It's an amazing feat that we made it to Mzoli's that Sunday. We knew only a single person in Capetown, Zinaid, a college friend of Sudeep's. We had also been out at Marvel the
Zinaid picked us up late in the hazy grey afternoon in his red beat-up, stereo-stolen, brake-pad-bare, mid-eighties rabbit. About a half hour later we arrive in the slow of a township called Guguletu in front of a non-descript shop in the middle of a small milling crowd. We find a "parking spot" not more than a couple blocks away, Zinaid straps the club on his bucket, grabs three plastic cups, and we walk up the block.
Once in the un-marked shop, one quickly might mistake it for a butcher-shop. A case of meats awaits your order. A row of pastel lacquered steel pans, filled with Aromat covered pieces of flesh and sausage, move toward a cashier. It's 80 Rand for our pounds of chicken, chops, sausage, and a 30 Rand deposit on the pan. (At the time it the exchange rate was 8 Rand to a dollar).
Just past the cashier is the waiting room, where, at any given moment, a line at least 10 deep is waiting for their pan of meat to char over the open wood-burning spits. Our pan arrives in 30-somethingth place, it'll be a while until we'll be getting anywhere near our BBQ.
Not to worry, just past the wood pile and one of the bathrooms is the yard. A corrugated iron roof shades plastic tables and chairs providing a place to congregate and, of course, have an ice-cold beer. Suddenly I realize that it's Sunday, and everyone with a cold one knew, thanks to South African blue-laws, it was BYOB today, everyone but me.
Not to worry, being a neighborhood joint, Mzoli's had people, smart, friendly, and enterprising people, living just across the street. I walk with Zinaid into what was, by all accounts, a house party. Clicks of friends squatted and sat around steel pans of BBQ with tall beers talking, now probably about the two guys crashing their party.
We enter the living room of our friendly neighborhood tuck shop and 750ml. beers are 10 Rand a piece. At 6% alcohol by volume, the booze might as well have been free. They come out of one of three well stocked refrigerators, ice-cold. Suddenly being 30 deep waiting for your BBQ is eased by the cool, carbonated, 12 proof beer poured into my lime-green plastic cup.
After the first round of beers, it's time to check on the meats. It's also a good time to find the bathroom, and get a shot of the kitchen. The activity in the kitchen is perpetual. It's crowded with patrons, cooks, pans of Aromat-crusted meat, and is dangerously hot next to the spits. Cooks work in an orchestra of oil fires, steel pans, and charred, delicious, salty, meats. The smell is drenched in fat and minutes seem like hours in the thick rich smell of the BBQ.
Unfortunately, our pan has moved from what seemed to be 30th to 40th place in line. I head back to the refrigerators at house across the street and ease the wait with some light conversation. When I say "light," I mean to say a cheerfully racist drunk who slobbered like Gallagher during the watermelon bit. Perhaps it was because I was asian, certainly not because I was an American, did my cheerful local representative feel the need to bow repeatedly.
After a few choice opinions shared on Chinese and US politics, Zinaid returns from the meat-checking to find me doing my best to not make a fuss with the locals. He, on the other hand, is from there, and has no patience for racism, whether in jest, ignorance, or otherwise. Within a couple minutes, Zinaid is bristling and telling this guy where to take his bullshit.
Suddenly the fact that I'm surrounded by easily a few hundred locals in a small township a half hour from Capetown, seems to raise my blood pressure. No matter that I was carrying a few thousand dollars worth of camera gear, had no passport, and no clear path to an exit, I was also with Jess, and even if I could get out of there alive, there was no way I could get both of us out of there alive.
Fortunately, a calm smile, and the drunks embarrassed friend, ended the incident without much ado.
The wait, though easily filled with cold beers and hundreds of people dancing to the kwaito beats blasted by the DJ in the corner, is not only well worth it, it's a downright pleasure. Once you taste the hot, salty, sweet, BBQ, you realize that you have not only conquered your hang-over, you are now basking in the beautiful magic of Mzoli's Meats.
It took the three of us approximately 15 minutes to decimate the pan of meat. Without napkins (Zinaid joked that only tourists come with napkins) licking your salty fingers is a great way to finish the meal. My plastic cup is covered with greasy Aromat flavored finger prints, and, at 10 Rand a bottle, full of cold, strong, South African beer. As the sun sank into the southern ocean, alas it was time to give up our seats and return to the safety of our hotel.
68 °F / 20 °C
50 °F / 10 °C
Sat next to the Mzoli's mural, Jess and Zinaid present at Guguletugeist.