I recently went on a tour of downtown Nairobi hosted by former street children, and part of the experience was to have lunch at a kibanda on Moi Avenue.
The last time I was at a kibanda was in Lamu, when I was spread thin on cash after overstaying my visit. A kibanda on a laid back island on an idyllic slice of Kenyan Coast is, however, very different from one in the CBD.
The place was fully packed by the time we got there at around 1pm, and the patrons ranged from students at a neighbouring university and jua kali artisans to people in suits from the numerous offices around. We sat on two long white wooden tables with benches on either side. Luckily, a big group had just finished eating and we therefore found space. The table was quickly cleared and cleaned before we even settled in.
The menu was printed out on a sign above the kitchen area, and there was only one waiter to whom we were to shout our orders. A refrigerator packed with sodas stood on one end of a wall, and next door, separated by only a pole, was a fruit vendor, just in case one was keen to have some healthy dessert. Dishes here were simple items you likely grew up eating if you are Kenyan; rice, chapati, cabbage, matumbo, ugali, stews, among others.
I don’t remember the last time I saw a complete meal priced at under Sh100 in this city, although, to be honest, one time I stood up, peeked into the dark dingy kitchen and my soul recoiled in sheer terror. That’s probably melodramatic, but let’s just say that there was a high chance I would get food poisoning from this place.
I settled for chapati and madondo (beans), one of my all-time favourite Kenyan meals. The beans were simply fried with onions and tomatoes, a recipe likely perfected by aunts all over the country in the ‘90s.
I found the beans rather bland, although I probably ate worse (laced with paraffin and with a touch of weevils) in high school. The High school experience was, however, some 10 years ago, and my palette now demands spices. Where was the garlic? Ginger? Couldn’t they have added a touch of turmeric or perhaps even just a hint of chilli?
If you regularly go to kibandas, it’s likely because food is really cheap, or the spot is conveniently located. Perhaps it’s even pretentious of me to demand that this kibanda adds turmeric to their dishes when doing so might lead to an increase in food prices, which might alienate the target customers.
The patrons who frequent the joint didn’t seem to mind. I think if I had voiced this opinion to the owner, he would have probably told me that if I wanted garlic added to my madondo, I could go do that in my own kitchen!