V: to grill or roast over an open fire
N: an event where something is cooked (usually meat) over an open fire, or physically what you cook on
“Come on over to my place on Sunday for a bring and braai” – come to my place with something to grill (preferably meat, see below…)
“We got together and braaied last weekend” – could also say we had a braai.
“Apologies, my braai is a bit dirty” – he hasn’t cleaned his grill…and will be judged by his fellow (backseat) braaiers.
The Afrikaans word braai (from braaivleis, or grilled meat) is one of the most commonly used words I’ve come across since I started hanging out with the SA crowd. The word has been verbed and its meaning widened substantially. Braaing is quite literally a national pastime: Heritage Day on Sept 24 has also been dubbed “National Braai Day”, as it seems that throwing some vleis on the braai is a form of entertainment that transcends nearly all ethnicities and social backgrounds. I had my first braai with an odd group of South Africans living in South Sudan – never mind there wasn’t meat to braai, they made a plan and imported some, and with plenty of beer it almost felt like home.
Similarly to the American barbeque, there are a lot of social norms surrounding the braai. Traditionally the braai is the doamin of men. That is to say, the men put the meat on the braai and stand around watching it cook, while the women make the salads and sides. Usually one of the guys is nominated as the braaier (either the person whose house the braai is at or the most experienced braair). While there is a lot of discussion over cooking the meat, it seems the rule is to defer to the designated braaier in decision-making (e.g. when the meat is ready to come off). The designated braaier may hand over the braai tongs to another guy if he needs another drink (heaven forbid no one has brought him one) or has to go to the bathroom, but unauthorized braaiers are not allowed to meddle in the cooking. I can only report on these norms and customs as a third party observer, having never had the opportunity to crack the inner braai circle. Being a woman with fairly progressive male friends I have been allowed to hang around the braai and chat (as long as I have a beer in my hand), but not being much of a cook myself I have not stuck around to press my luck getting involved in the actual cooking ritual. I just chalk it up to a little male bonding.
There’s also the question of what you put on the braai. Boerwors and chops are standard, as are steaks and other red meat. I’ve been looked at like a crazy woman for suggesting we braai hamburgers, though – not done. Chicken is frowned upon (allegedly because of it’s different cooking time requirements) but according to the host of a braai I attended recently, “there’s always one in every group” who insists on bringing it. Chicken kebabs are better than chicken breasts if you have to have poultry. Veggies generally cause all sorts of confusion. Many braai masters don’t have a clue about how to cook them and would rather send them into the kitchen to be cooked with the other sides. However, I know from experience that veggies CAN be braaied successfully, so I continue to push the boundaries here in SA on that one 🙂 Yes, I am that girl who brings the chicken, too.
Honestly, there’s not many better ways to spend a summer Sunday afternoon than braaiing with friends, drinking some beer and enjoying the weather.