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Braai and South Africans!!

Braai, National Braai Day

This is a guest post from my blogger friend Lara. I have not met her but we connected through twitter while I was in South Africa. She lives in Johannesburg and runs a blog called Jozi Food Whore.  While I was in Johannesburg, I had learnt about Afrikaans favorite word ‘braai’ (“to grill”). Since National Braai Day is on 24th September, here is an article around the celebrated sport where South Africans will unite over coal and fire. Join her for all the Braai fun story. 

Braai and South Africans!!

I think it’s safe to say that South Africans are a little obsessed with braaiing (BBQ). Just a little. Or a lot. Depends who you speak to. We personally braai every week at home, at least once a week, for example. Whether it’s just the two of us or a group of friends, there is nothing cozier and more convivial than sitting around a fire roasting our favorite meat (or veg).

BraaiThe word refers to not only the object you are creating your fire in to cook the food, but also the action of cooking the food on that fire, as well as the event you are attending. You can speak of the braai (object), as in “The braai is still dirty from last time, we need to scrub the grill”. You can mention the braai (event), as in “Just grab the chips. We are already late for the braai”. Or you can discuss the actions of how best to braai, as in “Listen, bud, let me braai cause you’re killing that beautiful steak.”

National Braai Day in South Africa
A combination of mostly wood and a few briquettes make for the perfect, longest-lasting fire.

To give you an idea just how big the braai is in South Africa, let’s talk about one of our public holidays, coming up now in September. We have a public holiday called National Heritage Day. This is a day on which people celebrate their heritage. If you know anything about South Africa, you’ll know that it is made up of a great many cultures, hence the nickname “The Rainbow Nation”. National Heritage Day was rebranded as National Braai Day a few years ago and has become extremely popular as a result. This is because, no matter your creed, background or colour, as a Saffa (South African), you’re almost certainly a fan of the braai.

A braai brings people together like few other things do. Maybe a close contender would be sport.

Unite Around A Fire
National Braai Day, an annual public holiday celebrating our various cultural heritages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are at least a handful of people who want nothing to do with braaiing. It’s inevitable. But rare, in my experience. Braaiing is mostly about the love of flame-grilled meat. Anything you can think of. Lamb chops are a firm favourite but chicken fairs well, especially when marinated in a bit of spice or sauce. Steaks are often found over the coals, especially big, thick cuts. Often, people will braai what is called a Texan steak, which can be the size of the entire grill. Fish and seafood of all kinds can also be cooked over a fire, with great results.

A Portuguese braai of Espetada
A Portuguese braai of Espetada which uses bay tree leaves and wood in the fire to add even more flavour to the meat.

Braaiing is not only for the meat-lovers. There are many great vegetarian braaiing options from stuffed black mushrooms to corn on the cob to coal “baked” potatoes, or skewered vegetables. There is always a dispute amongst people about the best material to use for the fire, whether charcoal, briquettes or wood. Wood is definitely the most popular and considered the best way to braai due to the taste nuances added to meat from the wood smoke.

Braaiing is also very much a traditional way of hosting guests or welcoming new visitors to our shores. Any tourist who is invited to a Saffa’s home will almost certainly find themselves cozying around a warm fire, chatting the night away with a drink in their hands, while someone tends to the cooking.

Tall, Dark & Handsome, my partner-in-crime, loves a lamb braai. It’s his personal favourite. And he enjoys creating some more adventurous braai options like skewered chicken hearts! When either one of us says “Shall we braai today?” the other is always happy to say “Yes!”.

Lamb chops on the Braai
Lamb chops on the Braai

But lo, this much-loved pastime holds some very serious risks. Braais can start anytime but the eating usually happens much much later than the indicated start time. Lunch time braai? You’re likely eating at 5pm. Dinner braai? Think 9pm. This is because, though the braai masters have the best of intentions each and every time, they will inevitably get caught up in the “kuier” (pronounced like layer, with a k). The word “kuier” refers to the time spent with friends/guests, chatting and getting sidetracked and forgetting to start the fire.

 [Disclaimer: Kuiers can happen without a braai, at any event where people are getting together and chatting happily and enjoying their time with others.]

Sometimes someone will take a gap in the chatter to make a polite suggestion but this is usually frowned upon. It is up to the host’s better half or closest friend to nudge them in the right direction. Therefore, the snacks are of the utmost importance! Because otherwise you’ll starve. Seriously. Be prepared. Always come with snacks whether chips or nuts or veg crudités or biltong (dried meat). Whatever floats your boat. These snacks, and your drink in hand, will make the time float away in a happy daze of “kuier” without you noticing…much! 😀

Recent times, all over the world, the live fire way of cooking has taken off as a new trend in restaurants. Jo’burg boasts some fantastic live fire restaurants like Che Argentine and Marble.

Braais have gotten a bit of a fancy makeover in recent times but classic sides include some salad and/or potato salad, garlic bread (roasted on the fire in foil or in the oven if your braai is too full/busy), roasted corn on the cob, braai broodjies (a closed sandwich with tomato, onion and sometimes cheese that is roasted over the fire), and so on. The list is quite long.

However you like to do it, you can’t go wrong with this way of dining, cooking or entertaining friends. National Braai Day (aka National Heritage Day) takes place on 24 September in South Africa. Why don’t you join us, wherever in the world you might be, in lighting a fire then, and cooking some much loved food on it, while raising a toast with us to this much loved pastime.

Find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @JoziFoodWhore. Tweet or tag me any time you braai/bbq with the hashtag #BraaiAndChill!


[[All images are my own, except for the National Braai Day logo]]

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