My Shisanyama experience

While working in Jo’burg last month, I decided to venture forth and find out for myself what an authentic shisanyama experience was all about.

My first obstacle – I didn’t know where to go! I could have Googled it but I chose a different approach. At the time I was standing outside Gallagher Estate, with streams of visitors walking past me as they left Decorex, so I decided to do a little market research. I stopped a random selection of passersby and asked them where I could get the best shisanyama. Interestingly enough, every one of the 20 or so people I asked gave me the same answer: “Imbizo Shisanyama! Busy corner!” With that it was a done deal, so I set my GPS and headed off, driving deeper and deeper into Midrand.

I have to admit I was feeling a little anxious but my nerves disappeared when I was warmly greeted by Ann Booyen, hostess and assistant to the managing director, Rita Zwane. I was immediately offered a seat and a glossy, slick menu. “Cocktail?” asked Ann. “Don’t mind if I do!”, I replied. I headed off to the cocktail bar and made my (virgin) selection, and, wow, it was good!

I was visiting on a weekday and Ann commented that I was lucky I was as the venue ‘pumps’ on weekends! Nevertheless, being on my own, I wanted to get the feel of this much-talked-about place. So what does one do in such a spot? You make friends! I ordered my meal, The Ultimate African BraaiFeast, and sidled up to the gentlemen sitting nearby and asked if I could join them and share my lunch. And folks, that’s when the real shisanyama experience kicked in!

Lesley and his friends chatted openly to me, first asking me why I was alone and whether I felt safe. I laughed and asked why I wouldn’t feel safe when in the company of such big strong men! The waiter then walked through with my selection of fresh meat and handed it over to the braai masters. I was told that all six of the fires get started up at five in the morning, with grids big enough to hold kilograms and kilograms of meat at a time. Who could resist that sight? I jumped out my seat and made my way to the stations and watched with amazement how quickly and with what precision the meat was turned, basted, and suddenly ready to serve!

Now to the eating part, because this is when I got to have the most fun. Lesley passed me a plate and took charge, telling me what to serve and how to eat it. I was offered a knife and fork but decided instead to follow Lesley’s lead. On the large central dish was a selection of chicken, lamb chops, boerewors, kebabs and short rib. What a mouth-wateringly delicious sight! The way to do it is to take a generous serving of pap and slop that on your plate together with the yummiest spinach I have yet to taste (it took me back to my childhood years, when my nanny used to make me my favourite spinach). Add to this a generous portion of chakalaka and some meat (I started with short rib), and then tuck in – fingers and all! Short rib is an interesting cut of meat that many people don’t buy anymore, but I love it when I braai at home for two reasons – the chief braaier (me) gets to sample it straight off the hot coals, and my friends love it!

What I loved most about my experience at Imbizo Shisanyama was that the meat was piping hot, the succulent bits of fat on the chops and short rib were crispy and delicious – exactly the way it’s meant to be, from the fire to the mouth…

But I nearly forgot to tell you about the best part. My new-found friends drew my attention to the steamed African bread. Guys, this was the real winner! Lesley showed me the proper way to eat it – spread lashings of chakalaka on the bread, tear off a piece of meat, hold the two together, and aim for your mouth! Heaven in a munchful!

This, my friends, is the real deal: eating, sharing, crossing barriers, breaking the mould, learning, and all over a meal that is called ‘burnt meat’ when translated into English. I am totally converted, and in fact our next get-together for the Braai magazine team is at our local shisanyama!

Go on, try it, you’ll love it!

About Imbizo Shisanyama

  • It’s known by patrons as ‘Busy Corner’.
  • It started on a dusty corner in 1997 with only a 2-litre pot, a gas griller, display fridge, paraffin stove and two employees.
  • The original ‘pap’ pot is now displayed proudly in the restaurant.
  • Started and still run by Rita Zwane.
  • Imbizo Shisanyama now supports over 100 families. Other small businesses have been born out of this business – a car wash, security services, locally sourced chakalaka, salads, and steamed bread.
  • The Imbizo Shisanyama bursary fund was launched in 2012.

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