By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
Some years ago when he started Braai Day, on September 24, a day which attracted many people throughout the country as they braaied with liberal abandon on this day, which is an official holiday in South Africa, called Heritage Day, not everyone was happy. You see, the thing is Government has set aside this day, September 24, to celebrate the diversity that South Africa is, with regards to its different races, as encompassed by distinct linguistic and cultural groupings, its various religions and other specific cultural markers, and then here comes this guy with his Braai Day. His also falls on the same day as Heritage Day. In business peak, these two events are competitors, and business competition is always unfriendly if not outright hostile by its very nature and character sometimes. And therefore, perhaps it was understandable why some, especially those with nationalistic streak, initially regarded Jan Braa’s Braai Day (real name is Jan Scannell)with suspicion.
The fact that Braai Day immediately attracted corporate sponsors, such as Pick ‘n’Pay, enraged nationalists more, as this was seen as an attempt to devalue a National Holiday, particularly because Braai Day’s popularity at the time, seemed to eclipse activities linked to the official activities, especially in suburbia and middle class circles as people chose to braai with friends and family in their gardens, instead of going to an official event to watch artists perform and listen often to long and unfortunately often boring speeches from politicians.
However Jan Braai was undeterred by his detractors as his marketing gimmicks really worked magic to the extent that his detractors’ voices were eventually drowned out by the revelry of the braaing crowd. In fact to date the dissenting voices have eventually disappeared from the soundscape.
In business speak, Jan Brrai won over his competition, sort of, as in reality, the country now has two events happening on the same day, one official, government organized and sanctioned,, and the other, private, started by one marketing genius, Jan. If truth be told, to date, Jan’s Braai Day, If not begruginly, co-exists n harmony with the official Heritage Day in South Africa. In fact it is not an unusual event for some people to start off their day on September 24, by attending the official Heritage Day celebrations, complete in their colourful traditional garb where they watch performances and listen to official speeches from politicians, only to retreat later into gardens of their homes where the unofficial braai takes place until the wee hours of the morning.
The unofficial Heritage Day from there onwards in fact assumes Jan Braai’s Braai Day banner, held mostly behind high suburban walls, where there is food galore and expensive drinks such as single malt whiskey flow like the Limpopo river during the rainy season, as the part animals make merry and celebrate good life, all that thanks to the vision of one guy. And quite interestingly, at these parties, no one even remembers that it is Heritage Day, including the ones who at public official events would have pretended that they were seized by the official Heritage Day spirit. But after retreating to their homes where the real party starts, Heritage day, is willingly turned into simply a Braai Day as they guzzle their drinks and party like there is no tomorrow. That partly explains why Jan’s Braai Day became popular as it overcome initial accusations of being an unpatriotic event. People do not eat patriotism after all, they eat meat.
The fact of the matter however is this: braaing in South Africa is so common that everyone thinks they are some braai master of sorts, including the very lousy ones among us, often the ones who insist they must be given the privilege to be at the braai stand while others are relegated to other tasks at family gatherings, such as organizing the salads and marinating the meat, for example. To a certain extent, that is true as everyone can brain to different degrees of perfection as this culinary art is intrinsically , culturally embedded in every South African’s DNA.
But Jan Braai was so smart in marketing himself as the ultimate Braai Master in South Africa to the extent that his international profile as the ultimate Braai Master in South Africa cannot honestly be contested to date. Maybe someday it will be. Not right now.
He has gone on to buttress that by writing books on braaing, yes braaing, and these books have become extremely successful both in South Africa and internationally, further entrenching his position as a leading figure in culinary art in general and meat braaing in particular in South Africa.
To date Jan has sold over 140,000 books about meat braaing in South Africa, the UK, USA, Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The Braai Master has over 69,000 followers on Instagram, 276,000 on Facebook, and his books are available in print as well as an ebook, obtainable from Amazon, Exclusive Books, Takealot and Loot.
However not everyone in South Africa is a meat eater, as there is a sizeable number of vegetarian and vegans in the country, who might have been disappointed by the fact that the country’s leading Braai Master has forgotten about them, as all his books until now, only catered for meat eaters.
However, vegans and vegetarians must be happy with the good news that has broken in culinary circles this week, and that good news is that Jan Braai has eventually written a book on vegetable braaing. And it is a book packed with braai recipes that don’t rely on meat – to be enjoyed by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. JanBraai The Vegetarian Option, published by Book Storm, has vegetarian menus picked up from his already published mainly meat braaing books previously published, as well as fresh vegetarian menus he has specifically created for this book.
“Because everything tastes better when braaied, I know you’ll enjoy it!,” says Jan.
This latest book has come about apparently because Jan ’s friends have been badgering him to write a vegetarian braai book for years, and he has finally done it!
“Once he sat down to tackle the task, he realised that his books have loads of great vegetarian recipes, but it isn’t fair to make the vegetarians buy all the books to find them.
So Jan collected all his best vegetarian recipes together, and then added a whole lot more. If you’re looking for a meat-free Monday option, have to cater for your son’s new vegetarian girlfriend or the grandchildren, or have even decided to take the vegetarian plunge yourself, there’s no reason to neglect your braai – Jan has you covered. Find delicious burgers, braaibroodjies, potjies, curries, breads and side dishes to keep you in vegetarian options for months,” a sales pitch from his publishers says.
Who is Jan Braai?
His real name is Jan Scannell and he lives to braai. He is the man behind National Braai Day on 24 September, now a firm national fixture with the aim to create a national celebration of the one activity all South Africans have in common, regardless of race, language, gender or wealth: cooking over a fire. His TV series Jan Braai vir Erfenis runs annually on kykNET and is now in its 11th season. With a signature familiar style of sharing braai knowledge in his books, on television, on social media and in interviews Jan Braai has become a household name around the fire. For more about Jan Braai visit www.braai.com or follow him on Instagram or Facebook.