The downside to being an expat working in Nairobi who wanted to check out the local eats is that by the time I left the office, it was usually dark. Being a clueless American visiting for the first time, I was warned not to go out on my own at night; that said, I did get a chance to sample some very traditional Kenyan cooking: nyama choma.
In Swahili, nyama choma loosely translates to "roasted meat." One afternoon, one of my drivers who ferried me to and from my office took me to his neighborhood nyama choma joint just off of one of Nairobi's main thoroughfares, Ngong Road.
A little shop called JoJen Butchery and Meat Supplier (small butcher shops like this were ubiquitous in Nairobi) sat at one end of a dirt lot next to a row of other cinderblock and metal sheeting covered shacks. Once inside, I walked down a narrow corridor to a dimly lit back room occupied by several Kenyans in butchers coats attending to various carcasses hanging from hooks.
Almost everyone I met in Kenya spoke English, so communication was not an issue when I asked them what to order. They immediately answered "goat" and hacked off a leg from the hanging goat and presented it to me for inspection. I didn't know exactly what I was meant to be looking for, so I smiled and gave a thumbs up, after which they whisked me back to the sunlit dining room as the goat was prepared.
Nyama choma involves roasting the meat for 30 to 40 minutes with no seasoning except basting with salt water. Goat tends to be particularly tender, so this results in a dry, but soft mound of flesh. As I waited, my driver and I had a couple of Tuskers. Tusker is a light Kenyan lager with a barley malty aroma, light sweetness, and a lingering caramel finish. It's bubbly and crisp. A perfect refresher for the hot, dusty atmosphere in east Africa.
When the server asked me if I wanted my beer cold or warm, I couldn't imagine why anyone would want it warm in the sweltering, dry heat. My driver explained that Kenyans, and presumably all Africans, don't handle cold beverages well. His wife even gets nosebleeds when she drinks something cold. It does make a bit of sense when you consider how little Kenyans encounter things that are cold.
Half an hour later, our goat was ready. A server broke the leg down to small morsels and presented it to us on a communal cutting board. With nothing but a small mound of salt to accompany the goat, we ate it with our fingers. It was tender, juicy, and delicious. Simple, unembellished. A great taste of Kenyan fare and culture. To top it off, it all came out to about $6!
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