While the fire is burning: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites the people of South Africa

Africa is the cradle of humanity. The inhabitants of its south tamed fire a million years ago and gained protection from animals, darkness, loneliness and hunger

A cast-iron pot and a kettle with crumpled sides stand on a homemade grate made of metal rods. The grate is laid on top of an empty barrel of gasoline. The barrel was cut in half and turned into a kind of grill, pouring hot coals inside. From the field kitchen pulls a fire and food. The stress of a car breakdown goes away.

I feel good and even comfortable. I am sitting with a group of road workers on the side of Highway 4 leading to the Kruger National Park, South Africa's largest wilderness area. It turns out that a person needs very little to be happy. Just move closer to the fire. And now you are not alone, you are tasty, fun and calm. You are at home.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

You're home

After four hours of driving under the scorching sun, the car rented at the airport was stuck an hour and a half drive to the city of Sabie, in the middle of the veld. So in Afrikaans, the language of the white settlers, they call the field, the endless empty space. Depending on the season and altitude, the veld looks like a desert or is covered with grass and bushes (bush).

Modern urban people feel out of place here. The sun-scorched weld seems uninhabitable. I'm happy that the guys repairing the road nearby saw my car.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

“The engine has overheated. Wait until it cools down. Fill it up with plain water and you're good to go. I'll help,” says the guy in the orange road worker's vest. I thank you and mentally note that the first meeting with the black population of South Africa is not at all according to the scenario that experienced travelers scared me before the trip.

The guy's name is Timba. He invites me to the fire. Despite centuries of coexistence with the British, the people of South Africa have remained true to the habits of the Dutch founding fathers: in Timba's teapot is not tea, but coffee. And the drinkers, the traditional cast-iron pot, looks like a typical Dutch pot: three short legs, a lid and a handle. It is convenient to hang over a fire or put on coals. In the Netherlands, such dishes are considered antiques, and in South Africa, where cooking on an open fire is a common thing, drinking bins are still relevant.

Corn porridge (pap) and vegetables stewed with spices (chakalaka) are languishing in a cast iron pot. “Even those who have nothing have dads,” says Timba.

While the fire is burning: how is the tradition of cooking on a fire unites South Africans

Porridge appeared in Africa with the beginning of agriculture, and chakalaka is a recent invention of immigrants from neighboring Mozambique. At the end of the 19th century, people discovered gold in South Africa. Fortune seekers who came here from Africa, Asia and Europe diversified the local cuisine.

“We call this bonfire bry,” says Timba. “It's convenient. You can cook food anywhere.” I look around the arid weld. Two centuries ago, thousands of Boers – Dutch, German and French farmers – passed through here. They kept their way inland, away from the British, who seized power, raised taxes, abolished government subsidies and de jure abolished slavery, which made agriculture unprofitable.

The bri tradition was born during this Great Trek, when the pioneers conquered the expanses of the weld and built houses literally from scratch.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

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Brai Day

There is a day in the calendar of South Africa when everyone does bry. It is September 24, the official holiday and public holiday Heritage Day. Initially, it was Shaka Day: the Zulus celebrated the date of the death of the famous king, who united the Zulu tribes at war with each other into a single nation. The South African government, taking this date as a basis, made the holiday a national symbol of reconciliation. As a result, the holiday was given the popular name Brai Day.

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Filling into the tank of a car a bottle of mineral water, Timba wishes me a good trip and advises me to avoid bris in restaurants.

“It's not the same in the restaurant,” echoes Timbe, the owner of the apartment in the town of Sabie, where I arrive in the evening. “The real bri is made at house parties. There is, however, one institution … If you are not embarrassed by a bad road, then go here. She writes the name Potluck Boskombuis and draws a point on the map on the border of the river and the forest.

The road to the restaurant goes through pine and eucalyptus groves. Delicious air, saturated with essential oils, you want to eat with a spoon. The forest expanses of the province of Mpumalanga, where the city of Sabie is located, are called veld rather by tradition.

Back in the middle of the 19th century, the hills and fields were covered with thick grass. What did not suit the gold miners who needed wood to strengthen the mines. The first trees were planted by the Boers, realizing that this business is more reliable and more profitable than searching for gold. As a result, a grandiose forest has grown on the site of African meadows.

