LIFE BY LOUIS: Why is it so hard to buy good meat in Nairobi?

Thursday December 7 2017

Before I make a purchase from my butcher, I insist on him presenting me with the evidence that the meat he is selling comes from locally recognised domestic animals. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH

Before I make a purchase from my butcher, I insist on him presenting me with the evidence that the meat he is selling comes from locally recognised domestic animals. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

More by this Author

Buying meat in Nairobi is like trying to negotiate a multi-billion syndicated loan or a tripartite tariffs and trade agreement between hostile nations in different continents.

Through an intensive competitive bidding process, I have maintained Man Njoro as my sole vendor of domestic meat supplies. He is the sole proprietor of Njoro Prime Cuts Butchery and Car Wash Services.

I have never understood this business model that combines dirty cars and deceased animals as part of the menu. I also fail to understand why all budding businessmen and oligarchs that I interact with tend to have the prefix ‘Man’ before their first names, but I let that one pass.


On a good day when my bank account balance is healthy, I show up at Man Njoros butchery and my arrival is announced with a lot of noise and pomp.

I will chose the peak hours of between five and six in the evening when men are returning to their humble abodes where they dutifully pay rent but end up spending less than three hours every day. The rest of their hours are either spent in places of entertainment or in their parallel tallying centers.

I am well aware that a few of Njoros friends are cooling their heels in government sponsored correctional gated communities for selling meat that does not belong to domestic animals.

Before I make a purchase, I insist on him presenting me with the evidence that the meat he is selling comes from locally recognised domestic animals. I also take him through a short oral interview where I enquire whether the animal met its death under humane conditions.

When in doubt, I insist on seeing the material safety data sheets that came with the meat. Of course I don’t expect Njoro to have an idea what that is, but he always has a solution. He turns the hanging carcass around to show me the stamp from the health inspector.


Although I am aware that he is capable of making his own parallel stamp, I always let that evidence suffice. Because I have known that Njoro is a dishonest businessman all along, I carry a specification sheet for the kind of meat that I want.

It will read something like ‘200grams from the thigh, to be extracted 15inches from the hip bone and no more than three centimetres deep. Include one bone with bone marrow inside, weight of bone not to exceed 5% of the overall meat weight. Meat to have no more than 2% of fat content’.

But either Njoro has a hearing problem or he is just on a noble mission to annoy me. Although I will physically walk with him to the inner cage where the former cows are hanging upside down and pinpoint the exact place where he needs to cut, he ends up playing games with me.

He has magical powers, I believe. Or he practices some form of black magic. Even when you are sure that he has cut a nice piece of steak for you, he has a way of magically reaching below the chopping desk and folding a large piece of bone with the steak.

He will quickly pack your piece and even throw a fresh bunch of dhania inside to try and appease you. Sometimes you feel like you have missed a step in the packing process and you demand that he opens his servers.


Even then, you will never see that cleverly hidden bone. It is after you have arrived home and elaborately instructed on how you want that steak made, medium rare with onions and tomatoes and a litre of soup, that you get a shock of your life.

That is when you will discover that you bought a kilo of thigh bone neatly wrapped with a thin foil of steak. You vow to return Njoro to his maker during the next visit.

But his cunning efforts are not all vain. He is known to have a soft spot for his female customers. He keenly listens to their cries and cuts the meat as per their instructions.

Rumour has it that the ladies love the way he works his hands around the hanging meat, neatly curving out choice chunks from the back and rib cage areas. He always manages to display a pleasant character in the wake of the ladies, and as an after sale service he offers advice on how to cook the meat in a medium flame with coriander and green pepper.

The hair salon grapevine is ripe with stories of his benevolent nature and how he never cheats on his weights. This attribute makes him get rated as a good lover. Once in a while an overwhelmed female customer will invite him to her home to taste her cooking and confirm that the salt is just right.


Like a man is wont to do under such circumstances, he gladly accepts the offer. As a long service award and appreciation for his honesty of character, he is offered other refreshments by the host. As a result, there are between four to six kids in the neighborhood that bear an uncanny resemblance to him, especially his big ears and thick lips.

When any of these kids are sent by their mothers to buy meat, he abandons everything else and focuses on retrieving his best cuts for them. This is always at the expense of our orders which are relegated to spongy and elastic pieces of the cow that are derived from the dewlap and knees areas.

He really takes good care of his wild seed. It is no wonder then that his legitimate children back in the village are always diagnosed with protein deficiencies. I witnessed one day when the mother of his children showed up at the butchery and demanded to be given two kilos of meat.

She reminded him that his children had been on a staple diet of ugali and vegetables for the last three months and their stomachs were distended with symptoms of kwashiorkor. She lamented that the children have been feeding on greens like livestock, and educated him that his children would not scratch themselves if they ate meat.

She also wanted to know why he had not been to the village to see his children over those three months, insinuating that he was resisting his matrimonial duties. In order to save face, he promptly folded a kilo of offal and added some hooves to make soup for the children and led her out of the butchery.

As he escorted her back to Machakos Airport to take the bus back to the village, I realized that he is hard worker but he is multiplying all his earthily efforts by zero. Some men will come out of this City carrying their clothes in a paper bag.