UGANDAN FOOD SPECIALITY MAKES ITS WAY TO NAIROBI WHERE THE F.O.M.O. TRAVEL SHOW PUTS IT ON THE MAP
(Posted 23rd January 2021)
Very few things in this world can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as a meal or as a snack, sweet or savory, or makes quite such a perfect accompaniment to a delicious thick stew like chapati. Known all over the world in various forms, ours, a mixture of flour oil and water, is such a staple, that one vendor in Ruaka makes and sells it from 4 in the morning, until 9.30 at night every single day, except for Sunday. He is one-eyed and doesn’t speak much, but his asbestos fingers are clean deft and sure, and he never seems to get tired or burned. His name is Moses Magoola from Uganda, now slowly conquering Ruaka/Banana stage.
Getting two words out of him was like getting blood out of a stone, so I contented myself with watching a master at work, kneading the dough before slathering cooking oil on his hands to facilitate the manipulation of the dough before pinching it through his fist into a firm ball, ready to be rolled out and fried. No salt is added, so the natural taste is elevated to a fragrant sweet savory pancake, with a crispy flaky skin, and a chewy glutenous center. There are literally millions of concoctions for how to cook and eat your chapati, my personal favorite being slathering it with butter and a sprinkle of sugar, before being made to regret it by my teeth. My favorite savory chapati meal is with rice and beans, some pork, and topped with slices of banana. Yes, that is “A Thing” so don’t knock it. Jamaican ya’know…
The earliest recorded mention of Chapati in European history was in the 15th Century but we can all agree that chapati (which apparently means “slap” in Indian, *source Wikipedia…) has been around homes in the “global south” for much longer than that. And today, all manner of people flock to Moses Magoola’s stall, from early morning office workers and schools kids snatching a quick breakfast before making the perilous mad dash into the much-sought after matatu to town, to the mechanics and police officers starting their day with a stomach-lining hunk of 2 folded chapatis at a go with hot milk tea, to the drunks and taxi-touts, running yelling back and forth in a seemingly uncoordinated manner while somehow managing to avoid getting crushed by competing vehicles. The action is thick and hot, and so is the chapati.
And then Moses brings out the sunshine in my heart when I register the tray of eggs on his counter and realize that he makes Rolexes too. The glory! My Ugandan-ness has missed the snack made famous in ghetto markets before being picked up by Uganda Tourism Board as the country’s flagship culinary brand. I also noticed that Kenyans take their Rolexes folded in a triangle and promptly educated the poor fellows. Forgive them Father for they know not what they do. I like mine rolled and the eggs wet. Ugandans, kindly get your heads out of the gutter, I know how y’all think. My style of rolex usually raises a few eyebrows but they don’t what they are missing, and I don’t care to elucidate on what they are missing. I stash it in my coat pocket to be enjoyed in the privacy of my home so the ecstasy on my face does not incite public scandal.
Moses’ lovely assistant Janet explains to me that on average they sell about 9 packets of flour worth of chapati, with each packet making about 30 chapatis. That is 270 chapatis a day, which they sell for 10 each, giving them a minimum daily income of kshs2700 or $30. Rolexes cost between kshs30 for a single egg to kshs50 for two eggs. She says they buy each packet of flour for kshs100 meaning they spend kshs900 on flour and possibly kshs100 on cooking oil. This gives them a profit of kshs1700 for 17 hours work. Break it down like that and it gives you an insight into what it takes to make $30 per day here. And there are times when I also desperately needed that $30 a day so we must not sniff at its value.
Chapati also has a value that cannot be taken for granted, not only as a staple at most people’s dinner table, but also as plug for hunger, when desperate times call for desperate measures.
Here’s saying Goodbye to Jan-worry.
Moses Magoola has no phone so you just have to get up and go there yourself.
To watch Episode 57 of The F.O.M.O. Travel show:
Always have a Gratitude Attitude.