In the simplest sense of the word, braai is a synonym for barbecue. But any South African will tell you that this widely observed custom is so much more than that. A braai (pronounced like “fry”) is a social event that brings friends and families together to enjoy food cooked over an outdoor fire. The typical vibe is casual and celebratory at once, and nearly any occasion can be used as a reason to throw a braai.
Like the English word barbecue, the Afrikaans equivalent can be used as both a verb and a noun. The word is recognized in all 11 of South Africa’s official languages, and the tradition itself is enjoyed across social classes, races, and cultures within the country. There is even an official Braai Day observed on September 24, the country’s Heritage Day.
The menu at a braai centers around meat; it’s not unusual for there to be several different meat courses featured in a single evening. A popular choice is boerewors, or farmer sausage, which is stuffed with local beef and sometimes also contains pork or lamb. Other local favorites likely to make an appearance are sosaties, kebabs that are a hallmark of Cape Malay cuisine; braaibroodjie, a unique take on the grilled cheese sandwich; and mielies, or corn, served in salads or right on the cob.
If you’re going to braai the South African way, make sure to leave your gas grill behind. Wood is the traditional cooking fuel of choice, although charcoal is an acceptable alternative. Look for natural lump charcoal rather than briquets for a more authentic flavor.
To experience the unique atmosphere of a South African braai for yourself, join us on VBT’s Cycling South Africa: Cape Town & the Garden Route. If a trip to Cape Town isn’t in your immediate future, you can invite some friends over and break out the grill to try your hand at some of these traditional recipes: