In the current episode of CNN's Culinary Journeys, South African chef Reuben Riffel explores the tradition of 'braai,' the ritual of coming together to BBQ over a wood fire with family and friends, which Riffel describes as "close to a religion in South Africa." Watch the episode in three parts below and further down, our Q&A with Riffel.
I went to the Bokaap in Cape Town, historic old town in Cape Town that has managed to hold on to their many traditions. There I was shown how to make koesisters, a sweet Malay pastry, and went to Atlas trading to sample spices for our braai. We went to chat to prof. Renate Coetzee about indigenous fruit, herbs and vegetables and sampled some ingredients for our braai. I visited Mzolis in a Cape Town township where we enjoyed and saw how they do a proper shishanyama. I braaied on the beach with one of our biggest advocates of Braai and also went to Frankie Fenners butchery to chat about Karoo lamb (best in the world) and grass-fed beef.
What was the highlight of your Culinary Journey?
I was impressed how they braai meat at Mzolis. It’s so basic and simple but they’ve managed to create a great atmosphere and people from around the world flock there as much as to the best restaurant in South Africa.
Tell us about Braai – what does it involve and how does it bring people together in SA? Braai is more than just cooking meat over coals in South Africa. It’s a tradition that allows South Africans to let their hair down, congregate around the fire, socialise. Its where we talk politics, sports, life, while enjoying good South African beer or wine.
How is this technique of cooking being utilised in restaurants in SA?
Pure braaing is cooking over coals, not gas. An increasing amount of restaurants have a braai in their kitchen. From high end fine dining where the theatre of braaing is brought to the tableside to more casual establishments where crayfish, fish, mussels are all cooked over the coals.
How has SA cuisine changed over the years?
Quite a few years ago the very best of restaurants were few and far between. They were also expensive and a lot of our best ingredients were imported, making it quite expensive. Over the years with the booming tourism, the growth and expansion of the wine industry, food TV, globetrotting chefs SA cuisine has been become very exciting. Chefs are now elevated to celebrity status and our local produce are constantly improving. South Africa is now firmly on the culinary map with a few of our restaurants featuring on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list.
What does SA have to offer as a culinary destination over other places?
South Africa is unique in its diversity, food cultures and wine. We have many different cultures, a few stands out or gets highlighted more for their cuisine. The different parts of the country offer something different, from the West coast with its abundance of seafood, the Karoo with the most delicious lamb, game, ostrich etc. and to the Cape with amazing award winning restaurants and wine farms producing some of the best wine and food in the world.
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