Category Archives: Food

A bowl of mabuyu.

Do Digital Age Kids Know this Kenyan Confectionery?

I grew up in various metropolises in Kenya. One of the towns that ignited by adventurous spirit is Nanyuki because it is a melting pot of cultures.  The primary school I attended was, still is, on the periphery of Majengo, and just next to the town council’s market.  These two landmarks were our shopping malls. If pupils weren’t in the market looking for mutura and maembe, they would be in the shops adjacent to the school buying kashata among other Kenyan confectionery.

In those days, a Kenyan cent had value. With a 50 cents coin, I could buy maembe ya pili pili or coin-size biscuits that cost a cent each among other delicacies only an 80s kid could understand.  My green tunic would slump to one side from the mound of bitings, concealed in a polythene bag, in my pocket. This mound made the afternoon under the Equator sun bearable. It also kept me company for the 15 minutes’ walk home in the evening.

In those days, a child belonged to the community, and it paid off to live close to older cousins, aunties, and a grandmother who doted me and would spare a few cents to buy kaimati or other snack.

 My favourite Kenyan confectionery was:

  1. Sukari Nguru (jaggery)

It may sound absurd but for some time, I actually thought sukari nguru was a tortoise’s excrement and that’s why they called it nguru (tortoise in my mother tongue).  I used to wonder what they ate to shit such good stuff.  You would spot children splitting and sharing sukari nguru to the last morsel. The only disadvantage was if I was the one splitting it, I would have to lick the sticky stuff off my hands because at best, there was only one running tap in the school and only the class 8 pupils would live through the pushing and shoving for a sip of water. There was no way to explain the sticky stuff to my mother.

A glass bowl with nuggets of sukari nguru

 

  1. Ukwaju ( Tamarind)

This sweet and sometimes savoury snack has a strange kick in the system. I recently found out it can also make juice and marinate chicken and beef. Maybe, if they had shared such information then, my mum would have bought tamarind in sacks.

A pestle full of tamarind

  1. Mabuyu ( baobab seeds)

Mabuyu was the best of them all. It was packaged nicely, and we could share a packet without the nasty sticky stuff of sukari nguru.  But it would be all fun and games until I got home and my mum saw the red colour on my lips after she had categorically warned me about kula kwa wenyewe. How getting a few mabuyu seeds from a friend I may have given my ukwaju the previous day amounted to kula kwa wenyewe, only an 80s parent can explain.

A bowl of succulent mabuyu.
The name mabuyu is derived from the seed’s name, ubuyu.
  1. Chevda

Chevda is an Indian delicacy. Some people call it Shefra, others call it chefra but all names refer to a spicy and crunchy mix of cereals, potatoes and noodles made of flour. Some of the cereals in the mix are peanuts, lentils, chickpeas. The chilli was sometimes too hot.

  1. Kashata

Most of the retail shops next to our school stocked kashata. In retrospect, I didn’t know it was actually something I could prepare at home with just coconut, sugar and food colour.

Whenever I see such Kenyan confectionery on the streets of Nairobi, I am taken back to the 90s, when there was so much to explore and experience as a child.

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Pieces of mutura on a chopping board with kachumbari on the side., which is one of the street foods in nairobi

The Most Popular Street Food in Nairobi

Street food in Nairobi refers to the inviting snacks hawked on the streets of Nairobi’s downtown as well as in estates.  It is definitely something you won’t find in the posh neighbourhoods of Karen and Lavington. However, recently, some Kenyan foods like mutura are sitting next to ice-cream and coffee on the menus of high-end restaurants.  But, street food is street food. When you take it to a high-end restaurant, it is just food served in a different ambiance, on expensive cutlery, with an inflated bill.

There are no coins jiggling in our pockets anymore because the tastes and aromas on the streets have taken full control of our wallets. Whether you are waiting for a bus, walking to your mama mboga or just strolling to a supermarket in the estate, there is always that mutura or smokie at the corner. If you ignore him, the mahindi guy will draw your attention as he fans his charcoal grill with roasted cobs pointing to the sky. Personally, I gave up on ignoring chips mwitu.

Kenyan Food on Nairobi Streets

Here’s a list of the most popular street food in Nairobi. Which of these are you addicted to?

Mahindi choma

A variation of mahindi choma is mahindi boilo (mutungo). I think the lemon and chilli rub over roasted maize makes it tastier than boiled maize.

Half a piece of a roasted maize cob.

Chips Mwitu

We like French fries, a lot. More so because the countryside supplies tonnes of potatoes to the city. But we don’t call this snack French fries because there’s nothing French about how it is prepared and served on our streets. 🙂 An affordable solution to the craving for something deep-fried. Then there’s a mob that jams the queue because there’s no kachumbari left and for them chips mwitu must have kachumbari.

A handful of potato chips washed in tomato sauce.

Pop corn

Popcorn is a another European snack that’s masquerading as street food in Nairobi. But, we like it, so it stays. Popcorn vendors are stationed strategically at the exit of most supermarkets in Nairobi. As you exit with a handful of coins, the crackle of the popcorn machine will make you spend to the last dime. The worst comes when shopping with a toddler and as you walk out you find him/her camping next to the popcorn stand waiting for you to fork some money. How you handle such a tantrum tests the very core of your parenting skills.