Turning off the highway near the sign “Best bri in South Africa”, I find myself on a bumpy road that leads to a mountain stream. On the shore there are wooden tables and stumps instead of chairs. The open kitchen blazes. The fire is commanded by a black aunt in a chef's apron and cheerful striped leggings. Waiters fish bottles of beer from the river and serve them to guests.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

“There is no electricity. You can't put in a fridge. Mobile connection is not working. According to my father, everything here looks like in his childhood, when he came here with his parents to make bri,” says the smiling blonde Mareli. The restaurant, like the land on which it stands, belongs to her family. Mareli's father, Dan de Klerk,  – a descendant of the pioneer Boers, grows forest for sale Mareli went to live in Cape Town, which violated family tradition.

“This wonderful village is too quiet for me,” she laughs. “Father loves silence, but even he gets lonely here. Foresters have a period when they burn clearings, splitting the forest into sectors to reduce the risk of fires. At this time, the father spends weeks on a farm in the forest. He came up with the idea of ​​equipping a briar area in order to invite friends more often.

The waiter puts a plate of steaks on the table. “It's kudu meat,” says Mareli. “It's low in fat and easy to overcook. But we know how to manage with kudu.” Still: for thousands of years, the main occupation of the people of the San tribe, the indigenous population of this part of Africa, was hunting. Europeans who settled here in the 19th century established wildlife sanctuaries around Sabie, but also loved to hunt.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites residents of South Africa

Hunting traditions are still strong. Regular supermarkets in Mpumalanga offer kudu, impala, gazelle, wild goat and warthog.

I'm picking up steaks. Kudu meat, ennobled with spices and fire smoke, is juicy, dense, with a bright taste. Mareli claims that it's all about firewood from local eucalyptus. They burn out for a long time, but they give the meat a special flavor.

“Friends of friends reached out for friends,” says Mareli. “I began to come more often. Helped her father with design and management. Today it is the most popular restaurant in the area.”

There are no more seats at the tables, and the next guests are located on the shore, strategically close to the pool where the bottles of beer are cooled.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites the people of South Africa

I leave the African pastoral with reluctance. Returning to the Johannesburg airport to fly to Cape Town, on the way I look out for Timba among the road workers. The simplicity of the relationship that arises when you sit together by the fire attracts. Whether this trick works in the big city where I'm going is unknown.

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You quickly understand that Cape Town is a beautiful but complex city. In the center of the metropolis, there is not a square, but a cloud-covered mountain that soared to a height of more than a kilometer. The boundaries of the districts follow the lines of beaches, secluded bays and rocky headlands protruding into the ocean.

Designed as a comfortable “inn” to stock up on provisions and take a breather on the way from Europe to Asia, this city was designed for relaxation from birth. Today, as in the 17th century, Cape Town is the main producer of fish, vegetables and wine in South Africa. The best restaurants in the country work here. Marinas are filled with yachts. The beaches are occupied by surfers. The east side of Table Mountain is home to cricket and rugby fields dating back to British rule.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites residents South Africa

As in the colonial system, this paradise thrives on the many black workers. This is the other side of the city. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the apartheid system operated in the country: access to social benefits was provided depending on the color of the skin, and not on citizenship.

Apartheid is in the past. Colored people can visit the same neighborhoods, beaches and restaurants as white people. But the division of the world into black and white still exists.

Saturday morning I go to the Oranjesikt market, located right on the Atlantic Ocean. Oranjezikt greets guests with music and face control. I let a lady in diamonds and a trolley bag go aheadLouis Vuitton. A fuchsia-dyed poodle trots behind her. The lady freezes at the counter with cheeses made according to Dutch and French technologies. Under a canvas tent that shelters the market from the sun, the color of farm products is collected.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites the people of South Africa

Even the local brai looks well-groomed, as in advertising. Lattice is lined with langoustines, tuna steaks and beautiful, as if for a photo shoot, vegetables.

Salvin Hirschfeld's butcher shop looks a little bold against the general vegetarian background. Salvin, a short man with a careless beard and amused eyes, declares: “Fish, vegetables, don’t take it. Bri  is meat.” The longest queue in the market stretches to Salvin's counter. Tomorrow is Sunday, the day when all of Cape Town travels outside the city to cook food on fire. Burevorsa sausages are in great demand.

