Get your shisanyama fix in Cape Town

20 September 2019

Shisanyama is similar to a braai or barbeque, but has its roots in South Africa’s townships. Shisanyama is a Zulu word, literally meaning “burn meat”, which refers to the way the meat is cooked over hot coals. It started off as a way for butchers to drive sales over the weekends, and today it’s one of South Africa’s most delicious and social ways of eating.

What to expect

Shisanyama is more than a type of food: it’s a vibe. Expect music, dancing, beer, and the delicious aromas of meat sizzling away over the fire. Generally, you’ll select your raw cuts directly from the butcher, and pay by weight. Then, you can kick back and enjoy a few drinks while the cooks grill it to perfection. An authentic shisanyama will always involve a wood fire: no charcoal or gas here! When it’s time to eat, there are sides like pap (cooked maize meal), chakalaka (a spicy relish), salads, and mielies (corn on the cob) that you can enjoy with your meat.

This is usually a massive party and there’s lots of laughs and cheer to go around. It’s part of the whole experience: maybe there’s a soccer game on, or a live local band playing. Join in the fun and stay after eating to enjoy the dancing and drinking.


Where to get great shisanyama

Many of the best places to enjoy shisanyama are in the townships surrounding Cape Town. Here are a few of our tried and tested favourites:

Shisanyama dos and don’ts

Shisanyama comes out of a traditional cultural context, and for many visitors to the country, it’s hard to know the unwritten rules around etiquette. Here are our top tips.

Do wash your hands before you eat

This is communal eating, and often food is served to groups on shared boards. Be a good sport and keep it clean!

Don’t lick your fingers once you’re done

This may be a no-brainer for some, but it’s important. A bucket of water, soap, and a cloth are usually available to clean up after you dig in.

Sharing is caring

At a social event like this, it is the standard practice to buy rounds of drinks, and share meat amongst your group. If you’re going to the bar, buy a round for everyone, not just yourself. Then, later, someone else will get the next one. If you’re unsure what to get, grab a few quarts of Black Label or Castle, and share them with your table.

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