Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hot Meat on the Wrong Side of the Tracks

Lumka was determined to show me “the other side of town”—no taxis allowed—only our feet could be used on our journey to Oriental Plaza and Milner Estate in the North End where she lives.  Sometimes I think my oblivion is what keeps me safe because I didn’t really notice anything that screamed “the wrong side of the tracks” except that it was lively with people and activity.  Sure, there were abandoned storefronts and some rougher looking characters, but it was a nice walk to a new place with a friend on a sunny Saturday.    
On our way to her house, we passed by a tshisa nyama shop.  I had seen the signs in town (literal translation is “hot meat”) but I had always assumed there were butcher shops.  She grabbed my hand and pulled me in as she explained that you picked your meat from the case and braiied it right there on the indoor flattop grills. We decided to take some of the customers up on their exuberant invites as I had clearly never been before and Lumka hadn’t had anyone to go with in East London.  When we entered the hectic smoky shop, there were the usual curious stares, but we picked out our 30 Rand of lamb chops, seasoned them with braai spice, and waited for some space at the communal braais.   

With her new camera in hand, Lumka had a mini photo shoot as other customers stared at the two of us.  We were both so giddy and excited and neither could stop laughing even when Lumka splattered us both with sizzling mutton grease!  With our meat still crackling on the white butcher paper, Lumka bought a ½ loaf of soft and thick white bread and we headed outside to sit on a shopfront stoop to enjoy our hard work.  Our giant meatfeast was interrupted by prolonged stares, prying questions about the white girl in the North End, and more than a few marriage proposals.  I don’t know why as we both were sweating from standing over the grill and smelled like sheep fat.  But the meat was soft and tender, framed by crispy fat and all to be soaked up by thick white bread.

Lumka explained that the neighbourhood knew I wasn’t from there because you would never see a black and white woman sitting on a stoop braaing and eating meat together and laughing and holding hands the way we were.  We dubbed ourselves the “Top Deck” (which we don’t have in Canada) but it’s a chocolate bar with a layer of white chocolate over dark chocolate.  At no point did I feel unsafe or uneasy, but Lumka was much more aware of the looks we received and some of the funny comments made which only reinforces that I am still extremely naive in the messages your skin colour sends.    
I love the whole tshisa nyama idea and they make it so easy—plus the pure quantity and quality of animal in that butcher’s case was amazing.  It tasted that much better because we had so much fun picking out our meat and then seasoning and cooking it ourselves.  Plus I think the men around us were impressed by how much of the inyama we could put back!  The Saturday afternoon was totally unexpected and it hadn’t even made my “things to eat list” but it’s usually the unplanned days that turn out the best!  On my last Saturday in the country, it is certainly a memory I will never forget.

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