Meatless is murder

April 25, 2013 at 1:08 pm Leave a comment

nyama choma

Nyama Choma (Photo: Chris Gansen)

Kenya is famous for many things – big live animals, long distance runners and spawning Obama’s father and big animals – roasted.

Kenya’s national dish, nyama choma, is gristly, fatty roasted meat; beef or goat, and less often, chicken or fish. What’s that on the side of the plate you ask? Salt, for dipping, naturally. I’m assured by carnivorous Kenyans and expats that this is a not-to-be-missed experience. In fact, visitors passing through Nairobi are encouraged to visit the aptly named Carnivore restaurant (although no self-respecting local would pass up the roadside option).

Yet, vegetarianism isn’t as foreign to Kenyans as many would lead you to believe. The Kikuyu and Wakamba tribes who were traditionally agricultural rather than cattle rearing, were largely vegetarian eating ‘sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas, millet and Kafir corn or sorghum’.

Lest you thought this was a harmless piece of trivia, I must caution you. According to two reputable websites, Vegetarians Are Evil and The Naive Vegetarian:

 “The vegan Kikuyu tribe in Kenya were the perpetrators of the murderous Mau Mau [uprising] in the 1950s, not their wholly carnivorous, but peaceful, neighbours, the Maasai.”

Well then. Mystery solved.

Nonetheless, I don’t intend to join the feeding frenzy, so I’m pleased to report that despite rumours to the contrary, vegetarian Kenyan food is plentiful.

Ugali is the primary source of carbohydrate, made from cornmeal. It has a texture similar to set polenta and is eaten with various veggie and meat stews. Sukuma wiki (“push the week”) accompanies many meals, and is made of a variety of kale which is fried up with onions, tomato and the local delicacy, MSG. The greens grow in roadside plots everywhere, helping families to stretch their budgets.

The Indian connection brings a variety of lentil stews, samosas and chapati, while the colonial administration blessed Kenya with a variety of hot chips (the generosity never stops). It’s simple food, but it hits the spot.

Mandazi (Photo credit: Maureen Didde)

Mandazi (Photo credit: Maureen Didde)

My favourite so far has been the mandazi, a Kenyan doughnut usually eaten at breakfast. Warm, doughy, sweet and deep-fried. I’ve only enjoyed these little tasties at a kid’s birthday party, so I’ll attempt making them over the weekend – wish me luck!


Entry filed under: Everyday, Food, Nairobi. Tags: , , , , , .

Matatus for the people Langata Giraffe Centre

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Radio Nairobi is written (and photographed) by Jesse Dean, as she spends 12 months in Nairobi



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