Defining Braai – More than a word

Some Grill, Some Barbecue, but South Africans – We Braai


South Africa enjoys a rich and diverse history, culture and heritage. Africa is known as the origin of mankind (Homo Sapiens). Homo Erectus, one of our predecessors, was a species that out-evolved its competitors for its ability to learn and invent. One of the most fundamental of these inventions, was the “invention” of controlling fire. Apart from its many uses, fire allowed them to cook food, which made it more hygienic and digestible. Another major benefit of fire, was that it created warmth, comfort and fellowship. Picture, in your mind, 400 000 years ago, a family of our early ancestors sitting around a glowing fire under the majestic African sky, cooking the days catch. Braaiing, actually.

Some time later, around 1497, Vasco da Gama and crew are alleged to have landed on the beach of Mossel Bay. Following 4 months at sea, and a minor disagreement with the local inhabitants, the Khoisan, over fresh water, one of their first actions surely had to be to perform a churrasco – a braai garnished with lavish chunks of freshly hunted local meat, soaked in red wine, skewered onto bay tree branches and cooked over the fire (known as Espetada). No doubt, Bartholomew Diaz would’ve done the same thing when he landed on the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.

It would be fair to say that these fine Portuguese fellows were more concerned with adventure and exploration than their later visitor, Jan van Riebeeck, who after landing in the Cape in 1652 decided to settle. Without a doubt, there was braden held frequently, which is where the word Braai came from.


If  dictionaries were to be relied upon for a definition, the meaning and essence of the of the word would be completely lost. The Mirriam-Webster offers no definition, whereas the Oxford attempts the following:

South African
noun (plural braais)
• short for braaivleis.
• a structure on which a fire can be made for the outdoor grilling of meat.
verb (braais, braaiing or braaing, braaied)
[with object]
• grill (meat) over an open fire.

Now, taking into account the background given in the previous section, a better definition is possibly “an historically evolved social activity the involves cooking on an open fire, in the company of friends or family, accompanied by games, sport, booze and the occasional name-throwing and / or injury either to the body or the ego”. The latter usually determined by the amount of Brannas, or Klippies and Coke consumed by certain participants.

Like drinking, you have a serious problem if you’re braaiing alone… #justsaying.



Braaiing has evolved from an enjoyable activity into many things in South Africa. It has a day dedicated to its celebration, I.e. Heritage Day / Braai Day*, endorsed by Desmond Tutu. It’s spawned a genre of reality tv shows such as the Ultimate Braai Master, Jan Braai vir Erfenis, and Toks en Tjops to name a few.

Braai has created celebrities out of everyday South Africans such as Jan Scannell (Jan Braai), Justin Bonello and Gareth Daniels (Braai Boy). It’s given rise to a plethora of recipe books dedicated to the subject. It’s birthed restaurants and fast food joints such as the recently established Chesanyama.

Braaiing has become a hotly contested Guiness World Record title, with braaiers competing for titles such as longest braai, most people simultaneously braaiing, braaiing underwater etc.

Braai is encouraging entrepreneurship, creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

Braai is uniting South Africans of all colors, creeds, backgrounds and religious convictions. Around the braai, we are all equals, and the struggle and strain of daily life seems to melt away like fat into the fire. (Some will argue and say that indeed the Braaimaster or Tongmaster is not an equal, but a supreme being).

Most of all, braai is just lekker, and makes being a South African just that bit more awesome.

*The issue of Heritage Day being dubbed Braai Day is gaining some critical attention. Jenny Crwys-Williams amongst other radio broadcasters dedicated some serious air time to it this year, arguing that the intention or meaning behind Heritage Day is somehow being diluted…



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