"What is a braai, is it painful?" asked one of my American friends on my facebook wall recently. I had apparently been gushing about all of the braais we had been invited to and which we had gladly attended. I had also always commented on the seriousness of my hang over the day following the event. I counted the mentions of a braai, and wine drinking in my facebook status updates and the tally might just signify borderline alcoholism and the beginnings of a serious meatitis. And I'm not even going to think about scurvy.
What exactly is a braai? I guess, you could just say it is a barbeque, but to me (and possibly most South Africans) that definition just comes up short. Braai is about so much more than cooking. Yes, it is about meat, some more meat, and on top of all that meat, more meat still, and washing down all the meat with wine, beer, cider or a 'tizer. In our circle of friends, the drink of choice is cheap white wine with lots of ice in it. Hold on, before you gasp at my heretic ways, add the heat into the mixture and understand the value of a cool, refreshing beverage. However, the braai would only be a barbeque if it wasn't for the spending time with your friends and family under the lovely South African sun, children running around barefoot, everyone relaxing, while amicably debating the pros and cons of wood, charcoal, and gas (apparently the two latter are widely considered cheating). Braai is a South African institution even celebrated yearly on 24th September on Heritage day. A day, which in reality goes by the name of 'National Braai day'.
Some months ago, when we were looking for a house for our two year stint in Joburg, my husband decided he would not look at any houses sans a built in braai on the patio. This request, which I first thought would annoy the poor real estate agents to no end, earned us the goodwill of every single agent and landlord we came across on our house hunting adventures. General feeling seemed to be that no credit checks were needed since we understood the importance of the braai. My husband also garnered some admiration by insisting on a traditional, as opposed to a gas, braai. He had never before made a fire in his life, but we decided to leave that detail out. We have since hosted three braais for our friends, and have had an incredible amount of private ones, with just me and my husband in attendance. Most of the friendships my husband has formed have come through engaging in deep discussions about the braai, both physical and abstract.
As per custom, I never touch the braai. I make the salad, while I'm opening a bottle of wine (which means that most times there is no salad, also a traditional option). The braai is for men to fuss over their meat and their fire, and to talk rugby after the wood-charcoal-gas topic has been exhausted. During the rugby off season camping out in the bushveld is also an acceptable subject. While the men fuss and stand around tending to the fire and then to the aged (sometimes this means green and moldy) rump steaks, and the boerewors-sausage, the women sit around drinking and eating biltong and droëwors, tasty versions of jerky. In a way the braai is a nice way of making life more equal for South African men and women, as men are taking over the 'kitchen' for a change (for us this is normal, since I don't cook anyway).
Indeed, the braai is all about meat (not Nokia) connecting people, and we can definitely say that the tradition of the braai is one of the big parts of our crush with Joburg and South Africa. We are falling in love and looking forward to many more braais yet.