As a native living through the currently chilly British summer, I wanted to share some of my favourite South African summer meals. You will always be able to have a braai in almost any picnic spot, back garden and on many beaches. South Africans even celebrate Braai Day on 24 September (South Africa’s Heritage Day), so we take our braai very seriously! Here is the lowdown on what to expect at a barbeque Southern African style.
What is a ‘braai’?
A braai is a barbeque - the name is taken from the Afrikaans word braaivleis which means barbequed meat.
'Blue bull' steak - a huge cut of beef steak
What type of food can I expect?
Beef steak, Karoo lamb chops and chicken or lamb sosaties (skewers) or a half chicken flattie are usually on the menu, but you will often also find boerewors (farmers sausage) and game specialities like ostrich steak, kudu and impala.
Boerewors is a thick beef sausage, flavoured with herbs and spices and grilled in a coil shape on the open fire as seen below.
A fish braai is also popular in the coastal areas of South Africa – you’ll taste snoek, sardines, kreef (crayfish), prawns and almost any fish you can find from the fishmonger or direct from the fishermen at the harbour in the morning.
A good selection of salad will also be available, usually potato salad, three bean, carrot and pineapple, and green salad aplenty. Potatoes and mielies (corn on the cob) or are sometimes wrapped in foil and placed on the glowing coal.
You might also get a more traditional starch side-dish with your steak or boerewors. Maize is the staple meal in Africa, and pap is a slow-cooked, thick and dry maize porridge that is served with a tomato and onion based relish. Try the Johannesburg township version chakalaka – it has a spicy flavour and is sometimes served with amazi (thick sour milk).
You could also try pofadder or skilpadjies (little tortoises). The names might sound as if they are describing something terrible, but it is actually lambs liver and herbs wrapped in fatty caul to make parcels or a sausage (for a pofadder) that go on the open fire. Delicious with pap or garlic bread.
For desert, stick a marshmallow at the end of a long stick and toast it over the open fire until golden brown.
Crayfish at Die Strandloper Restaurant
Are there any vegetarian options?
Yes. Your host will be happy to put some vegetarian sausages or vegetable sosaties on the grill for you, but you might have to bring your own! Also try haloumi cheese on the grill. There will be an excellent selection of salad to choose from.
Wood fire, charcoal or gas?
If you can get hold of it, hardwood makes the best fires for a braai. The wood is normally collected from already dead branches in the bushveld. Elephants usually make sure there is enough in supply! This wood burns for much longer periods of time than normal chopped pine and has a delicious aroma. Alternatively, you can buy charcoal almost anywhere. Gas is mainly used in restaurants.
Should I bring something to a braai?
Your host will tell you in advance. If you are invited to a ‘bring-and-braai’ you should take some meat, a salad to share and some drinks. Beer, wine and spirits with mixers are welcome.
Are there any restaurants that offer a braai?
Die Strandloper in Langebaan, about an hour north of Cape Town, offers a fantastic fresh seafood braai alongside traditional Cape meals like waterblommetjie bredie (a kind of waterlily stew), snoek (a local fish), roosterkoek (grilled bread buns) and a large selection of seafood.
Snoek on the braai at Die Strandloper Restaurant
1800° Grill Room at Cape Royale Hotel in Cape Town offers steaks cooked from both sides and served with flavoured salts from around the world and excellent wine to accompany your meal.
The Vineyard Hotel’s restaurant, The Square, also offers excellent steak and can expertly match your meal to some of the best wines the region has to offer.
Chain steakhouses like Spur offer steaks and surf and turf (meat and fish combinations), but nothing beats the real thing at home with friends.
Is there any other etiquette I should be aware of?
Yes, your host is normally in charge of the braai and the preparations and is the head chef, so don’t interfere with his or her technique! The fire is normally only lit as the guests arrive, as the fire making process is part of the ritual. It would be quite rude to arrive just as the food comes off the grill! Snacks like chips (crisps), biltong (dried meat) and nuts are usually available. Feel free to eat with your fingers, just relax and enjoy!
Marinated lamb sosaties
Do you like the sound of a braai in South Africa? Which of these dishes would you like to taste?