While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.
A few things are sacred to a South African, and a braai is definitely near the top of that list. A braai (rhymes with fry) is the Saffas version of a barbecue – essentially cooking meat over an open flame. But to us, it goes way beyond that. Its cultural significance is such that braaing has its own day – National Braai Day.
September 24 was designated National Braai Day in 2005. It falls on the same day as Heritage Day – a public holiday that serves to promote “creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live,” or in other words, all the things that make South Africa the exceptional place it is.
South Africans are encouraged to spend the day with friends, cooking out. At a braai (Afrikaans for barbecue), the meat is the main focus. South Africans love meat, and cooking over an open flame highlights the local beef, pork, chicken and lamb you’ll likely find sizzling away at a braai. Boerewors, a braai staple, is a pork and beef sausage flavored with coriander and garlic. Sosaties, which are marinated (mostly) chicken kebabs, are popular, as are steaks and lamb chops.
Braais take longer than the average American cookout because we don’t typically cook on gas. Charcoal, briquettes or wood are traditionally used. Bring and braais are very popular – with each person attending providing their own meat.
Men typically tend to the braai (the word references the grill and the technique), with women handling the sides, which are mostly salads and maybe some sort of potato dish. While the concept may sound a little sexist, it works, and more and more women braai now too.
Because the temperature of the braai can’t be regulated the same way a gas grill can be, braaing can be a bit trickier. There’s definitely an added element of planning involved, and most people take their technique seriously.
My dad taught me how to braai as a little girl. One of my earliest memories is of him teaching me how to properly cook meat and drink a beer. Now, whenever I go home, it’s my favorite thing to do.
You don’t need to be South African to celebrate braai day, after all, it’s the concept that’s being celebrated. Gather some friends (maybe include someone you’ve been meaning to get to know), grab some meat and a few cold beers, and light the grill.
Fall might already be here, but take the time to bid farewell to the summer with a cookout. For added authenticity, you could try finding some boerewors or cooking up some kebabs and lamb chops. South Africans have settled all across America, and boerie (as we call it) is getting easier and easier to find. All that matters is that you spend some quality time cooking with friends, and enjoy the moment.