One minute scorchio, and the next it’s hoik up the thermal leggings, as spring temperatures in both the UK and Mallorca have recently been up and down like a demented yo-yo. People are flinging open their patio doors, then quickly slamming them shut again as the promise of warmer climes on the horizon is already tempting people to dust off the ‘barbie’. And I’m not talking about the pink, plastic doll variety!
Perfect for al fresco frolics, the common or not so common BBQ is one of the most awaited UK pastimes ever, and equally anticipated by ex-pats here on our own sunny isle of Mallorca. Of course, sunny sizzling weather always helps, and with an imminent future of relaxed Covid regulations, people are gagging to get together again at socially distanced, outside gatherings, dominated by a charcoal grill or fire pit. And thankfully, it’s one of the safest ways to entertain friends and family!
Everybody loves a barbeque – even the late Prince Philip, who apparently was a legend with the toasting tongs! Usually overseen by the great, lesser spotted ex-pat male, the popular outdoor barbie is fast becoming a national sport, and will without doubt, one day make an appearance as an Olympic event! Tossing the sausage! The hop, skip and hamburger! Synchronised steaks! Imagine ! Gymnastics with onion rings!!!
Cooking on a barbeque is historically an Australian tradition and every Englishman’s dream. Yet the word, ‘barbeque’ is thought to derive from the Taino word ‘barabicu’ ( that’s native to Haiti and the Caribbean ) and loosely translates as ‘sacred pit of fire’. Well that sounds apt enough! Also spelled barbicoa or barabicoa, the word describes a grill for cooking meat constructed from woven sticks. Whatever the origins, the barbie – a shortened autonym hailed from Oz, where, incidentally it also translates in slang, as some kind of sexual encounter! Crikey!!
Who would have thought? But then I suppose the plethora of sausages on display at any ‘fire pit’ gathering should have flagged up an obvious alert!
All that aside, the BBQ is notoriously a feasting and social gathering, ruled over supremely by men. Macho Men. Big, butch, and brash BBQ men who wield their cooking utensils like ancient weapons of war. The alpha male becomes dominant whenever there is a whiff of charcoal in the air. And very territorial if there’s a raw steak marinading somewhere in a mango salsa.
The female of the species, also known as the Barbie Queen
(and often mistaken for the plastic doll variety) is invariably heard omitting a huge sigh of relief at this time of the year, as she cradles her first gin and tonic of the season (perhaps NOT the first with the past year of Covid lockdown!) and heads in the direction of the nearest sun lounger, while her man cooks for the rest of the summer. Sweet bliss!
But what have those BBQ Barbarians been doing since last summer? The Fire Pit Kings? Those great outdoor warriors? Most have been hibernating for the winter with their striped aprons ritualistically laundered and stashed for the duration. The tongs, spikes, forks, skewers and tribal chopper have been hidden out of harm’s way from the children, as everything in the BBQ beast’s weaponry is bigger, heavier and sharper than anything you will ever find in the humble indoor kitchen.
But as the warmer weather beckons, a machete will soon replace a delicate paring knife, an axe will take over from a vegetable peeler as the missus packs away the crystal glasses, designer table mats, linen tablecloths and winter napkins as her man brings his native, genetic cooking skills to the ‘great outdoors.’
Sadly, through lockdown and the cooler months, the Barbie Beast has not always been welcomed by the ‘Queen’ in her Poggenphol designer kitchen, or let anywhere near that polished, bronzed quartz worktop! But let’s face it, the majority of BBQ chefs are usually Crocodile Dundee material, and chopping steaks on a block with an executioners axe doesn’t bode terribly well indoors. But hey ho, ring those bells, summer is definitely on its way, so roll out the barbecue, and get grilling.
But don’t be misled, the BBQ is not solely a British or Australian institution. The South Africans are true masters of the art, and their famous gastronomic grilling known as a ‘braai’, is pure genius. The Mallorcans themselves are also huge fans of the open fire, and I have fond memories, before Covid scuppered our social life, of local BBQ’s and group gatherings called ‘Torradas’, which basically was an excuse for yet another street party, where numbers from 6 to 60 upwards would set up their bespoke grills, ingeniously fashioned from half an oil drum, and fill the air with the tantalising aroma of charcoal roasted pork and beef ribs, botifarrons and chorizo sausages. There’s nothing quite so deliciously tempting as the smoky flavour of barbequed food, spitting fat as it chars over wood or coals.
Throughout the years I’ve been to some wonderful and memorable barbeque parties, with imaginative side dishes, interesting salads, and deserts starring alongside the obligatory protein and stellar company. But it’s not just about the food. It’s just as much about the gathering and the social get together where friends meet up to enjoy like company. OK! So it’s never going to be five-star dining, but in the right hands, it sometimes gets pretty close!
Before Covid changed the way we were able to behave and entertain, ‘One Pot Parties’ were a very popular concept throughout the summer months, where everyone attending a barbeque takes along a side dish or ‘one pot’ to share with the assembly. Suddenly the humble barbie becomes a veritable and impressive fire pit feast which can run on for hours.
And that’s the real point of it after all. No-one really goes to a barbeque solely for the food! The social connotations and much anticipated outside gathering is always going to be the real star of the show! And personally, I can’t wait to get back out there!