A Braai and A Barbecue: What is the Difference?

All Americans are familiar with the term barbecue. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, homes throughout the country host barbecues as a way to get together with friends and family while enjoying great food. In that respect, a braai is not much different from a barbecue.

What Is A Braai?

The word “braai” is actually an Afrikaan word for “barbecue” or “grill.” Braai is also used to describe a social gathering that centers around grilling food outdoors. While American barbecues may use gas or charcoal, a braaie typically involves burning wood and a direct flame. However, the use of gas and charcoal are becoming more popular in South Africa as an easy shortcut. This social gathering is a custom originating with Afrikaners, but it has since been adopted by South Africans of varying ethnic backgrounds. Countries that participate in braaie (the plural of braai) include Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

A Celebratory Occasion

Just like barbecues in America, braaie are celebratory occasions. A braai may be held in recognition of a special event, such as a national holiday, or it may simply become a party on its own. In South Africa, a National Braai Day is celebrated in honor of the nation’s favorite past time. All cultural and social classes enjoy the festivities of this day.

Braai Food

The dishes served at a braai depend on the region where it is held. As in American barbecues, the highlight of the meal is some sort of seared meat. A type of sausage, boerwoers, is likely to make an appearance, as well as kebabs, chicken, pork, spareribs, and even steaks. Coastal regions may include fish and crayfish as well.

In addition to the star of the meal, braaie also include a plethora of side dishes, as would be expected at American festivities. A variety of salads, including cold beet salad, bean salad, potato salad, and grilled sweet potato salad can be expected. One traditional dish that differs from what would be found in America is pap. Pap, a porridge made from ground corn, is very similar to Italy’s polenta. This may be served with a sauce of tomato and onion, depending on the region. The luscious meat and delicious sides are all washed down with cold beer, as would be expected at a traditional barbecue.

A potluck is a common technique to use at an American barbecue. This technique is also popular at braaie. In South Africa, a potluck is referred to as a “Bring Your Own Braai.” The host typically provides the main dish while guests bring side dishes and drinks, contributing to the variety of food at a party.

Gender Differences at a Braai

Social conventions are very strong at a Braai. While a man is typically in charge of the grilling at an American barbecue, people would not be shocked to see a woman participating in this event. In contrast, a man is nearly always in charge of grilling at a braai, and people would talk of this differed from the norm. While one man is in charge, other men stand around and assist in minor ways, enjoying relaxing conversations. The women are relegated to the kitchen, where they prepare the variety of side dishes.

While braaie and barbecues are celebrated in different regions, they are very similar in nature. As outdoor eating occasions enjoyed with friends and family, these occasions are a great way to relax and appreciate some good food. Given the strong similarities, exploring braai recipes is a great way to expand an American grill chef’s repertoire.

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