The role of a National Braai Day ambassador is multi-faceted: you’re tasked with spreading the gospel of chisa nyama, braaing as often as possible, and humouring Jan Braai when he calls up with his latest stroke of genius. (Example: Jan ‘phoned me last night enquiring as to whether I could organise for him to have a braai on the field at Eden Park at half-time at the World Cup final in New Zealand. I’m working on it, Jan.)
In my particular case, ambassadorial duties extend to talking about National Braai Day whenever I’m overseas – and looking for opportunities to get fires started around the world in celebration of South Africa. In most of the world, that’s not a great challenge: they might insist on sullying the art of braai by terming it a barbecue, but most countries and cultures have some sort of history of gathering round a fire. Exception to the rule? Russia…
There might be a simmering braai culture in Russia, but on a flying visit to St. Petersburg, it certainly wasn’t apparent – and if any country needs to get braaing, it’s Russia. Of all the countries I’ve been to, Russia was the one most devoid of smiles, armies of grim, cheerless people desperate for a spark of life. The fish above? That’s a Russian carp, and the look of one of the ocean’s more unattractive offerings reflects both the national visage of the local people, and the general appeal of Russian food.
Gather the emergency braai troops, then, and head for the Soviet border: there’s a country in need of a spring in its step, a beer in its hand, and food that isn’t designed for people doing 15 years in the Gulag. In short, Russia needs to gets braaing, and get braaing soon. Jan Braai, book that ticket to Moscow.