Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, for a post that is over 650 days LATE. As I’ve said before, “it’s not a question of IF I get to the things I say I’ll do, it’s a question of WHEN.” So what kind of meal is so complicated, so tricky to tackle, that it took me almost 2 YEARS to catch up with? Let’s talk about braaibroodije, linguistics, and whatever the hell else I want to cover. Of course, for those who HATE HISTORY, you can jump straight to the recipe here. For everyone else, let’s cut loose with a second Gatsby smash of a swich.
And We’re Singing, Braai Braai, Miss South African Pie
In case you don’t recall, braai (pronounced, as Title Jon implies, like “bye” with an r in it) is the South African word for an outdoor grilling event that is analogous to what Americans mean when they say they’re “having a cookout/barbecue”: a time for friends and family to gather outside, enjoy the weather and each other’s company, eat cooked meats, and drink cold drinks (typically alcoholic, if you’re of age.) A process many Americans will be indulging in today, which I thought mostly apropos.
I mean, this would be a pretty normal-looking grill at an American barbecue except for the big loop sausage.
We touched on it back in the summer of 2017, where we made Chakalaka and a bologna Gatsby sandwich. Somewhat humorously, the entire IDEA of covering South African food was actually inspired by my desire to make today’s dish: braaibroodjie. If that name looks frighteningly complicated, don’t worry. First off, you already know what Braai means. And Broodjie is a diminutive: brood is Dutch/Afrikaans for ‘bread”, so it means “little bread”, meaning like, a roll. It’s also the backbone to the word for sandwich, toebroodjie. So braaibroodjie just means “Barbecue bread”, or “barbecue sandwich”.
And thus, it’s little wonder that, as today’s title implies, it’s little more than a specific kind of grilled cheese sandwich. But before we dig too deep into the (somewhat limited specifics) there, I want to talk a little bit about a point I glossed over a second ago: the similarity of, but distinction between, Dutch and Afrikaans. It’s been a while since we did a deep dive into linguistics, so I’d like to go back and run some good ol’ fashioned word nerd biznatch. And I can say that. Remember, slang IS a form of linguistics.
Stuck in the Middle with You
So, what is Afrikaans? Afrikaans is one of the official languages of South Africa. It’s a daughter language of Dutch, meaning it started AS Dutch, and changed over time to be a new language. It was originally classified as a dialect of Dutch, indeed its name comes from Afrikaans-Hollands, the Dutch for “African Dutch”. It was regarded as a low class dialect of Dutch, and was derided even in South African schools. However, in the early to mid-1900’s, a push was made to recognize Afrikaans as a distinct language, and it has been so recognized for roughly 58 years.
Nelson Mandela was older than official recognition of Afrikaans.
If you didn’t recognize him here, I understand. There’s not a lot call for recognizing South African leaders in Van Gogh-style linework.
This isn’t a subject that many of my American readers will easily relate to, as, interestingly, America’s refusal to CHOOSE official languages means we’ve been legally allowed to fuck around with our language without issue for decades, while its unofficial stance as the dominant tongue has rendered it continuous. But it is interesting to consider how many nations have changed languages, or switched languages, in relatively recent times. Right around the time that South Africa was acknowledging Afrikaans, Vietnam was forcing out French, for instance. Chinese was not an official language of Hong Kong until nineteen SEVENTY FOUR, it being a British colony and all.
However, what I think makes Afrikaans interesting is the amount of mutual intelligibility that it has with Dutch. And mutual intelligibility is another concept that isn’t super relatable for your average American English speaker, who, statistically, really only speaks one or two languages. We don’t all go out and LEARN NORWEGIAN TO READ NOVELS, like certain over-achieving Midwesterners. But luckily, I have an example to help our English-centric readers understand the level of mental…weirdness that mutual intelligibility covers. First, though: what is it?
Mutual intelligibility is the ability for speakers of different languages to understand each other, despite using different languages. An easy example here is the Romance Languages: French, Spanish, and Italian are fairly close to each other. Italian is about 89% lexically similar to French, and around 82% to Spanish. As a somewhat trained Spanish speaker, I personally can kind of understand Italian. Not a lot, and it helps if they speak slowly, but I can get the gist. Now, while there are English dialects I could use to illustrate this…well, frankly, there’s a lot of politics tied into modern American English dialects, and it can get messy, so let’s stay safe by running back to the past. THIS is the prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
The fun part is that most of the ending E’s are silent, like in modern English, but instead make an “eh” sound that makes it sound a little like the Swedish chef.
