Hluhluwe Game Reserve
In honor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I am posting about our holiday to South Africa. Yebo. It’s an entire year later. But, amidst other life changing events such as the birth of our daughter and a move cross country – I concede that it has taken me a year to get to it. As some of you know, my husband was born and raised in South Africa. He only came to America in his twenties for business. We happened to meet during that fateful work trip and the rest – as they say – is history. Sigh.
When he and I lived in England, we were fortunate enough to make it back to South Africa for yearly visits. Relatively speaking, it’s a short trip from the UK. Since we’ve lived in the US (and since we’re now a family of five) it’s become much more difficult. He’s gone back a few times without me and the kids, simply because there are multiple flights and time zones and almost always 36 hours of travel involved. Last year, however, we seized the moment and took a family trip over while my husband was in between jobs. When else can you take a 5 week vacation? My love happens to be the only person in his entire family that does not live in South Africa. He has very close relationships with his family and friends so we tend to stay for an extended period of time when we make the journey.
I took my first trip to South Africa in the late nineties and you may think it sounds cliche – but it changed me. Fundamentally. Africa is such a beautiful place. And I feel extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to see it, feel it, smell it, taste it – take it all in. My husband is from a divided world. First world and third world are wrapped up into one big bundle. Up until my visit to Africa, I truly believed the life I led in the US was a simple existence. My time there was both eye opening and humbling. It was what I expected yet so far from it. And I learned quickly that things operate much differently over there. Nothing is rushed. When you’re there, you’re on Africa time.
Over the last 12 years, I have fielded all sorts of questions. Did my husband grow up with lions in his backyard? Does his family wear traditional tribal garments? Unlike what most people envision, the cities of South Africa are rather cosmopolitan. (Rural areas are a different story). So, what is it like there? Napkins are called serviettes. Stoplights are referred to as robots. And they drive on the other side of the road. There are shark nets in the ocean. And there are hills, not unlike those of San Francisco. It is incredibly lush and green. And hot. Like Florida hot. There is no shortage of avocado and papaya trees. And it’s not uncommon to see and hear monkeys hanging out (with their young) along the side of the road. Yet just up the street from them you’ll find the shopping mall. It’s the dichotomy of the surroundings that makes it so beautiful.
We felt it was important to show our children the place where their father spent his childhood and introduce them to the people who figured so prominently in it. We fit a surprising number of activities into a very short period of time. We brought our children and their cousins into the bush on safari. We had the privilege of witnessing the beautiful wedding of some dear friends. Any chance we could we went frolicking in the ocean waves. And we accepted every braai invitation that came our way (see next paragraph).
Braai, (pronounced bry – as in the name Bryan), is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘roasted meat’. It is a ritual and it is beloved. It involves grilling meat for hours over an open flame. I should probably clarify because there are significant distinctions between the American BBQ and the African braai. First: no gas grill. Ever. I once casually asked about using gas and I don’t recommend it to anyone. I was almost excommunicated. Second: very few sides are served alongside the meat. No pasta salad. No watermelon. No chips and guacamole. It’s all about the meat. Finally, games or activities are rarely played. Swimming? Quite possibly. Volleyball? Heck no. To be fair, any sporting type events usually precede the braai in the form of boat related activities (i.e., waterskiing, tubing, fishing, etc).
When we braai, we hang around the grill, have a beer and catch up on what’s been happening in life. Since we’re strictly using charcoal here – this takes hours. Which is fine because we’re on Africa time. The men gather around the braai and sometimes I snicker to myself and half-heartedly expect to catch a glimpse of them engaging in neanderthal-like banter, pounding their chests, “me love meat, me hungry.” Grunt. Personally, I have never seen so much meat in my entire life. It’s fascinating. Steaks are almost always represented. No braai is complete without boerwors (traditional farmers sausage). But, my family is particularly fond of sosaties (kebabs marinated in a curry-like sauce). Hungry? See recipe below.
- the braai
During my first few visits to South Africa I was able to eat out quite often – that was before my diagnosis. And I thoroughly enjoyed the food. There is a huge Indian influence on the East coast of South Africa. And then you have the wonderful Malay (Indonesian) cooking of Cape Town. Since so many different cultures colonized South Africa (as it was directly on the trade routes) there truly is an amazing melange of food influences: from the indigenous tribes to the Dutch, Portugese, French, English, Indonesian and Indian. Some of the most well-known food items from South Africa are koeksisters, mielie meal, biltong and potjie (pronounced poy-kee). Potjie is a fragrant stew slow-cooked over a open fire. The meat that emerges from the cast iron potjie pot is just fall-off-the-bone goodness. Little interesting factoid: the potjie is the original Dutch oven.
Another mind blowing statistic? South Africa has eleven official languages. The people of South Africa are some of the warmest people I have met in my travels. I have been welcomed into their family, into their country with open arms. I know the World Cup is going to be wonderful for the people, for the country as a whole. I am a bit sad that we are not going to have the chance to witness this historical event in person. But, we are watching the coverage on television being sure to catch as many games as possible. Side note: I have so many photos from my first visits to South Africa on film (not in digital form). As such, I sadly cannot include any of my first impressions of the country here. Perhaps I can achieve that goal by this time next year :)
This is my own American version of sosaties. I chose to make them a bit more family friendly by omitting the spice (read: heat). My children have yet to fall in love with spicy hot food so I erred a bit on the wimpy side! If you like it hot, feel free to add in some spicy curry powder or a pinch (or two) of cayenne.
1.) Toss 1 pint grape tomatoes with 2 tblsp grapeseed oil and some salt and pepper. Roast at 400 for about 30 minutes.
2.) Meanwhile, crush 1/8 tsp saffron between your fingers and place it in a heat proof glass bowl. Pour in 1 cup hot water. Let sit for 15 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
3.) In a medium saute pan add
2 -3 tblsp oil and
2 medium sizes onions, minced
Simmer for 5 minutes then add
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 cardamom seeds, crushed (easy way? smashed under the blade of your knife)
3 garlic cloves, minced
Simmer for another 5 minutes. Then add in the roasted tomatoes and saffron.
4.) Gently crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, fork or a potato masher. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Stir in 1 cup coconut milk. Turn off the heat. Let cool while preparing the chicken.
5.) Thread 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lbs chicken onto skewers . You could use thighs or boneless chicken breasts here cut into 1 inch pieces. I managed about 5 pieces per skewer. And I ended up with 5 skewers.
6.) Place kebabs into a 2 inch deep glass baking dish and pour the marinade over it. Turn the kebabs to ensure the marinade is coating all sides of the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Bring to room temperature before grilling. Set on a hot grill until done. Ours took about 15-20 minutes.