Saturday, October 3

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Eating at the center

Meals at the center are not terribly exciting, as the weekly menu is fixed and dishes are on a tight rotation, but they are honestly Kenyan. When restaurants proudly declare their foods “authentically African,” these are the dishes they serve.

Breakfast is either tea, porridge or mandazi. For all the money I have sunk into loose leaf teas imported from every continent, I like to think that I have some right to call myself a connoisseur and would thus like to make some critically appropriate remark on the quality and taste of our morning brew, but that is frankly impossible. The Kenyans like their tea sweet. Really sweet. So sweet that it wouldn't take much more to make the drink the base for rock candy. This, in turn, is balanced the next day by a cup of porridge. It's called uji and is sour. I hear it is made from a blend of maize flour and millet. Imagine the taste as possible. Mandazi is the height of breakfast meals. It is a triangle of dough deep fried until puffed. Even though we have since begun buying it from caf├ęs and street sellers whenever we feel peckish, Demetra and I still eagerly anticipate mandazi days. We even begin reminding each other how long until the next Tuesday and Saturday afternoon because there is no mandazi like straight-from-the-fry-oil fresh mandazi. Bananas and sweet potatoes make the occasional assist for a little more substance in the early morning.


Lunch rotates between three dishes: rice and beans, chapati and beans, and githeri. The first is exactly what it sounds like. Rice is cooked. Kidney beans are cooked. They are then combined. This is wonderful. I don't know if some spice packet is added when I'm not looking, but Demetra and I make a point of not missing lunch at the center these days unless absolutely necessary. Chapati and beans is similarly self descriptive. Chapati is cooked. Kidney beans are cooked. They are then combined. Chapati may take a bit more description though. Imagine white wheat flour combined with water and salt. Now imagine rolling said dough into a circle about five inches in diameter. Finally, imagine frying said circle until hot but not crispy. Chapati is fry bread, and the only menu item I suspect to not be authentically Kenyan. My guess is Indian. It is excellent though. It's a true pity that we have it only Fridays, but the cooks may appreciate that as it is so time intensive to prepare. Despite having the most exotic name, githeri is actually our least favorite lunch. Not because it's bad but because it's entirely bland. It's a thick stew of kidney beans and maize kernels, like corn kernels but about three times the size, and entirely without taste. Githeri has started moving up in my estimation since I bought chili sauce at the supermarket. Peptang Chili Sauce with Garlic makes everything better. Except tea. And porridge. And mandazi. A lot of things actually. But the general thrust of the statement still stands. Peptang Chili Sauce with Garlic does improve the flavor of a number of dishes, githeri among them.


Dinner is either ugali and cabbage or ugali and kale. Ugali is something like mashed potatoes in color but more like sweet bread in consistency. Those things are solid. Unfortunately, the maize flour that comprises it is completely bland. The only flavor comes from the vegetables which are cut thin and fried and served on the side. My preference used to be for cabbage as the kale was a bit bitter, but that has turned around with the arrival of the Peptang. It complements the kale so well. Kenyans absolutely love the ugali though. One of my fellow directors claims it has addictive properties, and one of the older girls has said she starts shaking if she doesn't have any for longer than a day.


I don't know if I'll be bringing these recipes back with me to the States, except maybe for the mandazi and chapati, but they've been different. I'm glad I've had the opportunity.

Now, I do eat out with some frequency, and the menus at the restaurants are more complete than that of the center, but that is a topic for another post.

1 comment:

adventures north said...

Yes, chipati is Indian, as I've experienced first hand in, of all places, Baudette (-: