The Best Braai in South AfricaFebruary 11, 2020 -Cape Nature
There is a way of cooking in South Africa that is more than just a method of food preparation. It is a tradition, a culture, a way of life. South Africans call it a braai [rhymes with “cry”]. Typically a wood fire is the foundation of this ritual, the subconscious captured by the ancient allure of flames dancing, transforming wood to coals. The rich smell of smoke as it floats past while rising into blue skies, a crisp drink in hand and the warm hum of conversation amongst those closest to you. These are all elements which create the atmosphere of a braai. And this is all before we have even started with the food.
Before we get into the delectable cuisine, we must introduce an individual. His name, Justin Bonello. His title, The Ultimate Braai Master. There is literally a tv-show that has documented his fireside fame. His ability and comfort next to an open-fire are what make a braai with him a culinary experience that cannot be fully explained but rather needs to be experienced. Justin proudly refers to himself as a cook rather than a chef. One who is driven by a love for good food and the opportunity to share his passion with new and like-minded people.
To start, artisanal snacks of the highest quality initiate the experience. Pasture-reared beef biltong [jerkey but more delicious], cheeses, cured meats, batch cooked chips and loaves of bread that have just come out of the oven. Mussels so fresh the seawater hasn’t even dried off their shells. Careful consideration is made of which drinks are paired with your meal; a beer from the brewery down the road or a glass of wine grown in the valley in which you sit. You are encouraged to get involved in the food preparation with Justin, to learn the ins and outs of cooking on an open fire or to lend an ear to one of his fascinating stories. His laid back approach and the ease with which he cooks are infectious. The courses that follow could be anything from fish pulled straight from the Atlantic Ocean to an incredible sirloin steak seared to perfection on a garden spade placed on red hot coals. Coffee, tea and dessert are certainly not spared. They too are surprisingly creative. The vintage, farm-style moerkoffie prepared in a camping kettle is something that needs to be experienced to truly be appreciated.
All of what is served in the salads that accompany the feast comes from an NPO called Neighbourhood Farms. An inspiring initiative, started by Justin, that aims to grow nutrient-dense food, minds and the local communities which surround the gardens. Some of the various farm sites can be visited* as a part of your day with Justin to get a first-hand account of his passion project. Then move onto to your picturesque braai location.
The braai spot is chosen by The Ultimate Braai Master himself and we are updated the day prior. This is to maximise on the weather, the menu and your experience. Flexibility** is essential. The locations offer anything from a canopy of ancient and indigenous milkwood trees with sand between your toes, a rock pool with the fresh ocean breeze in your hair to fields of flowering fynbos deep within the Table Mountain National Park. Wherever you land up, the setting is always magnificent and you can walk away with the knowledge that this is an experience that cannot be replicated. An event that has so many South Africanisms in their rawest and most original form, saturated in local flavour without the need to try and force authenticity. It is quite simply the best braai experience in our country and, considering the average braai quality in South Africa, that really is saying something.
*You could also meet Justin in one of the gardens OR join him for just a braai.
**On the note of flexibility, the menu can be entirely customized to better suit your palate too.