A typical braai on a small braai stand
The word braai (plural braais) is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill” and is a social custom in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The term originated with the Afrikaans-speaking people, but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. The word vleis is Afrikaans for “meat”.
The word has been adopted by English-speaking South Africans and can be regarded as another word for barbecue, in that it serves as a verb when describing how food is cooked and a noun when describing the cooking equipment, such as a grill.The traditions around a braai can be considerably different from a barbecue, however, even if the method of food preparation is very similar.
While wood formerly was the most widely-used braai fuel, in modern times the use of charcoal and briquettes have increased due to their convenience, as with barbecues elsewhere in the world. There has however been a renewed interest in the use of wood after the South African government started with its invasive plant species removal programme. An important distinction between a braai and a barbecue used to be that it was fairly uncommon for a braai to use gas rather than an open flame. However, over the last few years, mainly for the sake of the convenience it offers, many households own a gas braai together with a wood or charcoal braai. Of course open flames remain the favourite for braais away from home.
Boerewors and pork in a concrete braai structure.
Similar to a potluck party, this is a social event which is casual and laid-back, where family and friends converge on a picnic spot or someone’s home (normally the garden or verandah) with their own meat, salad, or side dish in hand. Meats are the star of the South African braai. They typically include boerewors, sosaties, kebabs, marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks, sausages of different flavors and thickness, and possibly even a rack or two of spareribs. Fish and Rock Lobstercommonly called “crayfish” or kreef in Afrikaans, are also popular in coastal areas.
The other main part of the meal in some regions of the country is pap (/ˈpɑːp/, meaning porridge), actually a thickened porridge, or the krummelpap (“crumb porridge”), traditionally eaten with the meat. Made from finely ground corn/maize (similar topolenta), it is a staple of local African communities and may be eaten with a tomato and onion sauce, monkeygland sauce or the more spicy chakalaka at a braai.
Sometimes this activity is also known as a “dop en tjop” (dop being Afrikaans slang for an alcoholic drink, literally meaning “cap” or “bottle top”, and “tjop” being the informal Afrikaans term for lambchop) when more alcohol than the odd beer is involved.
A braai is a social occasion that has specific traditions and social norms. In black and white South African culture, women rarely braai (cook) meat at a social gathering, as this is normally the preserve of men. The men gather round the braai orbraaistand (the grill) outdoors and cook the food, while women prepare the pap, salads, desserts, and vegetables for the meal in the kitchen. The meal is subsequently eaten outside by the fire/braai, since the activity is normally engaged in during the long summer months. The braaing (cooking) of the meat is not the prerogative of all the men attending, as one person would normally be in charge. He will attend to the fire, check that the coals are ready, and braai (cook) the meat. Etiquette has it that you don’t interfere with the braaier’s duties, except if expressly asked to help. Other men may assist, but generally only partake in fireside conversation while having a drink in hand. This is very similar to how Australian, New Zealand, and American backyard barbecues are often run.
General Motors South Africa used the term in the 1970s in its localized jingle “Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies, and Chevrolet” to advertise their cars in South Africa —equivalent to the slogan “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet” in the US and, to a lesser extent, “football, meat pies, kangaroos & Holden Cars” used in Australia.
Announcer: “Hey, South Africa, what’s your favourite food?”
Announcer: “All together?”
Crowd (singing): Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet! Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet! They go together, in the good old RSA. Braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and Chevrolet!
Braai Day is a celebration of South Africa’s rich cultural heritage and its unique national pastime, the braai. It aims to unite all South Africans by encouraging them to partake in a fun and tangible activity shared by all demographic groups, religious denominations and body types.
Braai Day is celebrated annually by South Africans across the world on 24 September (South Africa’s Heritage Day). The event was initiated by the Mzansi Braai Institute in South Africa in 2005 and since 2008 has been promoted under the Braai4Heritage banner, a non-profit initiative. On 5 September 2007, Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu was appointed as patron of National Braai Day (Now Braai4Heritage). The initiative received the endorsement of South Africa’s National Heritage Council (NHC) in 2008.
The 2008 campaign poster shows a perfectly cooked T-bone steak in the shape of the African continent. At the tip of the “continent” where South Africa is situated the catch phrase “Do it for your country” is written.
In 2009, the initiative launched an official song, “Our Heritage”, recorded by the multiple Grammy Award winners The Soweto Gospel Choir, the 2008 South African Music Awards male solo artist of the year HHP (Hip Hop Pantsula), JR and Die Heuwels Fantasties. The song was launched exactly a month ahead of Braai Day.