THE ADVENTURES OF ACHOLA ROSARIO AS SHE GOES TO NGARA IN SEARCH OF A ROASTED OX HEART
(Posted 04th June 2020)
Trying to cross the road in Ngara, one of the main public transport intersections on the northern outskirts of the Nairobi CBD, is like willing yourself to martyrdom. With Metallica’s Enter the Sandman full blast in my ears, I make the leap into the headlong traffic skirting out of the town center at 80kph and skip like a pebble to Fig Tree market on the other side of the 4-lane highway. I have survived death. This is going to be good.
I have come to track down Roy Mwai, the ultimate purveyor of roast ox heart, a traditional kikuyu delicacy. Many have extolled the virtues of this velvety steak, fluffy red from being well ferrous fed, delicately roasted over an open flame, and served with chilli kachumbari (local salsa). I heard about him from a friend of a friend of a friend, who stops there every day on his way home from work, as he changes over from the town matatu to his final destination. I figure the veil-thin brush with death was an added bonus to the adventure.
In between umbrellas of bras of every shade, behind a mabati wall opposite the taxi park, I find the jolly Roy, hard at work, slicing up wedges of bulls’ hearts the size of small watermelons. I had expected my stomach to turn but I was instead fascinated. The flesh is clean and pure chunks of soft beef, no fat or bone to interrupt the velvet smoothness. And in Roy’s expert hands, the prep for grilling is like an efficient NYC kitchen.
He washes his hands at every level, and despite the open location, utensils are kept clean and well stored. Roy started his business with $50 and now serves 200 customers a day. Customers are so loyal that he can time each one, each day, like clockwork. He says he decided to concentrate on heart deliberately, as his competitors mainly sell “mutura” (blood sausage) and other organ meat, but do not seem to be aware of the heart’s special properties.
“I like heart, it has no cholesterol, no fat, no bones, and is very sweet! Yum Yum” says Roy. He says it is a versatile meat that can be pan-fried dry or wet and is delicious with ugali (maize meal) or githeri, a mix of boiled maize and beans. But the best way to have heart is the traditional way, his way. No spices are added to the meat, only salt. Kenyans in general and the Kikuyu in particular are highly averse to spicing their meat. That is like a declaration of war.
So how does it taste?
Bacon fanatics like me will understand my complete abhorrence of macon, the beef bacon substitute. Much as it was created as a politically correct substitute to bacon in fast food restaurants, the stuff tastes like the corruption of innocent Fanta soda with gin. It is taking something tasty and comforting and turning it into beige-tasting paper. But not so with a slice of roast heart. It makes you understand the divine texture and flavor that is meant to be Beef. My pupils dilated, and my heart beat a little faster.
And with the Kachumbali, a mixture of diced tomatoes and onions, chopped coriander and chili, and of course lots and lots of salt, this dish is a meal in itself that can fortify you after a long day of groveling. You sit in the taxi with your belly warm and your tongue remembering the smooth feeling of the paper-thin slices. And then you remember the added bonus to your vaguely morally illicit snack: Pure protein. No calories! Sweet.
Roy Mwai is available for outdoor catering within the Nairobi area. You can reach him on the following number for bookings:
Heartbeat Roasters: +254 721 791 948 (also on Whatsapp)
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Eat your heart out …