our BBQs. But as the late summer heads into fall, it is time for the last few get togethers around a summer fire before we have to light the fires of winter. A great excuse for a final barbeque is to import another country’s celebration of multiculturalism and heritage. Here is how to throw a kickass Braai Day party:
1. Decide how hardcore
Barbeque is done over wood or charcoal, everything else is grilling. There is no shame in propane but there is something to be said about wood. Even a small fire requires a little planning beyond the ease of turning the tank on and lighting. If you are going go totally hardcore and prepare everything over coals and wood, it is a whole day event. You will need lots of cast iron pans for cooking curries and dessert. It’s a commitment.
Being commitment phobic, we used charcoal in a propane barbeque. We chose not to do up all the dishes on the grill because we wanted to enjoy our friends and didn’t have enough cast iron pots in the house. There is some grill cleaning that has to be done afterwords but the taste was worth it.
2. To potluck or not: that is the question
Braai is about a big old community barbeque. Provide the meat or make it a bring your own meat event. Ask for potluck fixings such as salads. Think of this like a family reunion but with friends. If you prefer, it does make a good family event especially if you are making it a whole day event.
In this case, as we were also figuring out what this event was all about, we made all the stuff and invited a few friends to share the meal.
Maybe go with a potluck? If it is potluck, go with the flow. Whatever comes is meant to be enjoyed and shared with bonus points by making it multicultural. If you decide to cook it yourself and keep it more South African, you will find that the food is heavily influenced by Dutch, Indian, Malay and the indigenous peoples. Try something new. Here is our menu, adopted from Canada Braai Day with some suggestions:
Started off with biltong, a spiced jerky (above). It took the hunger edge off and went well with opening drinks of cider and beer.
Grilled sandwiches using naan with roasted beets, goat cheese and mehti (fenugreek). We switched it up to celebrate the Indian influence.
Boerwors are spiced farmer’s sausages. If you are lucky enough to have a South African grocer near you then try them otherwise any farmer’s sausage will do.
In Toronto, the St. Lawrence Market offers a couple of places to buy boerwors and bilton. Both Whitehouse Meats and Sausage King were carrying the sausages, so we grabbed some from both booths. If you are feeling a little adventurous, grab some game meats. Venison, bison and ostrich would add a more exotic flavour to the menu.
Sosatie is curried meat on a stick, usually lamb. This needs a day to marinate and so it is definitely a dish that needs planning. Both options that we prepared, eggplant and lamb, were skewered with onion and dried apricots. The marinade had a distinct curry and vinegar tang that carried through to the finished sticks.
Bunny Chow is hollowed out bread with curry. It is a specialty of Durban. We swapped the bread for Wonder buns and made a vegan version with jackfruit. It was like a sloppy joe. This curry can be made over the BBQ in a cast iron pan. If this is going to be an all day party, definitely go for it. It’s impressive and like any food on the grill and eaten outside, seems to taste better.
Malva Pudding. It is hard to speak about this malva pudding without getting a little nostalgic. It is a sauced pudding (cake) that is soaked with an apricot jam and cream sauce, served slightly warm. It can be made on the grill if you have the pans available.
Grab some beer, cider, wine that goes well with grilled meats and veggies, and something to go with your dessert. BYOB is recommended for larger parties. The food is spicy and deserves a something to hold up to it. In the beer category, IPAs, pilsners and rauchbiers (smoked beer) work well.
We were lucky to have Two Oceans provide us with their Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot blend and also received Amarula for review purposes. We picked up Savannah, a South African cider and Brickworks Ciderhouse cider and added a few beer and a Durbanville Syrah.
The Two Oceans delivered its promise of an easy drinking BBQ wine. It worked for grilled vegetables and meats but the tangy vinegar flavour of the vegan sosatie caused a little clash. The ciders worked well as an apple palate cleanser and a fine foil for the vinegar notes. We tried a Happy Pilsner from Beau’s with the spiced meats. The meat flavour and the spice notes of the pilsner played well with each other. The Durbanville wine tasted great with the regional bunny chow recipe. So there is something to the conventional wisdom of having food and drink from the same region. The surprise of the night came with the Amarula pairing with the Malva pudding. It worked so well that it may make sense to use Amarula as the sauce for the pudding next time.
Keys to success for any bbq are good food, good company and a laid back vibe. Any time that you can find an excuse to get friends together to enjoy your differences, is a good excuse. If you can’t do a braai on September 20th, there are still a few more days left to host a South African barbeque before the nights get long.
The writer received complimentary products from Two Oceans. The wine company did not review or approve this article.