Saturday, 13 June 2009

World Blog Surf Day: a South African braai in London

Welcome to this edition of World Blog Surf Day: Food Edition and hi to everyone who has clicked over from DaveAvenue.  This WBSD has been organised by Sher from Czech Off The Beaten Path and is the second such event to be organised.  The idea is that each expat blogger shares some of their experience and then links to another expat blogger so that you, the reader, can take a virtual trip around the world.

Food I miss and eating like a South African in London

I’ve been an expat my whole life.  My tagline should actually be ‘professional expat’ as opposed to ‘eternal tourist’!  I was born in South Africa and we moved to England then Nigeria then back to England by the time I was five and then returned to South Africa when I was nine.  My father hailed from Liverpool though and returned there a couple of years later.  After spending 25 years in South Africa, I consider myself to be South African through and through.  I am mostly fluent in Afrikaans and my heart and soul belong to that beautiful country at the tip of Africa.  

While in South Africa, I craved English sweets such as Flying Saucers and Cadbury’s Buttons.  Those are easily transported in a suitcase and for 25 years my cravings were periodically met as I visited UK or friends visited us.  If only it was that simple getting good old South African favourites over here!  The things South Africans miss the most can’t be simply put into a suitcase and up until a couple of years ago, our favourites were near impossible to get in England. 

Now South African shops are opening all over England and you can buy products online too and thus it was possible for us to have a good old South African braai last weekend.

Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbeque and it is universally used in South Africa to describe the art of cooking meat outdoors on an open flame.  We use charcoal or wood and firelighters, heat the fire up to its hottest point and then cook the meat as the fire cools down.  This gives the meat a distinctive smoked taste.

We consider a braai to be very different to a traditional barbeque because of the meat we cook on it.  No cheap hamburgers or sausages for us.  There are a couple of vital items in a good South African braai experience:

2099Boerewors is a very long, pure beef sausage that is presented as a coil in a tray.  The word boerewors is an Afrikaans word that is literally translated as “farmer’s sausage”.

One of the guests at our braai last Saturday told how he used to take his grandmother’s secret mix of herbs and spices to a butcher in north London to get them to make up boerewors for him.  It took a couple of tries for him to convince them not to bulk up the recipe with cereal but eventually the butcher must have tasted the sausages because he has made them to order ever since.

Sosatie is a skewer with chunks of chicken or lamb on.  The important thing is to marinate the meat for at least a couple of hours or overnight so that it absorbs the tasty flavour.

Another vital ingredient in a braai is marinated chops, steaks or chicken pieces.  The meat drips with marinate as it is moved onto the braai and is usually really tender and succulent. 

As you can see from Stephen’s plate above, the meat is the focus of the plate but most people also pile their plates high with salads.  Salads are  a central part of the braai experience.  Apart from your standard greens and coleslaw, potato salad made with mayonnaise and egg is also a firm favourite. 

There is one other traditional part of a braai that English-speaking South Africans like us aren’t as keen on and that is mieliepap.  This is a porridge made with maize meal and it is served with a tomato and onion relish.  It is most popular amongst the Afrikaner or black populations in South Africa.

There are a couple of other items that we love to get at the South African shop.  I usually go to the SAvanna shop in the Vaults at London Bridge.

I love my colleagues. One of the biggest things I miss from South Africa is rooibos tea. Pronounced roy-boss (not ruby bush like my colleagues say) rooibos is literally translated as ‘red bush’.   It is naturally caffeine-free and full of anti-oxidants and can be enjoyed with milk and sugar or black, with lemon and honey.  I found this cup on my desk the other day and it truly cheered me up!

Meebos (also known as Safari Fruit Dainties): this is mushed, dried fruit covered in sugar.  Yum, yum.

Fizzers are chewy candy sweets – my personal favourite.

Caramello Bears are chocolate bears with caramel inside.  I eat the heads off first and then the bodies.  They look just like koala bears and are most likely an Australian import.

Milo bars are chocolate bars made from Milo.  Milo is a Nestlé chocolate drink that is available just about everywhere in the world except for Europe and the US.

And last, but certainly not least, we have biltong and droëworsBiltong is a dried, cured beef that is similar to beef jerky.  I like very dry, lean biltong and I don’t like the biltong in London as it tastes like dried British beef to me which is exactly what it is!  Droëwors is literally translated as ‘dry sausage’.  I have never been a fan of droëwors as it has a faintly alcoholic taste.  Stephen and my brother love the stuff though so I usually buy them £15 biltong and £10 droëwors at a time.