Popcorn in a polythene paper.

Mutura

Mutura is in every way the signature African sausage.  What was once a traditional sausage is now one of the most popular street food in Nairobi, albeit now available in uptown restaurants.  Traditional mutura had a mixture of blood and meat stuffed into an intestine from a cow’s entrails but presently, it contains minced meat, pepper and spring onions. You pretty much don’t know what’s in our mutura, and as much as you love it, there is always that thought at the back of the mind telling you there might be endless trips to the toilet and a stomach ache.

Pieces of mutura on a chopping board with kachumbari on the side.

Samosa

This deep-fried spicy snack costs between KSh 5 and KSh 30 depending with the hood. Meat samosas are of course more popular but you can also get lentil and potato samosas. You can buy a few samosas to have them with tea for breakfast.

Three meat samosas on a platter.

Maembe ya pili pili

Mango season starts from around November to June in most parts of Kenya. I learnt this from years of maembe ya pili pili sold outside my primary school in the late 90s. That’s where all the coins I made out of my cousins and grandma went. Now, I can enjoy this street food in Pumwani, Eastleigh and some other few estates of Nairobi.

A sliced mango with a later of chilli powder.

Njugu Karanga

If you have used the city commuter trains, you must have come across njugu karanga vendors. I was hooked to this snack for years because I would get to the train by 5 p.m. and wait for the Kahawa train that would leave the station at 5:30 p.m. A train ticket was KSh 35, and a cone of njugu was KSh 5. But some njugu sellers in Nairobi take the hustle too far by wrapping peanuts in recycled paper from God knows where.  You may laugh it off now, but when you unwrap your peanuts cone to see a curriculum vitae, it won’t be funny anymore.

A handful of roasted peanuts.

Fruit salad

Fruits are perishable. It makes more sense to have a pudding when living alone as opposed to buying a whole melon or pineapple to have a piece daily. Once you slice it open, vitamins decrease gradually. That’s the rationale I use to justify the KSh 50 I spend on fruit puddings once in a while.

A bowl of a mixture of fruits.

Smokie Pasua

Why buy a smokie only when you can have it with kachumbari? Smokie pasua will be the end of us. It is already milking us dry of coins since the price went up from KSh 20 to KSh 25 but we haven’t given up this street snack.

A smokie with kachumbari.

Mayai pasua

If you overcome the desire for smokie pasua, the boiled eggs sitting in a cart, with a bowl of succulent kachumbari on top will call you over. What do they add to their mayai pasua because mine is never as tasty when I make it at home?

A boiled egg, sliced and stuffed with kachumbari.

There’s also the sugar cane. But for now, let’s not list it in the top street food in Nairobi.

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5 Healthy Snacks for Hikers

When the urge to snack kicks in, reach into your bag for healthy grubs that will not only satisfy your craving but also give you the nutrients you need for the outdoor adventure. Indubitably, we chow down savoury snacks like potato crisps to substitute biscuits and cakes. But we can only take so much salt before we get tired or the doctor’s adjuration shifts our focus towards healthy snacks.

If you have crossed over to the healthy snacks side, here are five options you can take on your next hike.

  1. Mixed nuts

Njugu karanga (peanuts) is perhaps the most popular nut in East Africa. Others top on the list are macadamia and cashew nuts. These plant foods provide healthy fats, protein, fibre and minerals like zinc and potassium. The cheapest nuts in Kenya are peanuts.  With KSh 10, you have a handful of peanuts for a mid-day snack. As you buy supplies ahead of your hike, get cashew nuts, peanuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts and almonds. Most supermarkets in towns and cities in EA stock a range of nuts.

  1. Smoothies

Go wild with a blend of fruits and veggies from pineapples to avocados, melons and spinach.  Unlike fruit juice, smoothies are rich in fiber, which is an important component in the digestion process. Other than water, smoothies keep you hydrated (check out other ways to stay hydrated here). Invest in a good bottle to carry your smoothie. However, to have it fresh, drink it within the first hour or so of your hike.

  1. Dried fruits

Take out sweets from your hiking snacks and add a healthy alternative. Nutrients in dried fruits include fiber, vitamins and minerals. Dried fruits are lighter than fresh fruits, they won’t spoil fast, and you don’t need knives and forks to serve them. Dried fruits to pack in your backpack include berries, cherries, dates and raisins. Quite a number of dried berries are available from strawberries to cranberries and blueberries.

  1. Yoghurt

Get your energy, fats and protein content from yoghurt. This snack will also relieve hunger pangs.  You can even go for natural yoghurt if you want to cut back on sugar.

  1. Fruit salad

If you don’t have the appliance or time to make smoothies, combine your fruits in a bowl and they will be as delicious as a smoothie. Pack our fruit medley in an airtight container and have it during the first hour of your hike, probably when you get a few minutes to sit down. You will need to pack a fork too. However, if salads, and forks, and containers don’t sound like anything you would like to carry in your backpack, just take one or two fruits (whole). Maybe pack a banana, an apple, and some oranges.

Tell me other healthy snacks you carry when going for a hike.

 

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