Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Overeating at Mzoli's Braai

On Sunday afternoon, we went with a group of seven to Mzoli's, a famous restaurant in the large township of Gugulethu.  They serve traditional South African braai, which is roughly pronounced "bry" with the "r" rolled.  A braai is a wood-fired barbecue of various meats with spices and sauce.  This turned out to be the most entertaining experience of the trip thus far.

Mzoli's is so popular on Sundays that you can count on standing in line for an hour before you choose the specific meats that you want to have barbecued.  It took 15 minutes for us to place our order since we don't speak Xhosa.  Then it is another 30 - 45 minutes before your meat is cooked.  It's totally worth it.

This is part of the meat selection.  John’s arm is not for sale.
Sarah and Emelie laugh while the boys select the meat
Yes, this is all for us:  beef, lamb, pork, sausage, chicken

After making our selections, we went to the back rooms to watch our meat being grilled.   There are 3 or 4 large grills in the first kitchen area, and 5 - 6 more grills in a hidden back room.

John was invited into the secret back room to see our meat being cooked.  This was after one of the braaimasters suggested that a small donation would enable him to make sure that our meat was prepared especially well.

Front kitchen scene, with perfect blues front man
Note the large stack of firewood below the oven
If you can’t stand the heat, don’t work at a braai

The gallery of other customers watching the braaimasters work their magic was quite entertaining.  Some had more to drink than others.

Country origin unknown, state of inebriation

Through our new local friend Taryn, a regular, we were introduced to the owner.  This is somewhat of a coup, since there were 1000+ people there that day.  John brainlessly asked what the owner's name was.  "My name is Mzoli," he replied.  Oh, now I get it...That's how this naming convention thing works.....

John and Taryn, who had the inside scoop on everything
It was a great pleasure to meet Mzoli, who is a local celebrity

After we got our cooked meat, we headed to the outdoor eating area.  As we entered through another gate, we were thrust into a sea of humanity.  We were under a low, tent-like roof, with 500 or more people crammed into a relatively small area.  The scene seemed like adult spring break in Africa, amped up on steroids.

The African bass beat was thumping at 1000 decibels.  The crowd was swaying.  Ten people at the same table were smoking hookahs, most likely with flavored tobacco but who knows for sure.  The savory, smoky smell of the braai meat permeated the air.  The cross-cultural crowd was conversing in loud, animated tones.  Several men and women were engaged in some frenzied dancing.

Meanwhile, John and several others were carrying humongous trays of meat, hoping that the Red Sea would magically part. We did not get any pictures deep inside the tent, as we were focused on meat management.

Our group formed a protective rugby scrum in front of John, who played the role of fly half. John's job was to carry and distribute the meat.  After precariously navigating our way through the crowd, dazed and confused, we saw daylight at the far end of the tent and emerged with our meat intact.  Freedom!

The cooked meat, en route to the eating area
Inside the tent, at a later moment of relative sanity

After borrowing three chairs with great difficulty, we set up our food and sodas on the chairs and ate together standing in a circle.  We were extremely hungry after waiting in line for our food for two hours.

We felt numb from sensory overload.  Although the majority of our group is usually pretty talkative, there seemed to be a collective understanding that little or no conversation was necessary.  We stood entranced in a primordial vibe.

There is no silverware at Mzoli's, so we ate with our hands like cave people.  And we loved it.  The taste and smell of the braai is indescribably good.  We had napkins, but only because we had the foresight to grab a huge stack at our boutique guest house before we came.

Cavemen and cave girl
Emelie (UK/US/Sweden) gets serious at the braai

None of us had consumed any alcohol by this point.  It was not necessary.  The scene was quite enough.

The tent was just in front of us, and the stage for music was nearby.  The stars of three popular South African soap operas joined the other singers and dancers on stage.  The backdrops to the opening credits of their respective TV shows were illuminated on the large screen behind.

At our host family's home, we had earlier become pseudo-fans of the show Isidingo.  It's about a wonderfully wicked family that runs a gold mining business in Jo'Burg.  We weren't close enough to the stage to identify which of the stars had shown up.  That was OK.  We had more than enough stimuli.

The stage was another high energy area

We furiously worked our way through 80 - 85% of the mound of meat.  We had beef (8), lamb (8), chicken (10), pork (2 supersized) and sausage (meters and meters).  John and Matteo had been determined to finish, but discretion is the better part of valor and we packed away the remainder for leftovers.

Toby and Matteo wonder how much more they can eat
The tent people have calmed down a bit

We finally felt recovered enough from the overstimulation to walk over and order a few beers and ciders.  We felt a little more relaxed, and our mouths were once again able to form complete sentences.

Sarah makes up for lost time
The team has regained its mojo
The crowd outside, near our Meathenge circle
This funny dude from Gugulethu likes Russell Wilson over RG3

Sarah and I left Mzoli's before the rest of the group, stopping briefly at our hotel before going to an outdoor concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens.  We'll tell you more about that later.

Leaving Gugulethu, next stop Kirstenbosch

Our clothes still smell like a braai.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like such an amazing place! I love the way you tell adventures! Such a good writer! :)