You can imagine that shops and butchers selling boerewors, biltong and droëwors are making a roaring trade in England as it is not legal to bring these items into the country and they must be made here. 

The 2001 census showed that there were officially 140,000 South Africans living in England but it is estimated that the figure is more accurate at about 500,000.  This 2007 article suggests that there are as many South Africans in the UK as there are Poles.  It is no small wonder that so many South African shops and themed pubs popping up then!

Continuing your journey on World Blog Surf Day

Please click through now to Emmanuelle at Winning Away.  Emmanuelle is a French expat living in Vancouver, BC and she has a wonderful, professional blog on how to ‘Live Your Expat Life to the Fullest’.  Have a wonderful World Blog Surf Day!



  1. Hi Emm,

    I enjoyed your post very much - my partner is from Johannesburg, so over the years I have become quite familiar with the products you describe!

    The one thing that he really misses is custard pie. I have tried countless melktert recipes, experimented with all the variations of French flan I could think of - apparently nothing comes close to the real deal.

    Another thing that he mentioned is that Canadian butchers do not seem to offer the same cuts of meat he was used to back home. Have you found the same to be true in the UK?

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Hi Emm,
    I enjoyed reading your post...I'm getting hungry reading all the WBSD posts! It's getting close to lunch time here, so I'll be OK. Don't want to snack my way around the world!

    Your bbq looks and sounds soooo good! That's something I do miss here. Czechs have cooking outside, but not quite like others do it. Still good..but not the same. Yours looks very similar to what my family does back home!

    Have a great day,
    Sher :0)

  3. Hi Emm great post that really got my taste buds tingling. Flying saucers .....I didn't think you were old enough!! Four for one old penny when I was a kid, I can almost taste them as I pen this comment.

    I always fancied trying biltong, still one day I will get to RSA.

  4. Off to get some breakfast, your post made me so hungry, Emm :o)
    I love getting Czech sweets ordered on-line. There is one store in New York that I order from regularly.
    p.s. There are some peeps that did not post yet, including Dave...

  5. Meow! This braai meat stuff sounds great, I would love to try it one day, but perhaps not grilled, I take mine raw, thank you very much! I am not really into sweets or teas, so I can't comment on that ones, but I am really glad that you can buy most of your favourite food now where you live. Food is INCREDIBLY important,
    Oscar, the Expat Cat

  6. Excellent to read up on Zuid Afrikaanse braai. Do you put 'a poes' on there as well? ;-)

    Groeten uit Thailand

  7. Hi Emm, I really enjoyed reading this and suddenly got very hungry...Thank you for giving us a glimpse of your life.
    We have a simialr type of dred beef sausage called Soujouk (Armenian Recepie)

  8. Hi Emm! Fortunately I had dinner already, otherwise... ;))
    Loved your Thames cruise. Wonderful shots!!

    Blogtrotter has a nice lunch location for you. Enjoy and have a great weekend! I’m having the benefit of the holidays in Portugal this week... ;))

  9. @ Emmanuelle: Hi! It has been great meeting you through wbsd. We get partly-decent cuts at the South African shop but we never find steaks in restaurants like we get back home. I will look for a decent melktert recipe for you.

    @ Sher: Thanks for organising for us! You did a fab job. I am still working my way around the posts!

    @ Mike: :) It's no secret I am mad about flying saucers. We used to get 2 for a penny when I was young, if memory serves me well. I was a 70's child so not sure if that makes me old or young! My Mum dressed me in brown polyester and brown plaid shirts if that gives you an idea!! Biltong rocks and you will love SA I think. It has a lot of what you like about Thailand.

    @ Ivanhoe: Heh. wbsd should have come with a warning today! It had indeed made me hungry! Last time I did it the person linking to me also didn't post at first! I am sure Dave will post soon.

    @ Oscar: Ha! You are one pampered cat! My neighbours keep feeding my boy cat sardines and he has stopped coming home!

    @ Camille: Hi there! Pleased to make your acquaintance via wbsd. Um, you are going to need to explain to me what you were trying to say there because in Afrikaans, it sounds very, very rude. :)

    @ Baron: Yum! Soujouk looks divine! I am a big sausage fan and will definitely look for this in future! Are you originally Armenian?

    @GMG: Heh! I'm up for a midnight snack after reading people's entries! Yes, I read you have public holidays all week! How cool!

  10. Emm, yes I'm through no fault of mine originally

  11. Hi Emm,

    I was also born in South Africa but moved before I became South African through and through. Still, many of the things you mentioned (biltong tops the list) remind me of my childhood. Miliepap too. I used to sit in the back yard with my grandmother's maid and we'd share a bowl.

