Braai for the Brave

Wherever I am in the world, I can be sure of finding a good barbeque, but in South Africa these barbeques or “Braai” are something of a social event that all members of the community look forward to!

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The word braaivleis is Afrikaans for grilled meat. The word “braai” is Afrikaans for barbecue or grill and is a social custom to attend in South Africa, and other southern parts of the continent. The word “vleis” is Afrikaans for meat. The traditions around a braai can actually be considerably different from a barbecue, even if the method of food preparation is very similar.

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While wood was formerly the most widely used braai fuel, in modern times the use of charcoal and gas have increased due to their convenience. Braais are casual and relaxed social events where families and friends converge on a picnic spot with their own meat and side dish in hand. Meats are the mainstay of the South African braai, and these can typically include Boerewors (rolled up sausages), sosaties (kebab skewers), marinated chicken, as well as pork or lamb chops.

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Walking though the streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town during my time in South Africa gave me the chance to see the regular people enjoy their braai. I noticed plenty of condiments, such as monkeygland sauce, and the spicy Chakalaka, both of which South Africans eat with alarming regularity! Sometimes, as a foreigner, it was a little awkward to try and join in to these parties without feeling like a rogue, especially with the crime that is prevalent in these big South African cities. Still, the smell of grilled meats is enough to pull me in anyhow!

Ostrich Braaivleis, ready to serve!
Ostrich Braaivleis, ready to serve!
Braai gatherings can mean big business in Cape Town
Braai gatherings can mean big business in Cape Town

A braai is a social occasion that has specific traditions and social norms. In black and white South African culture, women rarely cook meat at a social gathering, as this is normally the preserve of men. The men gather round the braaistand (the grill) outdoors and cook the meat, while women prepare the pap, salads, desserts, and vegetables in the kitchen. The meal is subsequently eaten outside by the braai stand, since these gatherings are normally hosted during the long summer months. The cooking of the meat is not the prerogative of all the men attending, as one person is normally in charge. He will attend to the fire, check that the coals are ready, and cook the meat. Etiquette holds that others are not permitted to interfere with the braai operator’s duties, except if expressly asked to help.

With these customs, and mixed in with the unique culture in South Africa, it gave me a great ‘taste’ of street food in the country – and it wouldn’t be the last time I enjoyed some!

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