What Is Braai?

B. Chisholm

Braai is the South African word for barbecue, plural braaie, and refers to a meal cooked over an open fire, usually outdoors. Originally it was derived from an Afrikaans word, braaivleis, meaning grilled meat, but it is now a universally used term in South Africa. The braai is a South African institution that encompasses not only the cooking of meat on a grid over coals but includes a social aspect to it too — time spent around the braai with family and friends forms part of the integral South African heritage.

Braai is the South African word for barbecue.
Braai is the South African word for barbecue.

As with any traditional food, the cooking method differs from cook to cook, from the making of the fire to what is cooked and how it is cooked. The food ranges from simple, everyday dishes to gourmet delicacies. Traditionally, braaie were limited mainly to meat — lamb, beef and chicken, but seafood, bread and vegetables can also be cooked over the flames.

A regular South African braai will usually include the cooking of boerewors, which is traditional thick sausage and meat such as steak or sosaties, a type of kebab. Chicken pieces may also be braaied, often with a marinade. Traditional dishes served at a braai as accompaniments may include stywe pap which is a stiff maize meal porridge, often cooked in a black pot over the fire and served with a tomato and onion relish, and salads.

A seafood braai may include fish, often wrapped in tin foil to prevent it from falling through the grid, prawns or crayfish. Again, the entire process, from making the fire to the cooking and eating is seen as a social occasion. A braai involves the entire family and friends and usually happens over many hours.

Once the meat has been cooked, the meal is often eaten outside, around the fire. Due to the generally good climate in South Africa this is possible, often throughout the year, but especially in summer. Some true enthusiasts have indoor braais built into their homes for rainy or cold days.

Every year on 24 September, South Africa celebrates its diverse cultures and the unifying effect of braai with a national holiday. National Heritage Day is an annual public holiday in South Africa, held every year on 24 September to celebrate the diverse cultures living in the country. A move is being made to turn this into National Braai Day as, across all the cultures of South Africa, cooking over a fire while gathered with loved ones is shared. In Zulu, another of South Africa’s eleven official languages, a braai is referred to as Chisa Nyama. Each year people throughout the country gather together on this day and braai to celebrate their heritage.

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