”To the root-eh”, “for to seek-eh”.
Middle English is, linguistically, a different LANGUAGE than modern English, but it clearly has a relatively high degree of intelligibility. If reading it doesn’t make sense, you can hear it in this Youtube clip as well, though personally I find it more intelligible written down. It’s a little high-falutin’, since it spends 10 lines establishing “at around April 6th” (“Halfway through Aries (‘the Ram”)”, “once the shores (showers) of April have pierced the drought of March”, etc) but that’s a poet for you, eh?
So that’s mutual intelligibility: two languages, being partially understood the one from the next. But Afrikaans and Dutch have an even more specific relationship: they are ASYMMETRICALLY intelligible. Which means exactly as It implies: the intelligibility of the languages is not equal. Despite Afrikaans using a roughly 90-95% similar lexicon, it’s much easier for the Dutch speaker to understand the Afrikaner than vice versa. It’s much easier for the Dutch READER to understand Afrikaans over spoken as well. The words will look ‘misspelled’, but the general idea will be understood. As a very simple example: I mentioned earlier that brood is ‘bread’ in Dutch/Afrikaans, and broodjie is the diminutive. But that’s technically only true in Afrikaans. In Dutch, the word is broodje. Just one letter different. That word at least both sides would almost certainly get the other saying.
IF you’re still struggling to wrap your mind around the idea, a South African writer actually gave a very useful example as a way to explain it to us. Imagine the Received Pronunciation of an Oscar Wilde play or another British comedy of manners. If those words mean nothing to you, imagine the high-brow, kind-of-nasal voice of fancy British people back in the day. Now imagine someone like that trying to talk to a person from the DEEP South. The backwoods, “we’re not even 100% sure this is still English”, kind of “Y’all git that there cow offa my property! I done told y’all don’ let it on my land, and if’n it comes back, Imma fixin’ ta make me some damn fine mudstompers!
The kind of Varmint to roll up to the hootenanny in a jalopy.
And that kind of difficulty in translating is probably partly why, despite this sandwich being a ‘Grilled Cheese’, by an American estimation, everything I found was more firm about the NON-Cheese things that go in it. So let’s get back to the bread, and slap together a sandwich.
My Chick is Braai’d and Broodjie
Thank you, title Jon, for reminding me that Migos exists. Existed? I don’t keep track.
Anywho, yes. Braaibroodjie is considered one of the QUINTESSENTIAL braai foods. A braai without it would be like an American cookout without hot-dogs, or hamburgers. It is striking in its absence. So what makes this dish so special? What does it have that American Grilled Cheese doesn’t?
Veggies and Sauce, mainly.
The ever-surprising tomato.
Yes, half of braai ingredients are pretty straightforward: Bread, butter, cheese. The only really interesting part there is the cheese in question: while I’ve talked before, SEVERAL times about mixing cheeses on American Grilled Cheeses, the first five recipes for braaibroodjie I found all agreed that this is a dish that is best built on sharp cheddar cheese. Which is GREAT for my family, since my brother loves Dubliner Cheddar, and we had a 2 pound brick we were trying to use up.
Progress is an incremental thing.
But it’s the OTHER three ingredients that are a harder sell. In my family, hilariously, it’s the “NORMAL” options that are the issue: Nathan doesn’t like tomatoes, and my mother doesn’t like onions. So a recipe for “Grilled cheese, with sliced tomatoes and onions” in it didn’t strike them as a very good time. I don’t actually know IF they included them, as I had already wandered out of the kitchen to tend to my wounds. More on that in a bit.
The EASY sell was for the chutney.
You better put up, or chut up.
