Christmas potjie

A festive competition focused on the great South African stew

19-12-2013

Potjie, which literally means small pot, is a stew cooked outdoors in a three-legged iron pot, on a fire made with wood or charcoal

Potjie, which literally means small pot, is a stew cooked outdoors in a three-legged iron pot, on a fire made with wood or charcoal. It used to be the food the the first Dutch colonists ate during the lengthy and tiring expeditions around this land. Today, it is one of South Africa’s traditional dishes. The pots for preparing potjie can be found everywhere and have very different dimensions: from small saucepans for one or two portions to huge and impossible to move pots.

On Sunday December the 1st we had the chance to appreciate the importance of potjie in the South African culture. The programme of the day was the following: we arrived at Wynberg Club, the place where the event was held, at 10. After we occupied our station, the activities began and then ended at three and were followed by a party. It was quite a gastronomic and alcoholic tour de force. The theme was Tuttifrutti and there were eight teams participating, each with different recipes and presentations. My team was Italian-South African presenting a Mediterranean potije (with rabbit, olives, tomatoes, capers, onions). The stoker is one of the essential figures because the fire needs to be on for hours, or the entire project will fail. We had a very experienced South African stoker so everything worked perfectly. Our contribution was the preparation of the recipe, something on which we had done lots of research.

The preparation has to be made in layers, starting from the ingredients that need a longer time to cook. So the meat was put first, and then the vegetables in layers. For a food enthusiast, the most interesting part is the variety of recipes presented by each group – who dress up and decorate the table following the theme of the recipe. So there were two Scottish men who prepared a haggis potjie, a mixture of tripe and oats. Another group cooked a whole sheep head and then extracted the brain which was used to prepare a sauce: a recipe for strong stomachs. Another participant smoked a whole pig leg and then stewed it and served it with sour cream and sauce: delicious. And there were also an oxtail pojtie, one made with springbuck and a lamb one. The perfect Rainbow Nation.

One of the team of our competition. In the middle, our author Giovanna Sartor

One of the team of our competition. In the middle, our author Giovanna Sartor

At three o’clock in the afternoon, the jury, composed of three potje experts, sat at each table and tasted everything meticulously, taking notes and sharing their opinions with lots of gravity. The winners were those in the station next to us, who presented a Chinese-style beef potje with all the required plates, bowls and chopsticks. Indeed, their table was stunning. We came second, not bad for a group of beginners. On our table there was an Italian flag and all of us (South Africans included) were dressed in white, red and green. After the winners were announced, the party began and ended late in the afternoon. In the end we were all a little vrot (pronounced "frot", a very useful Afrikaans word that means dead-drunk).


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Giovanna a Capo-tavola

The food world in and near Cape Town told by Giovanna Sartor