Shisa Nyama is How South Africans Burn Meat in a Delicious Way

Shisa nyama

Credit: Derek Clark

Things would be so much easy to understand if you’ll use the word “barbecue.” After all, that word is universally used and understood. But if you will go to South Africa and you like to devour meat grilled over hot coals, you have to use the word “shisa yama.”

Incidentally, the word has taken many forms to mean the same “things.” Jan Braai of explains about the word in the post What is Chisa Nyama?

What is Chisa Nyama? What is Chesa Nyama? What is Shisa Nyama? What is Shisanyama? They are all the same thing. They are Zulu terms for braaing. The first word in all of them:

Chisa, Chesa, Shisa are different ways of spelling the same thing, and its literal meaning is “burn”. The second word in the phrase, “Nyama” means “meat”.

So the literal defenition of “Chisa Nyama” is “Burn Meat”. But it does not refer to burnt meat. “Chisa Nyama” means “braai”. As is the case with the word “braai”, Chisa Nyama is used as a verb and as a noun.

Very specific, “shisa nyama” or any of its equivalents can mean the action of braaing (barbecuing), attending the informal event or party, a restaurant specializing in braaing, or to devour and enjoy the barbecue.

Interesting is the fact that in certain shisa nyama (dining places), the braaing site is provided by a butcher from whom you can buy the meat to be grilled.

The First Barbecue

You might be wondering why African dishes are under-represented in culinary events around the world when it is “arguably claimed” to have invented cooking. It is even said to have been the birth continent of barbecue!

In the CNN – Travel’s post 15 of Africa’s Favorite Dishes by Jane-Ann Hobbs, the South African dish Pap en vleis/Shisa nyama is presented first. It is a combination of braaied meat and maize porridge.

“Pap en vleis” (literally, “maize porridge and meat”) is a colorful umbrella of a term that encompasses virtually any combination of starch and braaied or stewed meat, with an obligatory side-serving of spicy gravy, relish or chakalaka…”

Customers have a wide choice of meats they can buy from the nearby butcher – steak, chops, kebabs, chicken, and boerewors  (a hot farmer’s sausage). This is traditionally served with maize porridges such as phuthu and stywe pap, suurpap (soured pap) or krummelpap (crumbly porridge), and downed with a local beer.

If you happen to travel in this part of the continent, Hobbs even suggested the best place to get it Chaf Pozi and Mzoli’s.

How to Enjoy the Shisa Nyama Culture

Shisa-Nyama on a Sunday is like a culture in South Africa. It is a time to meet up with old friends, hook up with new or enjoy Sunday with family, rather than go home after church to cook up a huge meal for everyone. Going on a shisa nyama after church isn’t only about enjoying the feast, it is also about enjoying the festive mood and the culture.

Thuli in her post Sunday Afternoon Shisa-Nyama Culture for Myzansi Style recounted how they dealt with the event when the shisa nyamas they went to run out of meat to “burn” for them when her sister came to visit. With some other relatives in tow, they were ready to dive in anticipation, so they went to Mzoli. There was an eerie silence that met them; quite surprising for such a busy place known as among the best places for shisha nyama. Finally they found out … there was no more meat!

“… It was finished…klaar….finito…iphelile….e fedile!  Yup, on a Sunday afternoon around 4p.m., the meat was finished.  

We then made our way to the closest Shisa-Nyama around that area, Kwa-Maphindi in Nyanga Township.”

Thuli’s advice to those who’ll find themselves in a similar situation – long queues or having no table in sight,

“…go   to another one and have fun! There’s plenty of Shisa-nyama’s around the country.”

Shisa nyama in South Africa is definitely one experience to try when you go visiting this country… yes, that’s right… EXPERIENCE! That is what shisa nyama is all about!

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