Democracy in South Africa resulted in many changes in where and how South Africans live - and party. While there was a surge in township residents moving into suburbia, with its high walls and lack of community spirit, the shisa nyama kasi (township) culture, in turn, began to gather momentum.
Shisa nyama, a Zulu slang expression for ‘buy and braai’, started off as a way for township butcheries to increase their weekend sales. But they soon became a gathering place for both up-and-coming urban professionals wanting to reconnect with their roots, and local township residents looking for company and a place to drink and eat. But they very quickly evolved and are now much more than venues to eat braaied meat.
Today, it’s where you go to read the papers, floss the Range Rover while you get some young’ uns to wash it reverently, have meat braaied for you, listen to good local music, imbibe some fine single malts and catch up with your peers, either those you grew up with or those who now live in suburbia.
There are no Jetmasters or Weber braais at shisa nyamas. There are actual coals, smoke and flames. It is this juxtaposition that seems to attract people to shisa nyamas in their hordes, having the Sunday's of their lives. Although, nowadays, shisa nyamas are open on weekdays and nights too.
In visiting these establishments I realised just how communal the experience is. It is not just about eating braaied meat. One can find that anywhere. It’s about getting together and sitting with like-minded people to chew the fat and catch up. It is a chance to band together and watch sport and just be yourself. No pretensions.
I have enjoyed the camaraderie in every one of the places I visited – and judged. While all shisa nyama and lifestyle outlets have meat, no two are the same. The car wash is a really big benefit. The quality of meat is also important as there is no point in enduring some of the more basic places if the meat is going to be tough and tasteless. The amenities on offer range far and wide. They could include DStv - usually for sports, live music, in and outdoor eating options, designer decor, ATMs, car washes (naturally), toilet facilities – and, of course, the ubiquitous single malt whiskey.
Have you been to a shisa nyama before? Let us know about your experience!