Hunting a good feed, South African-style
Chris Truter’s flirtation with charcuterie began in 2006. Back at home in South Africa he killed a kudu – a large antelope species with twisted horns. When he returned to Seoul, he did so with eight kilograms of kudu jerky – or “biltong” – in his luggage. It lasted a month. He wanted more. So he started making it himself, with beef. His recipe got pretty good, and the owner of Phillies in Haebangchon asked if he would start supplying the pub. He did, and so it began.
Now, five years later, Truter is the co-owner of Braai Republic, a new South African restaurant and pub in Itaewon. The restaurant is a showcase of South African culture, from the rugby jerseys on display (one signed by the coach of the national team) to the lively music to the massive zebra pelt tacked to the wall.
Sitting there at the big wooden tables, listening to the drums, hearing and smelling meat sizzling in the kitchen, you’d almost think you were in a hunting lodge on the savannah.
Meat is the focus of the menu at Braai Republic. There are several lamb dishes to choose from, and you can tell when you speak to Truter that lamb is where his heart lies.
He and Roddy Bancroft, the other owner, buy racks whole and cut them down into chops in-house. We tried three iterations of the lamb there – a grilled chop, a sausage, and a stew.
The chop was the highlight of the meal. Slightly charred on the outside, it was tender, juicy, thick and fatty. It came with sweet onion marmalade. As an entrée with creamed spinach, the chops cost 17,000 won, but you can add a chop to any meal for 6,000 won (“South African super-sizing”). Ours came with “pap,” a maize-based porridge similar to grits. The pap was topped with stewed tomatoes and onions, and provided a perfect foil to the richness of the lamb.
The sausage, “Boerewors,” came out with the lamb and pap. It was full-flavored, spiced with coriander. Like most of the other items on the menu, they source the ingredients and make the sausage in-house. Between the lamb, tomatoes and Boerewors, the plate was an adventure in flavor and texture.
The stew we tried, “potjie,” was milder than our other dishes. It came in a cast-iron Dutch oven, with plenty of pap on the side. The stew itself consisted of little pieces of lamb shank on the bone, baby carrots, potato, pumpkin and green beans. Truter instructed us on how to eat the stew: spoon most of it out onto the pap, but save some pap for the end – it’s good for sopping up that last bit of juice.
Truter, a strapping, bald man who looks like he could survive hard times in the bush, takes obvious relish in watching his customers eat South African food. He jumps at opportunities to further their understanding of South African culture. I asked him about a photo of a black-and-white animal hanging on the wall.
“Is that a honey badger?”
Yes, he said. “The world just discovered honey badgers. We grew up loving honey badgers.”
Later he put “Snake Killers of the Kalahari” on the big screen in the corner of the restaurant. It’s a documentary about honey badgers. We watched as the creatures encountered one danger after another. It did enhance the experience.
Braai Republic has meat pies, pork sausages, and other dishes, along with homemade cheesecake that is moist, rich, and insanely good. They also serve South African drinks – Hunter’s cider and Pinotage wine. Perhaps their most unique drink is the “springbok” – a shot of crème de menthe topped with Amarula, a liqueur made from the Marula fruit.
Braai Republic is a casual restaurant most of the time, but gets pretty rowdy on Saturday nights. That’s when all the South Africans living outside Seoul are in town, Truter said. “It gets pretty crazy.”