Traveling is a feast for the mind, eyes, soul, and most of all, stomach. This is a post about what has kept my stomach happy in the last 3 months in East Africa; I’d like to share five East African foods that I’ve enjoyed.
1. Let’s start with the ubiquitous staple dish, the star player in almost every local restaurant – a heaping plate of various starches/carbs with a side of one or two pieces of meat if you want to treat yourself. This is a dish intended for the working man, strangely devoid of the abundant vegetables found in markets, its' primary focus is on calories.
The starches on the plate are simply referred to as “food”, asking a restaurant "what food do you have?" is asking them what's in stock for the day, after which you can pick and choose which ones you want. Whether you pick one item or all of them, they are always guaranteed to fill the entire plate!
If you ask for food with meat, it will usually come with a broth / sauce, which will help add flavor to the starches.
2. Some of you may "bug out" at this next item due to the amount of crunchy protein involved. Twice a year in Uganda and Rwanda, giant flying insects invade the city. In November, it is grasshopper, nsenene, and in Rwanda, white flying ants. Thus, the only logical thing to do is of course, to capture them and eat them. And given that it only occurs biannually, these are considered delicacies.
4. One of my best discoveries has been a combo of two things I enjoy - milk and honey! Rwandans believe that milk and honey will make a woman beautiful. Given how much I smile when I drink this combination, I would agree!
While milk is available in supermarkets, I enjoy frequenting what I have deemed "milk bars" around Kigali. It is exactly as it sounds, a place where you can hang out and drink milk!
5. Lasty item on the list has the "premium name" of "Rolex" but is actually a cheap street food. I can guarantee that every Ugandan has had a rolex. No, it's not a knockoff brand of the watch, but rather a popular street snack. I've had it countless times, but somehow, don't have a good photo of it (it's THAT good). It's the ultimate street food, cheap, greasy, and easy to eat on the go.
It's essentially a roti / crepe (called a chapati in East Africa) with an omelet wrapped inside, along with tomatoes and onions. It's rolled up into a delicious stick configuration for easy walking and eating.
In Uganda, there are plenty of street vendors who serve up this delicious food. It's fun to stand and watch them make it live, though you have to tell your mind to ignore the shocking amount of oil that goes into making it. Now that I live in Rwanda, a much cleaner, government regulated country, street vendors are almost nonexistent. However, chapatis and rolexes still exist on restaurant menus.
There you have it! The end of our culinary journey in East Africa. Of course, this is a very small slice of all that East Africa has to offer! The foods are filling, but could do with more diversity and sometimes, flavor. These are meals for the working man, designed for function, not taste.
Alas, with the availability of fresh vegetables, one can always dish up something at home. It may not be a Three Michelin star country (i.e. worth a trip just to taste the food), but the five items above are a must try if you are here!
For more about my adventures as a Kiva fellows, visit my blog.