Tamarind, Lamu’s café on a tree – PHOTOS - Daily Nation

Tamarind Tree Café, Lamu’s favourite hotel atop a tree

Wednesday July 11 2018

Tamarind Tree Café

The Tamarind Tree Café. Located right atop a tamarind tree on Lamu Island, the café has become the latest tourist attraction. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Lamu Island is home to a number of unique getaway destinations.

But the Tamarind Tree Café located right atop the tamarind tree on Lamu Island could be the most favourite attraction.

This café serves a variety of Swahili cuisines, all of which are accompanied by a cold glass of tamarind juice just like its name suggests.

The café is located along Lamu Old Town's Seafront Street.

Inside Tamarind Tree Café

Inside the Tamarind Tree Café. It has become a favourite stop for tourists visiting Lamu. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The café gives both visitors and locals a taste of traditional Swahili cuisines and seafood dishes ranging from grilled lobster, grilled jumbo prawns, and fried garlic prawns, pan fried Calamari, octopus stew, grilled tuna fish and monster crab among other foods.

The tamarind tree, known as ‘mkwaju’ in Swahili, on which the café is located, is more than a hundred years old.

In Lamu, the tamarind is a revered ingredient in almost all dishes ranging from the famous tamarind juice, tamarind spices, and tamarind soup.

The tamarind is a must have for hotels, restaurants to households. It is an important aspect of the Swahili cuisine.

Inside Tamarind Tree Café

Inside Lamu's Tamarind Tree Café. The century old tamarind tree is right at the centre of the café. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


However, two years ago, Babu Obbo, a young entrepreneur, having saved enough from his ventures and with the help of his brother who works and lives outside the country, decided to give the century-old tamarind tree a new face by setting up a café around it, with the tree itself located smack at the centre of the now exquisite joint.

“Initially when it was just the tamarind tree, people, both locals and tourists loved to just seat in its massive shade and enjoy the cold breeze of the Indian Ocean. Then I asked myself how I could turn this into a permanent fun joint with plenty of Swahili food and most definitely the tamarind juice itself. That is basically the idea that gave birth to the Tamarind Tree Café back in February 2016,” says Mr Obbo.

He says he used about Sh1 million in constructing the entire café using local builders.

Mr Obbo later left the venture under the management of his elder brother, Hassan Obbo, who is currently the proprietor of the joint.

Fatma Walad

Tamarind Tree Café's manager and chef Fatma Walad. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Another notable feature of the Tamarind Tree Café is that it is located right next to the Indian Ocean, allowing guests to enjoy the amazing breeze as they savour the sumptuous meals served here.

The café has two floors with the kitchen and reception on the lower part while the restaurant in its entirety seats on top of the tree.

As expected, a good part of the café is made up of mangrove polls, wood and casuarina while its roof is made up of the traditional makuti.

The branches and leaves of the sprawling tamarind tree make part of the café’s roof top.

The mangrove tree is undoubtedly tied to the culture and heritage of the Lamu people and every single building coming up in the Old Town, which was enlisted a Unesco World Heritage site in 2001, is made of mangrove.

Lamu is mangroves and mangroves are Lamu, the two go hand in hand.

Swahili dishes

The Tamarind Tree Café serves a variety of Swahili dishes and seafood. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The café, which has become a major tourist attraction, is also known for its friendly food prices with meals costing between Sh200 and Sh800.

Hassan, the proprietor of the café, has incorporated the services of his wife, Fatma Walad, in running. Fatma is a chef while at the same time the manager of the café.

“Running of the café is going on smoothly. I was initially a beach operator and a coxswain but for now I have decided to focus more on running the café. Tourists, both domestic and international are warmly welcome here. I believe they will enjoy our,” says Hassan.

On her part, Fatma says the café is an exciting venture in Old Town.

“International tourists from Spain, Italy, Britain, the US, UK as well as domestic tourists especially those from Mombasa and Nairobi love this place. Most of them can’t leave Lamu without visiting this place to have a taste of Tamarind Tree Café’s services before concluding their tours,” says Fatma.

Edson Kalama

Edson Kalama, a waiter at the café. PHOTO | KALUME KAZUNGU | NATION MEDIA GROUP


A waiter at the café, Edson Kalama, says during high tourist seasons, they can serve over 100 guests every day.

The café has also become a ready market for fishermen especially those trading in lobsters, prawns, tuna, octopuses and a certain species of edible crabs which are easily caught in the Indian Ocean just around the café.

While at the Tamarind Tree Café, one can extend their visit to the various tourist attraction sites located near the joint.

Lamu Fort and Mkunguni Square Museum, for example, are just 100 metres from the Tamarind Tree Café.

The Lamu Museum as well, a magnificent multicultural architectural jewel on Lamu Island is also a walking distance from the café.

The museum was built in the 19th Century and served as the residence of Governor LI-Walis and later housed the district commissioner.

The building became a museum in 1971 and hosts one of the best ethnographic collections in the region.