Food Routes Food & Travel Blog
Welcome to the Food Routes blog. Here at Food Routes, we are passionate – or one might say fanatical – about food and how we believe it to be a major component in defining “a sense of place”. Name a particular food and a country immediately comes to mind….foie gras = France; pasta = Italy; paella = Spain. How many times do you find when talking about your best travel experiences, you realise that amasing edible adventures are inextricably interwoven in your tales? More often than not, we would surmise!
Just as that pinch of special seasoning elevates a food from the dull to the divine, we hope to enhance your Food Routes experience with the Table Talk blog. A regular sprinkling of stories on the history of the foods of South Africa, spotlights on culinary luminaries both past and present, exciting food events, festivals, wineries and unique food producers are certain to spice up your journey and hopefully whet your appetite for more Food Routes adventures.
THE FIRST BRAAI MASTERS & HOW BRAAI BUILT BRAINS INSTEAD OF BRAWN
Across the globe many of the most traditional and revered cuisines are built upon two basic elements – protein and fire. From barbecue in the United States, to asado in Argentina , tandoori in India , satay in Southeast Asia to braai in South Africa to name a few, a variety of culinary cultures have been forged around fire.
Anthropologists are now coming to the conclusion that modern man’s earliest ancestors and their learning to control and use fire is possibly one of the most pivotal moments in our evolutionary development.
The ability to harness the power of small pyres fueled by twigs, grasses and leaves allowed our ancestors to ward off the cold and keep predators at bay. Man became not only a hunter and gatherer, but also a cook! Harvard biological anthropologist Richard Wragham suggests that this skill with the primordial grill stretches back as far as 1.9 million years ago with the extinct hominid species Homo erectus as its first trailblazer. Evidence of the use of controlled fires has been discovered at both Wonderwerk Cave and at Swartkrans.
Studies of fossil remains indicate that this human ancestor was undergoing significant brain growth. Wragham hypothesizes that cooking was a prime factor in the occurrence of this major evolutionary event. Cooking meat allowed the food to become more easily digestible and thus contributed to the development of smaller guts over time. This in turn, allowed more nourishment to become available for the evolution of larger calorie-hungry brains; instead of these calories being co-opted by a large digestive system that was needed to break down a diet of raw meat. There’s a good chance that we owe our brains to braai – the more we grilled the smarter we got!
Through discoveries at these important prehistoric anthropological sites, South Africans might be able to lay claim to producing the world’s first cooks and original pre-historic braai masters. And there’s more to this story than just brain growth and smaller digestive tracts. Some paleoanthropologists proffer the theory that the ability to control fire and cook their prey demonstrate that our early ancestors were not only smarter than first thought, but that these skills may also have contributed greatly to the development of important human traits. A study published in the February 2013 issue of the Cambridge Archeological Journal put forth some thoughts on the subject. In regards to intelligence, the author of the study, anthropologist Terrance Twomey states that in order to master the use of fire our early ancestor Home erectus had to develop many skills such as long-term planning, cooperation and inhibition. "Early humans would have had to have been fairly clever to keep a fire going by cooperating, not stealing food or not stealing fire from other people,” according to Twomey.
Having a fire at hand most likely arose from an opportunistic moment such as an encounter with a fire created by a lightning strike. Since the ability to create a fire from scratch was most likely not yet developed, skills such advanced planning in regards to gathering and storing firewood to protecting the precious flames from the elements would have come into being. “What's more, human ancestors would need fairly advanced social skills to make sure others didn't steal cooked food or a fire while its original tender was out gathering firewood. It's not simply a matter of keeping a fire going by tossing some sticks on it," Twomey stated in an interview.
In a nutshell, fire and cooking may just be the spark and spice to some of our higher modern day traits. Intelligence – Cooperation – Socialization. Now, if only the women of South Africa could only get their braai crazed boys to remember to have enough braai wood on hand, be sure to bring the fire starter, help to make the sides and not always have rugby become the sole subject around the fire. Then we could truly say that modern man has arrived!