The local butcher had an idea. Why not get some DJs in, serve a few beers and set up a bar next door? It’d be simple. Build a corrugated iron ‘shack’, fill it with plastic chairs and tables, stick a toilet in the back and have a huge BBQ – the locals would love it.
It worked a treat.
That was a few years ago now and on the rainy Sunday that I visited Mzoli’s in Gugulethu, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, it was packed to the rafters with drinkers, eaters, dancers and most people doing all three. The music was loud and diverse; from samples of Alicia Keys to pumping minimal techno choons, it got everyone up and dancing.
There is a knack to Mzoli’s BBQ though, one that the regulars have down to a tee, but if you’re visiting for the first time, you’ll want to check out my Mzoli’s step by step guide.
Step one: order
First off you order your meat at the counter. Between me and my friend we had two chickens, two steaks and some sausages – more than enough for us, but not even a drop in the ocean for some of the patrons. The people that frequent Mzoli’s, wow they liked to eat.
Then you choose your dressing and whether you want any bread or salad. We went pure, meat was enough. For all that I listed above, and two cans of Coke, we paid 100 rand (less than £6).
Step two: cook
Pay up and you get your tray of meat. Hold it above your head and squeeze past the reems of people to get in line for the BBQ. Drop it off and they’ll give you a time to come back and collect the delicious goods.
Step three: drink
There’s a bar set up in the shack for anyone who came unprepared, like us. The initiated had bought bottles of hard liquor, crates of beer and plastic cups all round to serve it in. They were knocking it back and reaching for more.
Step four: dance
As it was just me and my 40+ year old guide for the experience, we perched on the end of a table to watch the goings on. I was asked to dance, not in a weird way and by both boys and girls, over five times. Everyone was so friendly there and genuinely just wanted to see you have a good time. I passed a good 30 minutes watching three booty-full black girls trying to teach a white girl how to shake it, oh it made me laugh, but it was also the reason why I didn’t take to the dance floor for even a minute. These girls, and boys, knew what they were doing when they gyrated.
Step five: eat
Mzoli’s is really popular and at first check our plate of meat was about 7th in the queue. They had more than five barbecues on the go, but the feasts were so plentiful it took a while to get through them. You just need to be patient and just enjoy repeating steps three and four again.
Finally we picked up our food. Perfectly cooked and covered in tasty BBQ marinade – we got stuck in. No knives and forks in Mzoli’s, its fingerlickin, bone pickin, messy deliciousness. Between us we barely ate half of what we’d ordered, but with my guide being the pro he is, he’d got a takeaway box when he’d picked it up, so his dinner for the night was sorted.
Find a seat or area as soon as possible, it’s never nice eating in the corner of a room or perched on someone else’s.
Toilets are grim, take your own toilet paper and make sure you wear covered shoes.
Mzoli’s is absolute, pure, hedonistic indulgence – and a vegetarian’s hell. An absolute definitely do if you’re in the Cape Town hood.