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EATINGOUT: A true taste of coastal cuisine

Saturday July 9 2005

By GASTRO DENOME, [email protected]

SWAHILI PLATE

First Floor, Prestige Plaza

(Nakumatt Shopping Centre)

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Ngong Road

 

Food: Very Good

Ambience: Average

Service: Good

Price: Sh500 (inclusive of taxes and service charges) for two extremely heavy courses and soft drinks. Credit Cards not accepted.

 

It's that time of the year when I am so bored with every kind of cuisine that I may as well starve or live on fruits and bland cereals! I go through these phases when I hunger for something so different that no amount of pastas, pizzas, Indian cuisine, Oriental fare, steaks or grills can satisfy that mysterious craving. It is one of the most difficult times and reviewing restaurants makes it that much more difficult. When I heard that the Swahili Plate does an excellent Mahamri and Mbaazi, I immediately knew that that would do the trick.

Born and brought up at the coast, I always bemoan the lack of (or any) restaurants that serves decent coastal fare. At this point, allow me to side track and wax lyrical about that delicious coastal pastry/bread Mahamri and rant about its poor substitute, the upcountry version, the Mandazi.

Mahamris are triangles of rolled out, deep fried dough made of flour, coconut milk and a trace of cardamom. If kneaded well, they are light and fluffy and yield the most delicious kind of pastry, perfect over a cup of tea or eaten the Swahili way for breakfast, with Mbaazi,(beans stewed in sautŽed onions and more coconut milk). It is one of the most divine combinations I have ever tasted, never mind the calories. And at Swahili Plate, they are as good as they can get.  A taste of the Mahamris here will make you forget that bland deep fried dough they call Mandazi.

Swahili cuisine offers more such deep fried pastries such as Kaimati (round balls coated with sugar), Mitai and Vitumbua, all of which are available at the Swahili Plate. Also available are samosas, both meat (beef) and vegetables; battered, deep-fried, chilli flavoured potatoes, called Packed Potatoes in Mombasa or Viazi wa Karai as they are called here. The have meat cutlets, fish and beef kebabs, and Mkate wa Nyama and Mkate wa Mayai, which I take to be meat and egg chapati respectively. However the pi�ce de resistance in this humble, yet painstakingly created cuisine is the Mkate Sinia. For those who have never seen or heard of Mkate Sinia, picture a steamed cake steeped in coconut milk, with traces of cardamom and sweet! It really is superb.

For me, just sipping some tea and delving into the above is enough reminiscence of the Kenyan coast, but they have a whole lot of main course dishes which are equally finger-licking good (and let not my friends tell you that I do not use my fingers for eating, the praise remains the same, even if I use stainless steel cutlery). Most of the fare uses coconut milk, but a lot of Swahili food is also made of rich spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, chillies, ginger and garlic.

Unlike Indian food, these dishes have just a light delicate flavour so as not to overpower the main ingredients. And true Swahili dishes, like the fare of most coastal provinces of the Indian Ocean, contain freshly roasted and ground spices to make it all the more flavoursome.

In the mains section, they have Pilau, that very Middle Eastern rice dish which is flavoured with bit of meat and vegetables and quite often eaten with yoghurt.  Other such dishes are the extremely tasty biryani, which has whole chunks of heavily spiced meat. The Swahili biryanis, unlike those from Indian sub continent (i.e. Mughlai) are not a baked affair, but simply meat piled onto fragrant rice. At the Swahili Plate, there is Beef, Mutton and Chicken Biryani.  We tried the mutton one and it was divine, a huge portion and fresh. Also sounding tempting, but there was so much we could eat, were the Smoked Red Snapper or Chicken in coconut sauce, Maharagwe, blend of beans cooked in spices and tomatoes, Mishkaki (chunky meat kebabs) with fries or ugali, Grilled King Fish cooked in spices, chillies and coconut sauce or Coconut Rice and Fish Stew.  We did try the Matoke (plaintain) with groundnut sauce, but simply could not finish the dish, which had nothing to do with its fantastic taste.

I have made the mistake of writing this review on an empty stomach and am ravenous by the end of it, just thinking about the food on offer here. The place has a very basic ambience, it being a food court and all, but the charming service of the waitresses is well worth it. 

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