Braai Culture In South Africa

28 March, 2024

South Africa is a country with a rich history, which makes its culinary scene very vibrant and diverse. There are lots of customs and traditions when it comes to food, but perhaps no culinary tradition is as deeply ingrained in the nation’s identity as the braai culture. Braai, which is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill”, is more than just a method of cooking meat over an open flame — it’s a social ritual, a way of life and a celebration of community, family and friendship.

History of Braai

The practice of cooking meat over an open flame has ancient roots in South Africa. Indigenous peoples like the Khoikhoi and San communities have been using open fires for centuries to cook their food. With the arrival of European settlers (particularly the Dutch) in the 17th century, the practice of braaiing or grilling meat over an open flame became further entrenched in South African culture. The word “braai” is derived from the Afrikaans language, where it simply means “barbecue” or “grill.” Over time, it evolved into a cherished national pastime, with its own customs, rituals, and etiquette.

Braai Etiquette

Braai Culture In South Africa

Participating in a braai comes with its own set of unwritten rules and customs. There are 2 ways of hosting a braai: one is where the host is responsible for providing the meat and beverages, while guests may offer to bring side dishes, snacks or desserts. Guests may offer to help with the cooking or cleanup, although the ultimate responsibility usually falls to the braai master — the person in charge of making the fire and grilling the meat to perfection. The other way is called “Bring and Braai”, where guests bring their own meat or whatever they want to grill, along with any side dishes or drinks they wish to enjoy. The host provides the venue and fire. The bring and braai tradition reflects the communal spirit of South African culture, where friends and family come together to share food, stories, and laughter around the grill.

What can you braai

Braai Culture In South Africa

When it comes to braaiing in South Africa, the options for ingredients are as diverse as the nation itself. While meat takes center stage at most braais, there’s also plenty of room for vegetables, seafood, and even desserts to make an appearance on the grill. The most popular meats to braai are beef (steaks, kebabs, ribs), lamb (chops, legs of lamb, lamb skewers), pork (ribs, chops, pork belly slices), chicken (wings and drumsticks, kebabs, spatchcocked chicken) as well as various sausages (boerewors-beef sausage, pork bangers etc.). They are usually accompanied by such vegetables as mushrooms, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, onions and tomatoes. Seafood, firm fish, garlic bread, cheese sandwiches and even some desserts are other popular things that get grilled in South Africa.

Curious facts about braaing

  • In South Africa, National Heritage Day, celebrated on September 24th, is also known as Braai Day. It’s a day when South Africans from all walks of life come together to celebrate their diverse cultural heritage by gathering around the fire and sharing a meal.
  • South Africa’s braai culture is a melting pot of different culinary traditions and influences. From indigenous cooking methods to European grilling techniques to spicy Malay flavours, the braai reflects the country’s diverse cultural heritage.
  • Braaing is synonymous with South Africa’s outdoor lifestyle. Whether it’s in the backyard, at the beach, or in a national park, South Africans love to braai outdoors and take advantage of the country’s natural beauty.
  • Braaing is a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation in South African families. Many South Africans have fond memories of learning how to braai from their parents or grandparents and take pride in carrying on the tradition with their own families.

Braaiing is about more than just food – it’s a cultural institution that celebrates the spirit of tradition and good food in South Africa. Whether it’s a casual gathering with friends on a weekend afternoon or a festive celebration on a public holiday, the braai is a time-honoured tradition that fosters a sense of community and belonging.