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The Potjie: An African kitchen’s staple cooking utensil

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

The joys of African food are in the flavors and the comfort it brings while bringing people together. Whether it’s a wedding, a party among friends, or just Sunday lunch with the family, the food is a huge proponent of the mood. Let’s just say, good food has a great way to of bringing out the best in people.

The Shona people of Zimbabwe have a proverb that translates as ‘family is brought together by good food’, which is the true essence of African food. One thing you will notice across Africa is a lot of food is prepared on the fire using these big three-legged iron pots. This is what South African’s call ‘potjie’ and Zimbabweans call ‘bhodho’. As you travel around the southern region you will find that the potjie is named differently but has the same features; round-shaped, made from cast iron with three legs for balance.

The three-legged pot is a symbol of African tradition. At any traditional event, you will find women bent over the fire, creating soul-warming meals in these big iron pots. Perfect for slow cooking, the iron cast posts can slow-cook tough meats such as tripe, and beef bones over the fire, making them soft, succulent, and falling off the bone while helping you save on electricity.

Curing the Potjie

Seasoned cooks believe in pre-curing the potjie pot when you buy it, what some people would call ‘breaking it in’. There is a process one must go through to remove the ‘newness’ of the pot and give it some flavor. The same can be done with cast iron pots to remove that new metal taste.

1) Fill the pot with boiling water and wash it and the lid with dishwashing liquid.

2) Dry it thoroughly with a clean cloth

3) Grease the pot with cooking oil.

4) Heat the pot on indirect fire (charcoals) or medium/high heat on the stove. Leave to heat until the oil starts to smoke a little.

5) The pot is ready for use.

6) After cooking, fill it with warm water and allow to soak, then rinse with warm water. The old-school mothers will tell you to wash it without dishwashing liquid so that it develops a distinctive flavor over time.

As essential as the potjie pot is, there are now modernized variations of the pot that cater to the younger modern homemakers living in the city. The potjie pot has been upgraded to suit the modern kitchens of today. The cast-iron pots are a more modern version, with a smooth bottom perfect for the stove and oven and come in different shapes and sizes that suit specific meals. The cast-iron pots cook just as well as the three-legged pot, maintaining a certain temperature well after removing from the heat. And most importantly, just like the good old potjie pot, they live forever for you and your family to enjoy for many years to come.

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