I Love food and as an avid traveler in my opinion one of the best ways to learn about a local culture is through its food. It gathers people, it lets them enjoy, relax and it tickles ones senses. Recently, I traveled to Kenya. I was curious about this country as I had read a blog post that showed me such a diversity of things this country has to offer. I was pleasantly surprised and it changed the image I had of Kenya. Local food was one of the things I wanted to try first.
I wanted to meet the people, connect, interact and understand their culture better. I decided to find a home cooking class.
After several searches, I found one, that looked interesting. It seemed more authentic than the rest and I read the teacher Lucy, makes some of the best chapati’s in Nairobi. Last but not least, the foundation behind it was noble – supporting local tourism-.
Without further ado I signed up for Lucy’s Cooking Class. She responded and confirmed fast.
Induction to Kenyan meals
I learned that Kenya has a variety of foods. Not only beans and maize balls that I often saw on television, but it also has a lot of Indian influence. Some of their top favorite, that you will always get in a local restaurant and that are definitely a must try include : Githeri – a combination of beans and maize – Chapati – an absolute delicacy in Kenya, and my absolute best fish, and of course Ugali, made from maize meal.
All these are meals on their own, and they can also complement each other. Ugali goes really well with fish and vegetables. Githeri is a meal in itself, and some communities take it as a snack and it goes well with tea. Chapati goes well with beans and some vegetables and can also be taken with tea.
One thing I learnt about Kenya too, is they are a community of tea drinkers.
Getting to Lucy’s place was very easy. Lucy is located conveniently on Ngong Rd, close to Prestige Plaza, one of Nairobi’s malls. Uber works very well in Kenya and because of that, I was able to find the place easily. Besides providing a cooking class, Lucy also runs her own little restaurant.
The restaurant feels more like a home with just a few tables. David is the chef and helps her with preparing the food.
Lucy is passionate about healthy food, and therefore promotes healthy and organic food only. She specializes on two of her favorite dishes, chapati and matoke (plantains in curry.) We started promptly as scheduled. We had three hours to prepare meals that we would later enjoy. We started with making chapati. I have to say that Lucy is a master in making chapati’s and one of the best I have ever tasted!
Chapati involves wheat flour and water. With the right amount of oil, water, salt, and lucy’s favorite, shredded carrots and dhania – a herb – the mixture is kneaded into dough and round balls, which are later flattened into a circular shape and fried with oil, waiting for both sides to turn brown over the heat and its ready. It looked tedious at first, but as we begun the process, it became more fun as we went along.
6 chapati’s later, and the kitchen was a mess. We were all new at it, and horrible at mixing, and flour was everywhere, even in our eyebrows.
Plantains were easier. We peeled the bananas (very easy) and cut them into thin slices and had them fried. We prepared kale vegetables – that involved cutting them, it was my first time to cut vegetables, and I think I did a pretty good job, as compared to the men, who cut them in huge chunks hoping that size did not matter, but of course it did. That got us all hooting in laughter, and in the end we were able to get the size right, and prepare an assortment of vegetables.
We then made a curry, known as Ndengu, that goes well with Chapati. Ndengu (green grams) are soaked overnight to soften them up, and thereafter fried with tomatoes, onions, pepper, some communities in kenya add diced potatoes to the curry, others do without, we choose to add diced carrots into our curry, and when our three hours were up- which felt like 30 minutes, we sat down to eat the meal we had prepared.
I have never had a more fulfilling day in my life as a traveler. Sitting down and preparing a Kenyan meal with a local not only gave me a truly unique experience, it also gave me insight in the different tribes in Kenya. I learnt that certain foods are associated with certain tribes even.
As we ate, I discovered love is a plate of food. It was my first time eating chapati and Ndengu, and the combination was heavenly, and with each bite, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the Kenyan food. I decided even to take another cooking class with Lucy the next day to learn how to prepare Ugali and fish – another Kenyan delicacy. I fell in love with Kenya, and its food was one of the reasons.
After my time in Nairobi I decided to travel to a variety of places to get the best out of my stay in Kenya. It was true the blog post showed me: 1) It has one of the best climates in the world, not only tropical hot, but also cool.
2) It’s diverse geography – Kenya actually boasts some seriously spectacular geographical features, including the Great Rift Valley, snowcapped Mount Kenya, several smaller mountains and volcanoes, numerous lakes, vibrant rivers, deserts in the north to lush forests.
Then you have Kenya’s coast, which is heaven. Crystal blue sea and truly white sandy beaches. Something many travelers go for to the Caribbean, Thailand, or Indonesia. The good thing in Kenya is that hardly anyone knows about it, so it is still quiet.
3) Kenya has one of the best African Wildlife experiences. It is possible to see not just the ”Big Five”, but the ”Big Nine”, hundreds of bird species, and everything from Hippos to an endangered Black Rhino on the savannah, all in a single Day!
If I made you curious, I came across this quick Kenya Quiz that gives you travel tips based on your preferences and duration of your holiday.
Have you ever fallen in love with a certain culture as you went through your travels?
Share with us your experiences in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.