The South African Braai: some FAQs

A question I am often asked by my visiting tourists is – “what is a traditional South African meal?”
There are several possible answers to this question, but mine is usually an emphatic “braai!” Also known as a “barbeque done properly”.

“Where can we experience one?” is usually the next question.
Well the best place to enjoy a “braaivleis” is at the home of a South African family, so work on getting an invitation to one of these outdoor meals (lunch or dinner). We are a pretty friendly lot, and love showing off our cooking skills over an open fire, so you probably won’t have to hint for long. Often, on a weekend when the weather is great (like it is today), we’ll enjoy a simple impromptu braai on our front stoep (veranda) at home. We have a purpose built fireplace on which to braai, but a fire can be made almost anywhere – straight on the ground with a few stones or in a purpose made metal triangle to rest the grid on, in a wheelbarrow for the ease and convenience of clearing up the coals and ash afterwards or in any container (like half a 44 gallon drum) – the possibilities are endless. Nowadays you can buy these fancy gas braais (American style) but this doesn’t really count in my opinion, most of us prefer to make a fire of glowing coals to cook over (it tastes better too!)

“What do you cook on the fire?” normally follows like night following day.
Short answer – “MEAT!!” Anything goes really – lamb chops, rump steak, marinated pork ribs or chops – and of course no braai is complete without our beloved boerewors. Every butcher has his own special recipe; herbs and spices in a combination which he believes is the best in the land – but don’t worry too much about which to buy, they are all delicious. If you find yourself on the West coast where I live then a snoek (fish) braai is the order of the day during season. The fish is cooked skin-side down, and basted with apricot jam………delicious!

“What else do you eat at the braai?”
There are plenty of different possibilities here too. Fresh salad, corn on the cob (also cooked on the fire), freshly baked bread rolls, baked beans, baked potatoes, even asparagus. One option that is pretty much non-negotiable is the traditional “pap en sous” – maize meal cooked to a thick paste and served with a generous dollop of tomato and onion sauce.

And last but not least – “what does one drink at a braai?”
Again, this question has a short answer – “lots”. Men generally stick with beer (handy for dousing any errant flames) and good for the thirsty work of cooking, although some prefer a brandy-and-coke. Ladies opt for wine although cold drinks (sodas) of any description are also quite acceptable. A good coffee, plus a liqueur if you fancy, follows to round off the meal.

You may find that after all this food your eyelids grow heavy – the best way to end a great braai is with an afternoon kip (nap) – well it’s hard work all that cooking. The Afrikaans really say it best – “maagies vol, oogies toe” (tummies full, eyes closed). Too true!

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