Eating and drinking

Food

Kenyans are largely big meat eaters and a standard meal is
nyama choma
- roasted beef or goat meat, usually served with a spicy relish, although some like it with a mixture of raw peppers, onions and tomato known as
kachumbari
. This is usually prepared on simple charcoal grills outside in beer gardens. The main staple or starch in Kenya is
ugali
, a mealie meal porridge eaten all over Africa. In Kikuyu areas you will find
irio
: potatoes, peas and corn mashed together. A popular Luo dish is fried
tilapia
(fish) with a spicy tomato sauce and
ugali
.
Githeri
is a bean stew. Cuisine on mainland Kenya is not one of the country's main attractions. There is a legacy of uninspired British catering (soups, steaks, grilled chicken, chips, boiled vegetables, puddings, instant coffee). Small town hotels and restaurants tend to serve a limited amount of bland processed food, omelette or chicken and chips, and perhaps a meat stew but not much else. Asian food is extremely good in Kenya and cheap, and an important option for vegetarians travelling in the country. Many Indian restaurants have a lunchtime buffet where you can eat as much as you want for less than US$10 a head. Other cuisines include Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and even Thai, though these can only be found in the upmarket Nairobi restaurants and coastal resorts. Also on the coast, the Swahili style of cooking features aromatic curries using coconut milk, fragrant steamed rice, grilled fish and calamari, and delicious bisques made from lobster and crab. Some of the larger beach resorts and safari lodges offer breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets for their all-inclusive guests, some of which can be excellent while others can be of a poor standard and there's no real way of knowing what you'll get. The most important thing is to avoid food sitting around for a long time on a
buffet table, so ensure it has been freshly prepared and served. Restaurant prices are low; it is quite possible to get a plate of hot food in a basic restaurant for US$3 and even the most expensive places will often not be more than US$30 per person. The quality, standard and variety of food depends on where you are and what you intend to pay. Various Western-style fast foods are becoming ever more popular such as chips, hamburgers, sausages and fried chicken. Finally, the service in Kenyan restaurants can be somewhat slower than you are used to and it can take hours for something to materialize out of a kitchen. Rather than complain just enjoy the laid-back pace and order another beer.

A variety of items can be purchased from
street vendors
who prepare and cook over charcoal, which adds considerably to the flavour, at temporary roadside shelters (kiosks). Street cuisine is pretty safe despite hygiene methods being fairly basic. Most of the items are cooked or peeled, which deals with the health hazard. Savoury items include chips, omelettes, barbecued beef on skewers (
mishkaki
), roast maize (corn), samosas, kebabs, hard-boiled eggs and roast cassava (looks like white, peeled turnips) with red chilli-pepper garnish. Roadside stalls selling
mandazi
(a kind of sweet or savoury doughnut), roasted maize, grilled, skewered meat, or samosas are popular and very cheap. Fruits include oranges (peeled and halved), grapes, pineapples, bananas, mangoes (slices scored and turned inside-out), paw-paw (papaya) and watermelon. These items are very cheap and are all worth trying, and when travelling, are indispensable.

Most food produce is purchased in open-air markets. In the larger towns and cities these are held daily and, as well as selling fresh fruit and vegetables, sell eggs, bread and meat. In the smaller villages, a market will be held on one day of the week when the farmers come to sell their wares. Markets are very colourful places to visit and just about any fruit or vegetable is available. Other locally produced food items are sold in supermarkets, often run by Asian traders, whilst imported products are sold in the few upmarket supermarkets in the larger cities such as Nakumatt.

Drink

Sodas
(soft drinks) are available everywhere and are very cheap, the bottles are refundable. Apart from the usual Cokes and Fantas look out for Krest bitter lemon and ginger ale, and the rather delicious Stoney's Ginger Beer. The other common drink throughout the country is
chai
, milky sweet tea, which is surprisingly refreshing. When available, fresh fruit juices are very good as they are freshly squeezed. Bottled water is fairly expensive, but is available in all but the smallest villages. Tap water is reputedly safe in many parts of the country, but is only really recommended if you have a fairly hardy traveller's stomach. If you don't have a strong stomach, do not use tap water to brush your teeth and avoid ice and washed salads and fruit if possible.

Kenyan beer
is very good:
Tusker
,
White Cap
and
Pilsner
are the main brands sold in half-litre bottles. Fruit wines are also popular; they come in a variety of different flavours but tend to be sweet. Papaya wine is widely available, but is a little harsh.

Spirits
tend to be extremely expensive and imported brands can be found in the supermarkets and in bars. Local alternatives that are sold in both bottles and sachets of one tot include
Kenya Cane
, a type of rum, and the sweet
Kenya Gold
coffee liqueur.

Traditional Kenyan drinks include
chang'aa
, a fierce spirit made from maize and sugar and then distilled. Sentences for distilling and possessing
chang'aa
are severe and it is sometimes contaminated. It has been known to kill so think twice before tasting any. Far more pleasant and more common are
pombe
(beer), brewed from sugar and millet or banana depending on the region. It is quite legal, tastes a bit like flat cider and is far more potent than it appears at first.
Palm wine
is drunk at the coast.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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