May 5: Eating in Nairobi. Mokimo = “Potatoes with green”

By africayogaproject
Posted in Africa Yoga Project Blog, on May 05, 2012

I’m enjoying the Kenyan food so far, though simple, it’s certainly tasty! There’s a lot of rice, beans, kale, chapati, stewed potatoes, French fries (chips) and of course, the signature, so I’ve been told, ‘must-have’ Kenyan staple: Ugali.

Ugali consists of cornmeal boiled in water, stirred until it creates a sot of paste, forming a large ball or cake and that’s it. You tear off pieces, roll them into a ball in your hands, stick your thumb in a part of the ball to create a crevice and then you dunk this into your kale (also known as Sukuma wiki); a simple, yet dense necessity to the local diet. Apparently, you can eat Ugali for breakfast and it’s so heavy and solid that you won’t have to eat again until dinner. I disagree. Irene and Billy made Katy and I this delicacy the other afternoon and I was happy to eat dinner later that evening (but of course, that could just be me, if you know me well, you know how much I love my food!).

Another aspect about Kenyan food is that there isn’t as much of focus on the caloric value of each meal. As Billy says, food is food- you eat it. I like this, and I wish us North Americans could feel comfortable adopting this approach to our meals. People don’t worry about staying excessively thin and trim here. A woman with a bit of meat on her bones is considered to be beautiful…YES! Isn’t this the way it should be?

Also, the customary approach to a meal involves sitting down, and as soon as your food arrives, you eat and you don’t talk. It is actually considered rude to talk during your meal. This is so interesting. The AYP teachers were giggling during my etiquette workshop because there are so many cultural differences that we both couldn’t believe. I was, however, very touched over the past few days as I’ve observed many of these new friends attempting to apply all of their new-found table manners during our daily lunch. Forks and knives, napkins, elbows off the table, full conversation, chewing properly before taking another bite- incredible! My friend Faith told me that she went right home after the workshop and taught her sister these new skills so they can go out to nice restaurants and eat comfortably.

Yesterday, Billy, Auma, Sadick, Katy, Hassan and I had lunch at the National Theatre in the Artist’s Cafe. I ordered the fish with chapati. After I placed my order and the server had brought us our hot towels to wash off our hands, I peered at the man sitting at the table across from me and noticed that he too, had ordered the Tilapia. Alas, I didn’t realize it would be a full, skin-on, with the head, eat with your fingers kind of a fish. I decided to be open and go for it, ‘Kenyan-style’. The fish came, I dug in, ate everything except for the head. Billy took one for the team by eating that part of my lunch. Apparently, eating the head of the fish makes you clever…Oh well, I’ll have to increase my IQ some other way.

After teaching a packed, juicy, sweaty, fun-filled and energizing 2 hour, Saturday morning class at Sarakasi, I had the pleasure of trying Mokimo. As I asked the woman serving the food what this was, she replied, “Potatoes with green”. I love it! What a perfect explanation. Apparently the ‘green’ in this corn, onion and mashed potato mixture is pumpkin leaves. It’s quite yummy. I highly recommend it.

Well that’s all from Nairobi for tonight. I’m about to finish my delicious Kenyan tea, have some peas with tomatoes, onions and rice, made by our gracious host, Miss Auma, and then it’s off to bed…

Love, Light and ‘Sweet Dreams’ to Everyone,

~Lisa Clark


Interesting read. Actually the culture in Nairobi is different in different parts of the city. Having a conversation during meals is quite normal in most parts of Nairobi. Don’t worry about not being able to eat the tilapia’s head. I am a Kenyan, born and bred in Nairobi and can never get myself to eat it. Next time, you should try ‘Omena’, another delicacy I cannot get myself to try. :-)

Catherine Wanjiru on June 12, 2013

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