ACHOLA ROSARIO SEARCHES FOR ETHIOPIAN FOOD IN NAIROBI
(Posted 10th July 2020)
The search for real Somali and Ethiopian food began in Eldoret last year, when I realized that there is actually a large Somali and Ethiopian community there. The wonderful taste of enjera, the fermented Tef wheat “crepe-pancake” which is used to accompany rich meaty and bean sauces haunts my palate every so often and I have to satiate the craving. I am a creature of limited willpower.
So when I eventually made my way to Eastleigh in Nairobi, the real hub of all things Somali and birthplace of Mohamed Amin the famous one-armed photo-journalist, I thought it would be a snap finding an authentic restaurant with which to sample old culinary friends and explore new ones. But that turned into a bit of a hunt, which none the less was stimulating to the curious mind as well as the appetite.
Eastleigh was originally a large Kenyan Asian enclave until independence in 1963 and since then has been almost exclusively dominated by Kenyan and refugee Somali and Ethiopians. Their culture permeates every corner and can be heard in the music floating in the air, the signs on the shops, the light-hearted banter and insults being traded as fast as the FMCGs on the streets. I alighted from my cab somewhere along 1st Street, a large dual-carriageway that serves as the commercial center, looked left, then right, and started walking.
Those who I stopped to ask directions to local Somali food, looked at me with bemusement, taking in my big bag and little camera in my hand before directing me to a side street up the stairs to Fadumahindi restaurant, an elegant restaurant with frosted glass doors and wing-backed velour armchairs. Unfortunately by 4pm, most of the items on the relatively limited local menu were done but there was plenty of chips and other continental dishes, which was not what I came for. However the lovely manager Fred said that they are expanding their local Somali menu and will be officially re-opening in two weeks so it is worth keeping in mind, especially if the food is as tasteful as the interior decor.
Onwards and upwards, and I find a tiny gap in the street with the aid of a helpful boda motorcyclist and my very sensitive nose, just when I was about to give up and go home. I entered a pleasant little café called BIG MAC, where fully robed and semi-veiled ladies sat chatting and sharing glistening trays of enjera and assorted condiments and sauces. The pink and tangerine walls were reflected by large mirrors with arabesques printed frames, and a TV quietly whispered a telenovela overhead by the entrance. A handsome Ethiopian gentleman beckoned me to sit down and happily allowed me to film.
The food when it came, arrived in a timely fashion and with a little flourish from the waiter, along with a glass of sweet concentrated passion fruit juice filled to the brim of a large glass mug. Though I had requested no chili, I still could have done with a little more spice, namely garlic, but the meat was so tender and not fibrous at all. You can tell it had been home stewed for hours in a clay pot. This is as authentic as you could get, in an ordinary home-café, and I am sure if I became a regular, the more select condiments such as Ethiopian cottage cheese could be conjured up from somewhere.
Social distancing was observed and there was a good balance between giving space between the tables and catering to demand, which was quite high and almost exclusively female. In a Muslim environment, this points to a place that a lady can trust and feel safe enough to relax and have a good meal, without threat of scandal from revealing herself.
The place was also cleaned regularly, except for the back sink where clients cleaned themselves up, which let the side down somewhat.
I ate as much as I could before packing up and rushing out to capture Eastleigh in the setting sun, as much sun as there was on that cloudy day. The regeneration of the neighborhood was evident in the amount of construction that was going on, but so was the evidence of slum-housing in dilapidated buildings shielded from revealing the true nature of it’s living conditions by corrugated iron sheets blocking the balconies. The streets were clean and looked swept, but in some corners, garbage the size of sedan cars sat composting on the street. But the people pushed on, walking fast and working hard, keeping on treading water, for all their sons and daughters.
The search for the perfect food from the Horn of Africa continues and suggestions are fully welcome. You bring, I eat. And tell you all about it.
BIG MAC CATERING can be reached on this number:
+254 768 385 037
To watch Episode 34 click on this link:
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On to the next adventure.