SOUTH Africa might soon have a new term alongside the popular braaivleis. It’s not clear though if this will be known as braaicabbage or braaipineapple. But it’s a braai of a different kind that’s enjoyed by vegetarians.
The smell of burning coals, sparks flying, while sizzling meat cooks is common in South Africa.
Outdoor cooking is a firm favourite in our country and braais not only tantalise the taste buds of your neighbours, as whiffs of aromas get transported to them, but are an immensely popular way of socialising.
In fact, the onset of the festive season is synonymous with braais occurring all over the country – just the way a fork matches a knife. Certain holiday lodges and picnic areas even have braai facilities available to the public.
But for some people, such as vegetarians and vegans, braais are nothing but glorified funerals for dead animals whose carcasses will soon find their way through somebody’s digestive system.
However, braais are not solely reserved for carnivorous tastes. There are vegetarians who have braais as well.
And they enjoy them too.
But to many who eat meat, it feels almost as if their intestines are being pulled through their noses to have a braai without the “main” ingredient – meat.
So instead of whiffs of steak, boerewors and chicken, aromas of mushrooms, butternut and corn on the cob are common when vegetarians haul out the coals and get cooking.
There are many reasons for people to become vegetarians.
Violet Hlabangane says she eventually got sick and tired of eating meat in all three meals of her day.
“I used to eat a sausage for breakfast, maybe a chicken salad for lunch and then perhaps a steak for supper. I felt like I was doing something wrong to my body, putting meat inside it everyday,” says Hlabangane.
Mandi Smallhorne initially became a vegetarian for health reasons, but has stuck to this form of diet indefinitely. “I am not against eating animals, but I feel that the demand for meat morning, noon and night in our society leads to abuses against animals.”
Lejane Hardy says: “I realised what I was eating was not meat, but the flesh of a dead animal, one who breathed and was alive, whose heart used to beat and who felt pain and suffering in the slaughter house before he/she became a piece of rump on my plate.” She says that she and her husband love to have braais. She puts any and every vegetable wrapped in foil, on the grill, over the coals.
“My husband and I even have our own braai grids at most of our friend’s houses so that we can braai our veggie schnitzels and burgers. In fact, some of our friends tuck into our food,” she says.
But for others, the smell of meat on the braai is equivalent to what insect repellent is to mosquitoes.
“Nowadays, I hate the smell of burning meat,” says Smallhorne.
For other vegetarians, braais are the perfect time to show off their cooking abilities. Popular Yfm presenter Sanza Tshabalala says he loves cooking and making a fire, but cuts out the burning of meat. “I like to put spiced pineapple on the fire, other fruits and vegetables and a chilli bean hot pot,” he says. The reaction from his friends and family? “Sanzalicious!” they say.
He has even gone as far as writing a book on vegetarian food, titled The Pan Afrikan Male Vegetarian – a Food Novella of Tasty Words.
Karen Fridi, a chef at Hofmeyer House, a restaurant and function venue at Wits University, says she has noticed a steady increase in the number of people who eat vegetarian food. She says that even people from the Jewish and Muslim faiths would rather eat vegetarian food at functions because of their halaal and kosher dietary requirements.
As for vegetarian braais, she says: “The salads need to be interesting. It should go beyond beetroot, coleslaw and green salad.” She says that the visual appeal of food is important, and that salads and vegetables are the prettier sides of braais.
To make sure that the vegetables do not get ruined, Fridi says they should be cooked over a gentler heat than what meat is cooked at.
Hlabangane says she has braais all the time. “My friends always question why I have braais when I am vegetarian, but they still always come,” she jokes. “They bring all the meat because I do not have a problem with people who eat meat around me.”
She says her family was initially concerned about her choice, and even today still comment. “What kind of a black person does not eat meat?” people often ask her, she says. “They have realised that I am not going to change”, said Hlabangane, who has been a vegetarian for seven years. She says that whenever they can, they have braais, especially on public holidays and for Sunday lunches.
According to the Vegetarian Society of South Africa there are no statistics of South Africans who follow this diet, but in the United Kingdom, the vegetarian food market is estimated at more than R1 billion a year.
In South Africa, as vegetarianism slowly increases, perhaps the food market could reach similar whopping figures. And someday perhaps, there will be more braaicabbages...