Braais and Barbecues Across Cultures
It seems that no matter how far people have evolved – we still love to hang out and cook food on a fire!
Come summer, the world’s backyards and public places are full of people gathering around charcoal or wood fires cooking up various meaty meals.
Americans believe their barbeque skills are the best in the world, but we at uShaka Marine World know that no other nation can sizzle and sear a piece of meat like that of the meat-charring culture of South African’s on National Braai Day.
We at uShaka know the importance of the perfect fire cooked meal and have taken time to break down the world’s best braai master countries.
It’s all about a gathering of friends and family, a work get together, a special function or just an easy or rather sociable way to make food.
In the townships, shisa nyama ("burn meat" in Zulu) is popular and various venues even offer this on their menu. The venue then becomes a place where everyone hangs out, cooking, drinking and in some cases includes party-starting DJs.
After much reading on the history of the word "barbecue" it’s not really cut and dried – but one explanation is that when the Spanish landed in the Caribbean, they used the word "barbacoa," referring to the local peoples method of slow cooking meat over a fire.
Barbecuing as we know it covers multiple cooking methods being on grills, above fire pits, under the ground and in clay ovens.
Countries that are commonly known for burning meat and many believe (outside of our SA borders) that Argentina is the top dog of barbecues or “Asado” as it’s called. Its culture is very similar to those of South Africans and they grill a lot more than the Americans. Prior to grilling, meats are generally marinated with herbs and garlic, before being placed on the cooking grate.
While in Brazil, what’s interesting is that most barbecues are served in restaurants where endless supplies of grilled meat cuts and vegetables are served to diners at their tables.
Surprisingly, Japan is also top of the list with what they call “Yakitori”, where they grill diced chicken on bamboo skewers and cook them over smoldering charcoal. Options of skewers include vegetables, seafood, pork and beef.
The Philippines and Puerto Ricans are best known for spit braais where they impale entire pigs and roast over a charcoal bed.
In India, Tandoori is their signature barbecue dish and is also loved worldwide. It’s cooked in a tandoor clay like oven and dishes such as naan bread, chicken, seafoods and other meats are cooked under high heat charcoal. This method was introduced in the 1940s where instead of cooking on a spit, the tandoori took centre stage in the barbecue department.
In Samoa, a country comprising the western most group of the Samoan Islands, in Polynesia they do special Sunday feasts where they wrap fish in taro leaves before cooking. They wrap the fish hours before a traditional Sunday feast commences. “Umu”, Samoa's version of the barbecue, is similar to the underground cooking customs of Fijians and it’s traditionally the young men of the traditionally extended Samoan family who gather and catch the fish, slaughter the pig, collect the taro leaves as well as breadfruit from the family's agricultural plot and do the cooking.
There are many more versions of barbecue that can be tracked across our planet. Don't forget the unique lamb on the spit option. The Traditional Spit Braai featuring spit roasted tender lamb basted with rosemary and garlic as well as a chargrilled peri-peri/lemon her chicken quarters accompanied by baby potatoes, onion and mushrooms cooked in the lambs juices.
And in true South African style, it's not just about the meat, we might just include cinnamon roasted butternut wedges, ciabatta loaf as well as a selection of fresh salads, served with rolls and dessert, while we're at it.
So celebrate being South African and fill your belly this Braai Day!