SA101: Heritage Day

Today South Africans get the day off to celebrate Heritage Day. But what exactly are we celebrating?

When I first got here, I asked people that question on nearly every public holiday. The meaning behind Heritage Day elicited more blank stares than most, so I looked it up. Turns out it’s not just a long weekend to celebrate the coming Summer weather, and there’s a good reason people aren’t sure why they get the 24th of September off – it’s a relatively new holiday. According to good ‘ole Wiki, Heritage Day celebrates “…the diverse cultural heritage that makes up a “rainbow nation“. It is the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa.” It was added to SA’s list of public holidays only in 1995.

In 2005 there was a movement to change the name of the holiday to National Braai Day, and although it didn’t officially take hold it is still they name by which what many people know this long weekend. Rather than celebrating all the different cultures that make up the country, Braai4Heritage proposes that South Africans celebrate a tradition that brings South Africans from all walks of life together – braai-ing meat (and maybe other things) over an open flame. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the official patron of the day: he talks below about why he thinks Braai day a positive, “unifying” holiday (and apparently can cook up a mean chop himself.)

On a lighter note, I’ve also dug up some important braai etiquette that you should know, just in case you find yourself in the vicinity of a Weber today.

Happy braai-ing!
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SA 101: Braai

DEFINITION:

braai [braɪ]
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

USAGE:

“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.

NOTES:

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.

SA 101

As anyone who has ever moved to another place knows, a large part of your initial ‘settling in’ is made up of identifying everything that makes this place different from what you know. Despite many similarities to what I’ve grown up with and experienced in other places, particularly the UK, I’ve had to get used to all sorts of ‘new’ things – strange words and phrases, foods, customs, obsessions, odd habits. Even after living here nearly two years (!) I pick up something new every day, it seems.  As I am inclined to do, I’ve been keeping lists of some of the odds and ends I’ve picked up. Many of them have become part of my everyday life and lingo, so much so that I sometimes forget how odd they seemed when I first arrived. I thought it might be fun to post some of my observations here, in part to give those who haven’t had the opportunity to travel to this beautiful country a little taste of its uniqueness (and equally to explain a little to friends and family in the US since I always get grief when I come home to Mpls for sounding ‘funny’). So, for those of you who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of having a ‘lekker’ ‘braii’ while overlooking ‘the mountain’, sipping some Black Label with your ‘chinas’…ok, enough. If you’re not sure what I’m on about, stay tuned for future SA101 posts…

Some disclaimers:
For you SAfricans reading, feel free to correct me if I get things totally wrong. (If I do, I fully blame it on my cultural translator, Nick. He has been away from SA for awhile, after all…). I also fully admit that my knowledge of South Africa, particularly the language and culture, is heavily influenced by the fact that my family and many friends here are English (speaking) South Africans. I’m sure there are MANY other South Africanisms I am missing out on – I hope my horizons will continue to widen the longer I’m here.