    The rest, though, are all new to me. I'll have to make my way back to South Africa one day and try it.

  12. I wish I'd read this post before I went to South Africa, but next trip, I'll take it along. I have to say, we did pretty good there in the food department, though...loved it!

  13. Hi Emm,
    A friend of my, from South Africa often brags about the famous Braai! I understand now why.
    Btw, see a lot of mixed Dutch/English words, especially this one: Boerewors in Dutch is Boerenworst....exactly the same
    Hans (Dutch in Istanbul)

  14. [Apologies for the deleted comment above, I was trying to edit but couldn't find how]

    @ Emm: Thank you so much for offering to track down a good melktert recipe! That will make my man very happy :)

    @ Camille, @ thefutureisred and @ Corinne: Funny how so many of us have a connection to South Africa (although mine is by proxy, I will give you that!)

    @ Baron's Life: Barev dzez! I love soujouk and haven't had it in years... I can find all the bastourma I want over here, but no soujouk. How unfair is that?

    Now I am really hungry.


  15. Hi Emm,
    Lots of stuff there from SA I've never heard of. Looks and sounds pretty good though!

  16. Yes braaing is a truly South African pastime that crosses racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries. It is the one thing that unites all South Africans no matter where they are in the world. What better way to celebrate our heritage, our South Africaness, than to have a braai with family and friends on Braai Day, the 24th of September each year (our National Heritage Day).

    May the wors be with you!

  17. Rofl, my humans call me the most spoiled cat in the universe, but believe it or not, they never give me sardines!!!! If I would find somebody that gives me sardines, I would move in with them, no question, SY

  18. Hi Emmanuelle, I'm surprised at your response and of course, at the same time delighted that our good friend Emm, The South African / British Beauty Queen of the Web brought us together. I can send you the receipe. My Canadian born Russian wife makes it for me at home and it's so good...especially with eggs for breakfast...from your dialect, I take it you're originally from Yerevan... unless you took up Armenian at University or something.
    Cheers mate, barevner dzezi. and Emm thanks so much for your excellent post and cyber hospitality...I find you to be very refreshing always...and so very family oriented oh BTW...I like that sexy legs and body you show on your links....dreams dreams and more dreams...
    Blessings to all.

  19. Hi Emm,
    Great post, a braai sounds like a real experience!

  20. Hi Emm, me and my friends had a braain in Bloemfontein over the weekend as we were there for FIFA's Confederations Cup's football match between South Africa and Spain. Pity we lost 2 - o.

  21. Hi all. My sincere apologies for not replying sooner... In the week after I made this post, I had a conference for work, a big concert on the Saturday and then I left for New York on the Sunday. Still, I know you'll all forgive my late reply!

    @ Baron: I think it is great that you are Armenian! I have been learning a lot about that population lately. When did your family arrive in the US? Oh, and my blog is always mainly family orientated as I have 14-year-old family friends reading!

    @ thefutureisred & Corinne: Hi! Thanks for stopping by! Where in SA are you from / did you visit?

    @ Hans: Hiya! Those words are in Afrikaans, which is a language derived from the Dutch settlers in South Africa.

    @ Martin: :) I don't think many people outside of SA really get to sample the foods.

    @ Woodtjopper: Hmmm. I had to explain to a Dutch expat friend of mine in SA that the holiday actually isn't called "National Braai Day" and that there is a real story behind the public holiday.

    @ Oscar: See? That is why my little boy only comes home once a week. It makes me really quite upset with my neighbours.

    @ Yazar: Welcome! I visited Turkey a year ago this week and I loved it!

    @ Pule: Hiya! I see you have attended some games? That is great!

  22. You write about two of my favorite places -- ZA and London. I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog. I will forever be a fan!

  23. What a wonderful blog. I love that you had a bottle of Tabasco sauce and Hellmans to accompany your South African braai, we enjoy these too. Good things in life are universal no matter where they come from. Warm greetings from South Africa.

  24. Hi Mamma! Thanks for your visit! You must get a lot of hungry South Africans ordering from you!!!

  25. So interesting . . . I always love reading others' food memories. I think that you ARE, probably, an eternal expat now . . . with bits of your heart spread across the world. I feel that way, too. At home in several places, but never totally.

    We've recently started drinking rooibos tea -- partly because we need to cut down on caffeine. Very pleased to discover that it is delicious!

  26. @ Bee: Oh dear! Being an eternal expat sounds quite tiring though!! But it is true - I have always been an expat, I guess. I'm so glad you like rooibos - which brand are you drinking?


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