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Foodie’s paradise: Kenya

There’s more to Kenya than just the adventurous wildlife and national parks. The place is a foodie’s paradise, offering the best of local food.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2011 00:32 IST
Rupali Dean

Kenya is the most popular country in Africa to us Indians through literature and films. Nairobi has always been the base for the wildlife lovers. As for me, one of my agendas was the local food as arguably the best place to eat is with the locals.

Staples
The cornerstone of a Kenyan meal is Ugali, which is quite similar to the Ragi balls in India, difference being that Ugali is basically corn meal starch… rest all is mere accompaniment. Meals are a communal affair with Ugali surrounded by fragrant stews, vegetables and spicy relishes. The stew is characterised by chunks of meat, potatoes, and carrots and other small vegetables boiled down with a few spices. Sukuma wiki is the most popular vegetable in the Kenyan diet, sliced thinly it is usually stir-fried with onions and tomatoes. My favourite however is Mahamri Na Mbahazi, basically a pocket of freshly fried, sweet and spicy batter, into which a delicious concoction of coconut cream coated beans, is stuffed in. To wash it down, you’d have either masala tea or kahawa tungu for the coffee addicts! These staples are available anywhere and everywhere, from sit down restaurants to food stalls across the country.

Rural delights
Githeri, Mukimo and Irio are the top three dishes in rural Kenya. Githeri, a mixture of boiled beans and soft maize, is usually eaten on its own, though some people add fried brown onions with tomatoes, garlic, green chillies and fresh coriander to it. Mukimo is an interesting mash mix of potatoes, spinach, pumpkin leaves, and maize pounded together. Irio is mash too, of boiled beans, potatoes, cabbage, maize and one can toss in some fried onions and black pepper for taste. All these dishes make a perfect combination with katchumbari, a delicious salsa like salad.

Carnivore
The most successful restaurant in Kenya is Carnivore. Since it opened its door in 1980, it has hosted over 2 million customers and has twice been voted among the world’s top 50 restaurants. On offer are all kinds of meats running the gamut from Ostrich, Crocodile to camel char coal roasted and carved at your table replete with accompaniments! And I discovered in Kenya that wherever you eat, the country’s passion for food is infectious. As a local said to me “When there is happiness in the stomach, there is happiness in the heart!”

Fast facts
Nearly all of Kenya’s tribes boast a specific meal as their very own staple food.
The ingredients used to prepare a dish are fresh, very cheap and easily used to make a quick meal.
Common veggies include kale, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, avocados and other leafy greens.
Beef and goat meat are the common meats served at mealtime.
Tropical fruits such as mangoes, oranges, bananas, pineapples and pears are cheap, plentiful and popular.
They are avid tea drinkers.
Tusker, a Kenyan beer, is the relaxing beer of choice for most locals.
Adventurous meat eaters can also indulge in safe wildlife game meat, such as crocodile and ostrich, served in specialised restaurants.
Game meat is rarely eaten in Kenyan homes.