Mzoli’s Place Cape Town, South Africa
Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, Cape Town has garnered quite the reputation for being a melting pot where people from all walks of life converge to enjoy good food and good vibes. Mzoli’s manages to effectively balance the tourists who arrive and droves and the authenticity that offers a glimpse into a different side of Cape Town, not often seen and never fully understood. We tend to shy away from the often exploitive experiences that tourists flock to in search of the sense of “real Africa,” yet there is something about Mzoli’s that is undeniably great.
Gugulethu South Africa
Gugulethu is a notorious township on the edge of Cape Town, a prime example of the socioeconomic disparity between the economic elite and the historically disadvantaged populous. Many South African’s might scoff at the thought of going into Gugulethu unattended, as it has a reputation of being a place for criminals or charities. A mere 10 minute drive from the city center of Cape Town transports you to an entirely different world, and Mzoli’s fully embraces the Township feel.
If you’re expecting a sit down restaurant with table side service, look elsewhere. Mzoli’s is entirely self service, and really not more than a tented seating area with a DJ playing House music late into the night. The whole complex sprawls out into the street, with several bottle shops (where you go to get your beer) nearby, the Mzoli’s butchery, and then Mzoli’s Place itself.
Step one is to queue up at the butchery to pick out your meats. The chicken wings and wors (sausage) are by far my favorite, but the lamb and pork is also fantastic. You order your meat in “Rand,” and our group of five ordered somewhere in the range of R50 per meat, which was more than sufficient. While Boerwors is prevalent in South Africa, the wors available at Mzoli’s offers an entirely different spice profile, and a welcome change to the clove-heavy Boerwors. Once you speak to the woman who dishes up your meat, make sure to also ask for the sauce to marinade the meats. She will then hand you a tray of raw meat and a slip, which you then take to the cashier. At the cashier, also order your Chakalaka (like a spicy Pico de Gallo) and Pap (looks like Mashed Potatoes, but is actually corn). The cashier is also where you pay your cover to go next door to sit down at Mzoli’s place, which you will also get a slip for. Once you’ve paid and been given the appropriate slips, you then take your raw meat through a narrow hallway into the back braai area, where the braai master will take care of your meal. Be kind and pretend like you know what you’re doing, as the braai master has sole control over how long your meat takes. He will give you a time to come back, so now is the time to go get your beer and find a seat.
Buying Beer at Mzoli’s
Mzoli’s only recently began selling alcohol of its own, but it’s cheaper to visit one of the neighboring bottle shops. It’s important to not stray too far, as you will quickly find yourself in a part of Gugulethu where you should not be. I recommend the bottle shop immediately to the left of the butchery, simply walk in and buy a pack of beer.
After you’ve bought beer, head over to the seating area where they will ask for your slip at the entrance to ensure that you’ve paid and then stamp your wrist. Finding a seat can be a challenge, so it’s important to arrive early.
The Party at Mzoli’s
After you’ve waited for the time the braai master told you, return to the braai area to collect your meats. Bring a tip for the person that cooked your meat. Collect your pap and chakalaka, bring it back over to the seating area, and dig in. Prepare yourself to eat with your hands, pap makes a great utensil. Once you’ve had your full, enjoy yourself, the party at Mzoli’s runs late into the night.
A quick note on safety. Although Mzoli’s and the immediate surrounds are entirely safe, it is important to use common sense. Any area where tourists congregate is a prime target for pick pockets, and it’s important to note that Gugulethu can and does have some dangerous areas. I would not recommend brining your cell phone or using the ATM’s in the area. Better to remove any temptation altogether. Important above all else is to not be paranoid. South Africa has a reputation for being incredibly dangerous, but in our experience, it is more drama and horror stories than anything. Just be smart, treat people with dignity, and act confidently. If you don’t look like a victim, you are less likely to become one. Mzoli’s is a great place to experience culture that you won’t find elsewhere in Cape Town, so live the experience and take it in.