May the Wors be with you

With twelve public holidays annually, South Africa has one of the highest holiday counts in the world.  Besides a number of cultural and religious public holidays there are also some non-official days of celebration, which are strategically important for the psyche of the nation.

Couta (fish) sosaties being grilled on the fire ©Theo van Zyl

Couta (fish) sosaties being grilled on the fire ©Theo van Zyl

Today is Braai Day.  That is braai as in barbecue, a time-honoured activity dedicated to preparing meat and accompanying dishes on an open fire.  Braai is pronounced with a strong rolling R and your mouth ends naturally in a wide smile when you say the word.  It is also spelled the same in all eleven official languages in South Africa and universally practised by all.

Officially it is actually Heritage Day in South Africa today.  According to the god of Wiki, Heritage Day is a South African public holiday celebrated on 24 September. On this day, South Africans across the spectrum are encouraged to celebrate their culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions, in the wider context of a nation that belongs to all its people.  Paradoxically the day celebrates diversity and different heritages.  I much prefer Braai Day that focuses on a unifying celebration.  Well that, and the fact that you are sanctioned to eat large quantities of red meat washed down with a good beer, or Klippies (Klipdrift brandy) and coke as most people would be doing it.

South Africans have a brilliant sense of humour as the response to the recent Rugby World Cup loss to Japan proves, spilling over into a day of national mourning and mudslinging.  In any national tragedy, even serious ones, it take about 10 second before the jokes starts pouring in and the social platforms start buzzing.  So Braai Day started as a tongue in cheek approach to Heritage Day.

To braai in its basic form is preparing meat over the coals of a burnt out wood fire, but some South Africans have elevated braaing to a culinary art form – even while on safari or in a remote fishing spot. For a more detailed description and photos of the latter see the post Top Chef Mozambique 2011.

Chicken on the braai on a dhow off the Mozambique coast. ©Theo van Zyl

Chicken on the braai on a dhow off the Mozambique coast. ©Theo van Zyl

Accompanying dishes on a table set up on the beach. ©Theo van Zyl

Accompanying dishes on a table set up on the beach. ©Theo van Zyl


Fires are made from a variety of wood, charcoal or, heaven forbid gas.  Personally I prefer a mix of indigenous Iron- and Candle-wood, the benefits of being a forester and having access to the occasional windfall.  Also worthwhile are the Australian exotics that grow well in large parts of South Africa. Fires are quite often started with fire starters like Blitz, while the purist like myself prefer kindling and newspaper.

For meat the traditional boerewors (farmers sausage – primary beef with fat, but game sausage are also popular.  With that any meat is fine – lamb, steak, ribs, chicken and fish are all popular choices. Whole vegetables – potatoes, corn, butternut etc – are wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the fire. Even bread is baked on the fire.

Braais are social events, so invite your friends, family and neighbours around to celebrate Heritage Day. But if you are the guest at a braai remember the unwritten law of braaing: do not comment on how the host is making the fire or cooking the food. The Art of Braaing is a serious and competitive business!


Even the coffee at the end of the meal can be made on the fire. ©WMB/


Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Food/Cooking, Guest Bloggers, Lifestyle/Travel, Random


I am a forestry scientist living and working in the Southern Cape, South Africa.


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  1. Gondwana Canyon Village | Notes from Africa - October 26, 2016

    […] with us. We could also eat when and what we liked – including having a braai or barbecue (a national pastime in South Africa!). The Namibian model of tourist accommodation includes breakfasts and dinner in […]

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