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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.