All Day BBQ in Cape Town's Townships

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
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Trip End Jul 21, 2010


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Where I stayed
St Martini Gardens

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Monday, February 8, 2010

We are packing up while watching the Super Bowl. Yes, we already know the Saints won, it's just fun to watch such an Americana event and they have US ESPN here which is a treat. This is our last night in Cape Town and in Africa; tomorrow we head to South America.  South Africa has been great to us and we are a bit sad to go.  Yesterday we had a blast – we went on a tour of the townships in the morning and ended up staying there the entire day.  There are numerous townships which go for miles outside the city.  And the townships are as varied as the people who live in them.  There are the poorest of the poor – who live in cardboard and tin metal shacks which are barely my height; and there are middle class homes with garages and yards.  Many people who have improved economically still stay in the townships for the community, which is very strong.  Since it was Sunday, we went to a service at one of the churches and seriously the only way you could tell that you were not in Washington, DC or North Carolina is that the preacher would speak in the native Zulu language at times.  It's very cool to hear – we've noticed it all around South Africa but people will speak in English and in the same sentence – the same breath switch to their native language and then back to English.  It's very fluid.  The music was wonderful – we've been amazed by the sense of harmony in the singing.  The other day we watched a protest in the streets and the group was singing and the harmony was so beautiful it gave us chills.

Townships are also divided by color – there are colored and black townships – and there are of course obvious differences between the two.  The government invested more in the colored townships – there are wider roads, sidewalks, bigger – more well-constructed homes than in the black townships.  Our guide admitted that there is still a lot of animosity between the two groups because these conditions created feelings of superiority/inferiority in some people and those prejudices continue now.  Some coloreds feel that they are better-more cultured/less violent than the blacks and some blacks feel coloreds are more snobby – sell-outs to the white Afrikaaners. 

Ever since we arrived in Cape Town, we heard about a great place to eat in one of the townships – Mzolis.  Mzolis used to be just a local butchery but somehow it transformed itself to an open air music BBQ joint.  So instead of going back with the tour group we stayed to check this place out and we are so glad we did!  Mzolis is located right in a residential area – there are houses all around. When we arrived there were lots of empty plastic tables and chairs underneath a canopy – however when we talked to the host he asked if we had made reservation – ummm no, it didn't sound like this was the type of place that you had to make a reservation!  No, we said – but he was nice and said that since we arrived early he would squeeze us in and gave us a small table outside the canopy area.  

The process is simple – next to the tent is the butcher shop.  You go inside and tell a staff member what you want by pointing to the meat – they season the meat and put it into a silver bowl.  You take that bowl to the back grills and hand it to the grill master who gives you a number and instructs you to come back in about 20 – 30 minutes for your meat.  We tried a little of everything: lamb chops, steak, sausage, and chicken.  There are no side dishes at Mzolis and they grill with freshly split wood vs charcoal. Meanwhile outside there is a DJ spinning tunes and a fake-tattoo artist.  No drinks are sold at Mzolis – instead you go down the street and there is a corner store which sells beer and soda.  

As the minutes pass the place fills up – and we soon realize this is the place to be.  We befriend the groups that are sitting to the right and left of us and learn that Mzolis is extremely popular – both groups booked their table 2 weeks in advance!  Last Sunday over 3,000 people came to eat and dance – it was so packed there were people eating on the roofs of adjacent houses.  Now in any other neighborhood in the States if there was one business in the middle of a neighborhood where thousands of people came and clogged the streets, drinking alcohol until they were drunk, and playing music at loud decibels until late at night – people would no doubt complain and it would be shut down.  Here, the neighborhood embraces the madness because a lot of the city folk come to the township and spend their money.  The corner stores which sell liquor do an enormous amount of business, as well as the taxi drivers, and independent sellers hawking cheap sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses – so the whole community benefits. 

We had a great time meeting people, dancing, and people watching.  Some of the regulars really had their stuff together – they brought side dishes, water, a hookah pipe (we thought that was interesting), and cards.  As for the food – incredible!! Some of the best grilled meat we have EVER had – the spices used were just the right amount and nothing was over/undercooked.  For anyone coming to Cape Town – Mzoli's is a must: The atmosphere was great – everyone mixing, having a good time, no craziness – and cheap!  It was wonderful to have that experience right before we leave – a great memory that will entice us to return some day.
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