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  1. #1
    Gold Member Phil Cooper's Avatar
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    Written by a Yank now in SA. Says it all...



    "Trust me. I was skeptical too. When my then boyfriend, now husband tried to explain the beauty of a South African Braai, Iíll be honest, I didnít really get it. It sounded like a basic barbecue. A gathering of friends and family eating food from the grill. ďOur barbecues are great,Ē I argued. ďMy dad makes a mean burger.Ē But whenever we cooked out on the grill, my husbandís face said it all Ė he longed for his beloved braai.

    Just a little bit of background for those who have never heard of a braai. The word braai comes from the word braaivleis, which is Afrikaans for roasted meat. Braai means ďbarbecueĒ and vleis means ďmeat.Ē The word is pronounced ďbryĒ and although it originated with the Afrikaans, the word and social custom has been adopted by many ethnic cultures within Southern Africa.

    When I first visited South Africa in 2010, the night I arrived I was treated to the first of what would be many braais. I can honestly say I will never see a barbecue the same again. The food, the drinks, it was so much similar, so simple, but somehow so much better than our typical American cook-out. Iíll try to explain in ways my husband couldnít, the top five reasons a South African braai takes the gold over an American barbecue.

    1. A braai is acceptable for ANY occasion
    Thatís right. Birthday braai, christmas braai, going away braai, welcome home braai, a Wednesday night just to get a few friends together braai, a graduation braai, housewarming braai, these are all perfectly acceptable times to have a braai.

    A braai, unlike a barbecue, is not only reserved for a Summer Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day, itís an any and every day celebration of life. While Americans bring out the sandwich platters, fingers snacks, and hot dogs, South Africans light up the braai.

    2. Itís a process

    A braai revolves around the fire, and the food. The food is cooked on (as the name of the gathering would suggest) a braai, which is basically a grill. A major difference between the two types of cooking is that South Africans traditionally use wood or briquettes (charcoal) when they braai. This means it takes significantly longer to get a fire going and cook the food, but thatís the point. A braai is all about the experience, the company and the quality of the food. Itís something to be savored, and in this time of convenience and hurriedness, I think thatís something we can all appreciate.

    3. The food and ďdopĒ
    Ah, the food. You will not find plain jane hot dogs here. No way. South Africans love flavor, and food served at a braai doesnít disappoint. We are talking boerewors, a spicy sausage, full of a beef and pork mix, and sometimes lamb, spiced with cloves, coriander seed, pepper, nutmeg and allspice. It never contains mechanically separated of processed meat and no more than 10% fat. Sayonara hotdogs. Also served can be any combination of steaks, rack of lamb, chicken, pork rashers, sosaties (kebabs), all types of seafood, and in my case, Iíve been known to throw on veggie burger or two. So. many. options!
    Side dishes are similar to the all american barbecue, and guests will often bring a dish. Examples are green salad, garlic bread, or my new current obsession, braai rolls, potato salad or potato bake. Iíve also hear of pap being served, but Iíve never had it. As for desserts, you can find cheesecake, and traditional South African desserts like milk tart, malva pudding, koeksisters, peppermint crisp, etc. Mouth watering yet?
    And a braai wouldnít be a braai without the dop. Dop is the Afrikaans word for ďdrinkĒ and trust me this is something you will never have a shortage of at a braai. Whether itís beer, wine, cider, or a cocktail, if itís cold, itís consumed.

    4. It brings people together

    A braai is the perfect excuse to get friends and family, young and old together. You could even say it brings the country together. Heritage Day, September 24, is a public holiday that has been coined ďBraai Day.Ē No matter the language spoken or skin color, love of meat cooked over a wood fire is something that all South Africans share. And itís something that they are all proud to have in their heritage.
    I can safely say itís no coincidence that since Iíve been living in South Africa, Iíve found that all of the friendships Iíve made have been at braais. Something about the relaxed atmosphere (and maybe the drinks) just makes me feel chatty. Speaking of the atmosphereÖ

    5. The atmosphere
    In our Florida apartment, my husband almost got arrested for trying to braai on a weber grill on our second floor balcony. Apparently there is a fire code in Florida that states you canít grill less then 30 feet from your house. Lame, right?

    Most homes in South Africa have a braai installed in their backyard or on their veranda, often times they will be in a lapa, a traditional style South African hut that keeps anything beneath it remarkably cool (I have no doubt a grill in a lapa would be illegal in the states). At our flat now, we have a built-in braai right on our patio! Also, wherever you go, there is usually a braai setup. At the guest house we stayed at in Kruger, they had a whole enclosed entertainment area for the braai, as well as an outdoor pool and sitting area.

    Americans may know how to do some things, but I can tell you without a doubt that the South Africans have nailed the braai, and it is something I am lucky to be able to experience on a weekly basis. When you are sitting outside, enjoying the beautiful South African climate, a cold dop in hand, warm glow of the fire nearby and good company surrounding you, itís impossible not to get the feeling that this is how life is meant to be lived."

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  3. #2
    Diamond Member Blurock's Avatar
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    Well spoken Yankee!

    1.A braai is for any occasion. I have had many a braai in pouring rain, just because of the friends who expected a braai. When you invite people to a braai, there is no compromise and you do not cook the meat in the oven or on the stove. The type of wood you use can influence the taste of the meat. You may also do a "potjie" on the side or as a main dish. This is a three-legged pot in which you cook your meat (venison, ox-tail, or any good meat on the bone) and add rice, potatoes, onions, mushrooms and/or other veggies. For a potjie you can use charcoal, as the wood flavour does not matter.

    2. It's a process that requires a lot of preparation. You have to decide on which friends to invite. If the budget allows, invite them all. If not, invite them all and call it a "bring-and-braai" where everyone brings their own meat and dop and the hosts provide the salads and dessert. A braai is usually seen as a man's job and to give the womenfolk the day off.
    The wife needs to go shopping for all the ingredients and will have to marinate the meat or make the sosaties, a traditional South African kebab recipe passed on by the Malay slaves in the Cape.
    Wifey will do all the preparations and on the big day remind you that it is now time to start the fire. When the coals are ready, she will tell you to put the meat on the braai. Every once in a while she will pop round to remind you to turn the meat, put salt or douse the flames. That is because you are so occupied in being a good host and keeping the guests entertained and glasses filled. After the braai there is the cleaning up to do. The wife does the dishes (only if there is no dishwasher) and the kids have to dry and stack away. leftovers are put in the fridge for chowing the next day or for the dogs. I still do not understand the grunt I get at this stage when I ask my wife if she enjoyed my braai and her break from the usual cooking.

    3. The food is always delicious, unless you are a "Smokey Robinson" and do not know how to start a fire. You can braai anything from lamb chops to prawns, but I do not regard chicken as suitable for a braai as chickens are vegan: made from mealies and water. We braai meat only!

    4. Yes, it does bring people together and it extends across all cultural barriers. Your neighbour will also come knocking as soon as the smoke blows in his direction. (a real fire does not smoke)

    5. The atmosphere. There is nothing like an evening campfire in a wildlife reserve with the sounds of wild animals like the roar of a lion, piercing the silence of the night. Or a group of friends with a guitar and some happy songs...

    Back to our roots.
    Only chickens achieve something while sitting still...

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