You’re in a scant South African township in the far outskirts of Cape Town. You and a few of your friends go there to attend a braai (bbq) in the middle of the township. Only this braai isn’t your typical braai. There, you eat boxes and bowls full of deliciously grilled and sauced up meat with your bare hands while deep South African house and marimba music jam out in the background to mobs of vibrant dancing and celebrating. The libations and springbok shots are aplenty. The music is pumping. The meat is plentiful. And the guests there are a mix of locals and international tourists from all around the world, together under one large red tent simply having a good time.
It’s called Mzoli’s and it’s happening somewhere special in Cape Town. And after personally experiencing it on a handful of joccasions, I have outlined for you the best guide to experiencing this the proper Mzoli way.
What is Mzoli’s?
Some pronounce it as em-zoh-leez, fewer as miz-oh-lies, but I, along with most other people pronounce it as miz-oh-leez.
A man named Mzoli Ngcawuzele began the tradition more than a decade ago in the township of Gugulethu in Cape Town, South Africa. Basically, it’s a South African BBQ (braai), but turned up quite a few notches. Mzoli’s restaurant is all about the people, the rhythmic South African house music, the drinks, and most importantly the “Tshisa Nyama” (braai meat)! It has become so popular throughout the years that international tourists in addition to Capetonian locals began popping up year after year to be a part of this unique experience.
When To Go
First and foremost, plan on going only on a Sunday.That is the day when Mzoli’s is most alive. I went there on a Wednesday once and it was absolutely dead. Sunday is the day to attend, year round. It’s still very possible to go during the day during the week but then you’ll be missing out on the true experience.
Mzoli’s Butchery is open every day from 9am to 6pm. However, the tent stays open later.
I usually get there around noon in order to make sure I have a table ready for my friends and I before it becomes packed with guests. It’s first come, first serve here. I normally leave no later than 6pm. Since you are a tourist in the middle of a township, it’s the safest idea to leave before it gets dark.
Getting to Mzoli’s is simple. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Cape Town.Simply take a taxi or better yet, an Uber. Taxi drivers are used to taking passenger’s there, as well as Ubers. When using the Uber app, Mzoli’s in Gugulethu pops up as a drop-off location on the map. I personally wouldn’t drive myself there. There isn’t anywhere suitable to park. Plus, it can be a tad dangerous leaving your car parked in the middle of a township.
Leaving Mzoli’s is another story. If you have data service, requesting an Uber is simple, but without service, you must simply find a taxi service. Taxis are usually located nearby the premises. Like I mentioned earlier, its best to leave the area well before it gets dark. Another option is to ask your previous taxi or Uber driver to pick you up from there at a certain time. You’d be surprised how willing they are to help.
Cost and Fees
The cost to enter Mzoli’s is 20 Rand (as of 2017).
You pay this fee in the meat shop directly next door to the main tent. The cashier will give you a receipt. Take this receipt to the security guy at the front of the tent entrance and he will stamp your hand for admittance. Now, you are free to come and go in and outside the tent as much as you please. Just show your stamp upon re-entry each time.
Mainly mixed drinks and shooters are served at the two small bars located inside the tent, but it is allowed to bring your own drinks from outside. There is a small bottle shop about three minutes walk just a block or two from the main tent. Ask someone nearby for easy directions (I also provides a map below), but know that they may want to escort you there and then ask for a tip at the end. It’s safe just to go on your own. Just mind your belongings.
I typically go to the bottle shop and buy a couple bottles of red along with packs of beer to save some money.
Now you need some ice to keep your beer or even your wine cold. Next door to the meat butchery is a convenience store. There you can buy bags of ice, along with other snacks and goodies if you wish. Ask for an extra bag to store your ice or even better yet, you can ask for a cardboard box from the aforementioned bottle shop. You may even see some locals on the corner selling cardboard boxes if you wish. It may be worth it in order to store your ice and booze comfortably.
I found the maps on Google pertaining to Mzoli’s to be a tad outdated, so I customized it to make it current:
1= Actual location of Mzoli’s
3=Local bottle shop to pick up cheap booze in bulk. You cannot actually enter the store. Instead, tell the woman inside at the counter what you would like and she will fetch it for you.
Note: In between 1 and 2 is another small bar where you could pick up beer and wine which is just a touch more expensive.
Right outside of the Mzoli’s tent is a stand selling modified glass bottles customized into cool drinking chalices. There you can buy a glass for your wine. The prices start at R10 and go slightly up from there.
Ordering Your Meat
Sorry vegetarians, meat is the only thing served here and it takes about 40 minutes to an hour to grill, if not a little longer depending on how busy it is. I found it more enjoyable to wait a little into the day, maybe around 3pm before going inside the meat shop to order the meat. Try not to forget! Then in about an hour, go back into the kitchen with your ticket to retrieve your bowl of your delicious barbecued meat!
Take it back to your spot in the tent and chow down! No utensils are necessary. Eat with your hands!
You have a variety of meats to choose from: sausages, chicken, steaks, ribs, and lamb fillets. Just point, mix and match if you want, and the butchers will weigh everything on a scale for pricing.
Once you receive your container of raw meats and sauce…
…take it to the back of the kitchen and deliver it to the hard-working grill masters. They’ll keep your order separate from the rest and prepare it especially for you. Keep the ticket they give you.
If you’re really hungry, order a little more than you think because drinking and dancing all day in the tent works up an appetite and there is nowhere else around to get more food. Plus, grilling will shrink the meat a bit. I always managed to order just enough or not quite enough to satisfy my craving. If you order too much, then other patrons you meet will be happy to share. I’m not exact on how much you pay per kilo, but for a box full of meat, we paid R350 to split between four of us hungry dudes and it was the perfect amount.
More Useful Advice
—The area on the patio (the narrow section to the back not covered by the tent) is a great place to bunker down when the weather is nice. There is a small under-utilized bar and a few tables to stand, drink, eat, and mingle with other patrons. Mind the sneaky local kids who sometimes put their grabby hands through the uncovered holes in the gate.
–Avoid the man with the drum. My last few visits, there was always a local man walking in the tent carrying a bongo-style drum. He would then go up to groups of patrons, introduce himself, and tell a story about how he helps the community and then urges you to beat his drums. Then at the very end, he drops the bomb and persistently asks for money. I would just politely say “no thanks” right from the beginning. He claims the money would be used for the community, but my gut tells me otherwise.
—Mind your belongings. I’ve never felt to be in any danger while at Mzoli’s but pickpockets are a thing there. On one visit, my friend felt a hand reach into his pocket, grabbing his phone. It happened so quickly that he wasn’t able to catch the culprit. However, out of the several times I’ve been, that was the only incident that occurred within my group while I was there.
—There is a restroom facility inside the main tent. Don’t expect much. It gets the job done.
–The woman who sold bottles of wine from her home on the corner of Mzoli’s a few years ago is gone. Sad.
—Get there early and stay there all day! Mingle with the locals and the tourists alike and have a fantastic time being a part of such a cool South African experience you can only find in Cape Town.
Mzoli’s is always evolving, so if there is any information I should add on here or modify, please do let me know!
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