On my travels I often get asked the most interesting questions. Everyone wants to know about Africa. About our wildlife…about our braais. I’ve tried explaining to them that braai is more than a way to cook our food, but also a lifestyle. I had more than one eyebrow raised as I spread the meat over the fire…until dinner was served of course, where comments soon turned into compliments…

The word braaivleis is Afrikaans for “grilled meat.”

The word braai is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill” and is a social custom in Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Zambia. The term originated with the Afrikaner people, but has since been adopted by South Africans of many ethnic backgrounds. The word vleis is Afrikaans for “meat”.

The word has been adopted by English-speaking South Africans and can be regarded as another word for barbecue, in that it serves as a verb when describing how food is cooked and a noun when describing the cooking equipment, such as a grill. The traditions around a braai can be considerably different from a barbecue, however, even if the method of food preparation is very similar.

While wood formerly was the most widely-used braai fuel, in modern times the use of charcoal and briquettes have increased due to their convenience, as with barbecues elsewhere in the world. There has however been a renewed interest in the use of wood after the South African government started with its invasive plant species removal program.

An important distinction between a braai and a barbecue used to be that it was fairly uncommon for a braai to use gas rather than an open flame. However, over the last few years, mainly for the sake of the convenience it offers, many household own a gas braai together with a wood or charcoal braai. Of course open flames remain the favourite for braais away from home.

Credit: George Herald

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