Chutney, in case you’re unaware, is a SUPER-complicated Indian word, that refers to…basically any kind of sauce or topping. HOWEVER, in a broader global context, it tends to refer specifically to vinegar-and-fruit based relishes. Like a marmalade with more spices and tang. Chunks of fruit, sugar, etc. You just smear a layer of the Chutney of your choice (apparently, there’s a specific brand in South Africa, Mrs Balls, that’s the go-to, in the same way that a lot of people think of Heinz ketchup or French’s yellow mustard as the default styles.) My family had some Major Grey Mango Chutney, and some Pear Cardamom chutney we picked up at a local Italian restaurant/deli.
Once you have your components, it’s a simple matter of layering: sprinkle a little cheese, layer of tomatoes, more cheese, onions, more cheese, close with chutney-spread bread.
Sprink a little
talk a little
sprink a little
talk a little
Now, by default, the braaibroodjie is vegetarian, including just cheese, tomato, onion, and MAYBE Chutney. (Yeah, that’s not even a REQUIRED ingredient. Some families just do the tomato, cheese, and onion.) However, my family was eating this as the sole component of a dinner on a grey day, so we snagged a detail from Steven Raichlen, who tosses some grilled bacon on his. We baked our bacon, since it wasn’t a great day for grilling, but adding a little protein to the dish doesn’t hurt it.
What DOES hurt it is not turning the pan up to temp before putting it in. And maybe picking the wrong bread. And using too wet of a chutney. ALL of these together was certainly a bad idea, as the second time we flipped my braaibroodjie, the chutney slice of bread crumbled apart, making a huge mess we had to hurriedly flop out of the pan while I took pictures rather than helping, because legitimate catastrophes are great for our brand!
So I ended up with one sandwich with bacon, one without, and the one without also was half without the bread. And I’ll tell you: this is an okay grilled cheese.
What? Look, I never promised that after all this effort, it’d be a complete hit! It’s fine. Not hugely amazing to me, but fine. The flavors were nice, but they didn’t blow me away. Maybe that’s because of WHY it was fairly easy to sell my family on the chutney: my mom does that all the time. My mom loves adding blackberry jam to her grilled cheeses, so the act of using a DIFFERENT fruit sauce just wasn’t super impressive. My one with bacon was actually pretty damn good. Though that might have been because it was fixing an issue with our version: it’s not actually grilled. True Braaibroodjie is cooked on a wood-fired grill, so maybe it was the lack of smoke on the outside that knocked it down a peg. (Also, I think we needed to cut our onion a little thinner, or maybe caramelize/grill it beforehand, as it was a distracting texture to me.) Still, for the minimal amount of work involved (slice some veggies and buy chutney), it’s a nice result. Mixing a South African standard with an American classic, it’s hard to go too wrong.
Dozens of Americans suffer from Soggy Bread Syndrome, a definitely real problem that’s…not “ravaging” America, but “minorly irritating” America. For a mere dollar a month, you could help Jon personally avoid that fate, leaving the dozens of others to their minor irritations. Your donations are gladly accepted at our Patreon page. To help fight this slightly frustrating fate, you can raise awareness by spreading word about our mission through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Help Jon get that bread.
THURSDAY: JON PULLS BACK THE CURTAIN, AND REVEALS HIS NEFARIOUS MACHINATIONS THAT HAVE LAID UN-NOTICED FOR WEEKS!
MONDAY: JON SPICES THINGS UP WITH A KICK OF SOMETHING SPECIAL. IT’S DAN DAN NOODLES WITH SZECHUAN CHILI OIL, MADE WITH REAL SZECHUAN PEPPERS!
History Haters, here's your
Serves 3-4 (can be reduced or increased)
8 slices of bread
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, thinly sliced
¼ cup of chutney (whatever variety you prefer)
4 slices Bacon, cooked (optional)
1. Preheat your pan or grill to medium. Prepare your bread by covering one side of each slice with butter, and the reverse side of 4 slices with 1 tablespoon of chutney each.
2. Assemble your sandwiches: sprinkle cheese on the un-chutneyed, un-buttered sides of bread. Add a layer of onion, sprinkle more cheese, add the tomato, add more cheese. Add the bacon if using, and close with the chutney sides of the bread slices.
3. Place closed sandwiches on heated pan or grill, and cook until crisp and browned. Flip, cook until browned on the second side, and serve hot.