“Burevors technology is German,” says Salvin, “but we put a lot of spices like cloves and nutmeg. Thank you for this Company. So in Cape Town they call the Dutch East India Company, which founded the port city. Spices were a key commodity for the Dutch.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

“Meat for sausages is African, of very good quality,” Salvin continues. “Farmers got possession of huge plots of land even under the Dutch. Luxury, of course. But this is the only way to raise free-range cattle and not go broke.” Salvin does not finish saying that because of this land, the farmers have disagreements with the indigenous population. And that the Company profited not only from spices, but also from slaves from all over the world. It is they who should be thanked for their interesting culinary traditions.

“No bribery party is complete without StormWorths, – says Salvin. – No matter where it is organized: in the city center or in the township” .

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

Townships surround all the cities of South Africa. These are the areas where the white government moved objectionable in the center of the “colored”. With the abolition of apartheid and restrictions on movement around the country, a stream of villagers poured into the cities, and the townships turned into giant ghettos built up with makeshift shacks. It has its own markets, shops, cafes. Tourists are advised to visit townships only during the day and with a local guide.

I don't want to go to a township. I ask Salvin where I can try the traditional meat bri. The butcher advises the Babylonstoren farm an hour from the city. “They raise Italian Kian cows. Top quality meat. It's a bry the way it should be. A real feast.”

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Babylonstoren hidden among the fields of the oldest wine region. Centuries ago, this was a wasteland where the semi-nomadic Khoisan tribes wandered to herd their cattle. It took the iron will of a colonial empire and slave labor to build Dutch-style farms and grow paradise.

“Working in the fields has never been easy. I speak as a farmer's son. Maybe that's why we know how to have so much fun, ” – chef Jako Kugelenberg almost screams: bry party at Babylonstoren is in full swing. A musician in a sweat-drenched shirt squeezes a melody out of the concertina (a relative of the accordion) with such enthusiasm that it is impossible not to start stomping. The music of the Boers, invented during the era of wars with the British, is simultaneously reminiscent of European waltzes, military marches and African ceremonial dances.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

Yako wipes sweat from his forehead. He works on the front line near the bray, which is similar in size and appearance to the firebox of a steam locomotive. Inside the hearth, five-kilogram cuts of beef hang on hooks, impressive windfalls fit on the grate, in the depths, a cauldron with meat stew is installed on the coals. Thirty hungry people are sitting at a common table behind Yako – waiting for meat and circuses.

“In my family, bry is like a rite of passage. My father learned from my grandfather, I learned from my father. You must be patient. Wait for the firewood to burn properly. You must be fast. A minute longer & nbsp; – and the windfalls will not be as juicy. And the locals are demanding.”

A huge man approaches Yako. The top buttons of the festive shirt, which draped over the mighty torso, were already unbuttoned. “Listen, why such thick cuts? Is this the fashion now?” – asks the big man. Yako barely noticeably raises an eyebrow, but smiles and explains something about preserving juiciness. The big man pats Yako on the back and reveals that he lives nearby in the Karoo region and makes brii for the family every weekend. But it cuts thinner. “So meat tastes better on fire, you know?” Red from the heat, Yako's face turns noticeably pale.

Unable to bear the heated conversation, I go to the table. The hostess, a giggly girl in a brightly colored turban, squeezes me between an American and a Dutch woman in the middle of their argument about the difference between an African briar and an American barbecue. “Here are your kebabs,” says the American, demonstrating knowledge of Russian cuisine, “how do they differ from brai?” “The scale is not the same,” I answer, pricking a piece of windfall on my fork.

A dry, elderly Dutch woman says that there is something barbaric, but attractive, in the cult of fire: “We have lost this primitive feeling, but here you go back to basics. The waiters carry the plates, shouting the refrain of a wartime Boer song. The guests sing along with fervor.

“What distinguishes a briar from a regular grill?” – Yako does not think about the answer. – Live fire. We do not use gas or ready-made coals. And brii doesn't end with the meal. I will definitely add firewood to sit by the fire with the guests.”

Yako leaves to give his final orders, and a big farmer approaches the bry. He looks at the flames and mutters “lekker”, which means “delicious” in Afrikaans. Italian cows, in his opinion, are spectacular, but the most delicious bry is cooked in the Karoo. “Our mutton has a certificate of origin controlled product. Because only in the Karoo grows so many wild herbs. Sheep eat these plants, and their meat acquires a wonderful aroma. And what sunsets there!”

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

All the colors of the rainbow

Official statistics of South Africa divide the country's population into four ethnic groups for simplicity.

Blacks&nbsp ; – the indigenous inhabitants of the continent. The main ethnic groups within this group are: Zulu, Sotho, Pedi, Tswana, Venda, Tsonga, Swazi. and Anglo-Africans descendants of British settlers.
Asians —descendants of Southeast Asians whom the Company brought to South Africa as cheap labor.
Colored—descendants from mixed marriages between people from the first three groups.

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Following the advice of the big man, I head towards the mountains on the horizon. The landscape of the Karoo is painted in three colors. Red mountains, blue skies and yellow desert. The thermometer shows +43 °C. The only sign of life is the white dots of sheep on the horizon.

The green Casey Valley is like an oasis in the middle of the desert. The microclimate is created by a mountain range and a semi-dry river. Here, near the town of Montague, is the Bon Accord farm. The address was given to me by the big man, who said that this was his friends' farm and that they could stay overnight.

Along the border of the Bon Accordthere is a whitewashed wall, over which a wire is stretched, ringing from a high voltage current. I press the videophone button on the gate and get instructions on how to find the “little house on the hill.”

There is a Victorian manor house on the hill. The spacious living room looks like it was drawn from a magazine of bourgeois interiors. Slender hostess Elsie hugs me warmly, as if we have known each other forever.

Sniffing the smell of homemade crackers from the kitchen, I tell a story about finding the best brii. Elsie says that they will make a bry the day after tomorrow, and now the hostess offers to drink coffee near the fire.

“Dad, show me your bra!” Elsie shouts towards the inner rooms. A hero in shorts and a spacious white shirt comes out to her voice. Two boys and a couple of Labradors run after him. “Anton”, & nbsp; – the farmer introduces himself. He opens glass doors to a terrace overlooking rows of plum trees that stretch all the way to the mountains on the horizon. I'm going to bry. A three-meter-high hearth built of bricks occupies the entire side space of the terrace. A chunky log is burning on a grate.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

“Mopane  is a tree that doesn’t care about anything. No drought, no termites. And it burns for a very long time,” says the farmer. “I kindle a fire every evening. Just”. Anton invites you to sit in chairs on the terrace. Elsie brings coffee, crackers and a plate of plums from the garden. “Where does this water come from?”  I ask, looking at the fruit groves. “But she’s gone,” Anton answers. “There has been a biblical drought for several years now. We pump saline groundwater, desalinate it and use it in the fields. Life here is a blessing and a struggle.

Looking at all this splendor, I can not stand it and ask a question on the forehead: “How do you get along with the colored population? There are reports of armed attacks on farmers on the Internet.”

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking over a fire unites South Africans

“Well, we are also armed,” says Anton. “But everything is more complicated than on the Internet. We cannot live without each other. It's like a dry season. We must overcome this period. “People have learned to hate. So they can learn to love.” These are not my words. That's what Nelson Mandela said.”

Children laugh and dogs bark from the half-open doors. From the mountains turned purple, and the darkened fields, there is a coolness. The only source of light in the ensuing darkness is the fire on the terrace. Not counting the stars that poured into the sky.

While the fire burns: how the tradition of cooking on a fire unites the people of South Africa

South Africa

Area of ​​South Africa 1,221,037 km² (24th in the world)
Population ~ 60,143,000 people (23rd place)
Population density 49 people/km²

ATTRACTIONSCape of Good Hope, Kruger National Park, Blyde Canyon, Scenic Road 62, Johannesburg Apartheid Museum. biltong – sun-cured marinated meat; cream pudding “Malva” with apricot jam.
TRADITIONAL DRINKS rooibos; amasi, fermented milk product.
SOUVENIRS diamonds; shweshve – hand-dyed fabrics with traditional patterns; leather goods of wild animals.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Cape Town ~ 10,140 km (from 13.5 hours excluding transfers)
TIME 1 hour behind Moscow
VISA Russians do not need
CURRENCY South African Rand (100 ZAR ~ 5.5 USD)< /p>


Material published in Vokrug Sveta magazine No. 9, November 2020, partially updated in October 2022

Marina Mironova

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