Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Friday, October 22, 2010

Starch Smackdown! Foods of Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya

When it comes to cuisine, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya have one passion in common: Starch! Be it a giant lump of cooked cornmeal (ugali--Kenya), a mass of mashed green plantain (matoke--Uganda), or a melange of every type of starch you've ever heard of (Rwanda), one thing's for certain...travels through these parts of eastern Africa will be the death of your low-carb diet.

Let's kick the pictures off with some foods of Rwanda!

Throughout east Africa, Tetra-Paks of juice or nectar are popular, and each country has its own brands. This one is Rwanda's--it's not the best, but it was the cheapest. (FYI, the best is probably Splash, Uganda's brand.)
Sticking with beverages, Rwanda offered two new flavors of Fanta we had not seen elsewhere! The pale green one is Fanta Citron, slightly limey and not bad. The purple one is Fanta Fiesta, which tasted like the Red Fanta you find in Latin other words, chicle (bubblegum) flavored and pretty disgusting.
OK, lunch or dinner in Rwanda pretty much always looks like this. You sometimes get a melange plate, which for a fixed price of about $1.75 comes with several starches (for example, here we got chips, pasta, rice, beans, and stewed plantain), a green vegetable (cabbage here--sometimes salad or cooked dark greens), and a little bowl with a chewy piece of meat in a tasty sauce. Or sometimes you pay about $2 for an all-the-starch-and-veggies-you-can-fit-on-one-plate buffet, in which the choices are pretty much all the same things you'd normally see in the melange plate, and you then might pay extra for meat. It's not the world's most exciting food, but it's a great deal if you're really hungry.
In Butare, Rwanda, there is an ice cream and coffee shop called Inzozi Nziza, which means sweet dreams, and it is the NGO project of Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, NY. Blue Marble ice cream is delicious but crazy expensive (like, $10 for a pint), so we were hoping to find a better deal at their Rwanda branch. Turns out they only have soft serve, but we were able to get large bowls of it for substantially less than the NY rates.
The shop from the outside. It's only been open a few months, but seemed popular with locals and foreigners.
Here is Andy modeling the fun tiny bottle of hot sauce that is found on every restaurant table in Rwanda.
And here is me modeling a giant cheese roll, which I found in a store in Butare. Not quite up to Colombian standards, but still, hooray for cheese bread!
While waiting out a rainstorm in Musanze, Andy allowed some local women to convince him to buy a bag of the strange-looking fruits they were selling. Here is what one of the fruits looks like from the outside...
And here it is out of its papery shell. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name or what they tasted like, but I do remember that Andy liked these a lot better than I did.
On to Uganda!

Uganda must be the banana-producing capital of Africa, if not the world. All through the west of the country, we saw people riding bicycles loaded with bananas, taking them to market.
Here's a shot of my first dinner in Kampala--masala chips and sausages. It would have been better if it was hot.
Bus snacks! The guys outside the window claimed these were both beef, but we think one of them may have been some sort of organ. Please focus on the meat on a stick in this picture and not my hair.
Always a fan of sachets of drinkable yogurt, I was excited to find the novel flavor of butterscotch in Uganda. Sadly, it wasn't as great as I'd hoped.
This might be my favorite billboard in Uganda. Those are some clever marketers who have convinced people they need a special cooking oil just for frying chapatti! (Chapatti are tasty Indian-style flat breads, which you can find all over east Africa--yay!)
Here's Uganda's take on the melange plate: rice, pasta, ugali (cornmeal mush), cassava, cabbage, and matoke, which is Uganda's national starch. It's the yellow stuff on the right of the plate and made of mashed, unripe plantains. Like ugali, it doesn't have a ton of taste.
On our last night in Kampala, we stumbled upon a store that was selling Bounty bars for an outrageously low price, like 30 cents each. Guess who pounced?

And finally, Kenya.

Kenya probably had the most interesting food of the three countries I'm covering here, though that doesn't necessarily say a lot. Still, we never look down our noses at countries that supply cheap fried dough things for breakfast. These are called maandazi.
Remember in the other post, when I was complaining about not being able to find a restaurant in Naivasha that served both chips and beer? Well, this is what we ended up eating that night instead. I don't remember the name, but it was a kind of mashed-potato thing that also had greens in it, and I was later told it is a Kikuyu specialty. Can anyone identify?
Andy couldn't resist buying this bag of puffy sugary snack things in Naivasha. They tasted kind of stale and we later realized that they were expired...maybe that's why they only cost 5 cents.
My favorite drink in Kenya, and all of east Africa, has to be Picana. It is basically fruit nectar that comes in a glass bottle. There are different flavors--I tried passionfruit and cocktail, and they were both great! In this picture you may also notice large plastic bottles of salt--staples on the table of any restaurant that serves chips.
In Nairobi, our couchsurfing host Jusca and her sons prepared this incredible feast for our first night in town--a meat stew made with tomatoes, onions, and delicious spices, wonderful sauteed greens, and the best ugali we've had anywhere! Even more impressively, they made this all on a single-burner charcoal stove they had set up in the hallway.
Jusca even tried to teach me and Andy how to make ugali. Andy was more skilled at it than I was. You need a lot of arm strength to stir that cornmeal when it thickens up!
Our biggest culinary splurge of our entire trip so far was our trip to Carnivore restaurant in Langata, a suburb of Nairobi. It's pretty much a total rip-off of the Brazilian barbecue (rodizio) concept, but with the African twist of a few game meats thrown in. I had hoped that warthog would be on the menu, but the day we visited, it was just ostrich and crocodile in the "exotic" section.

Anyway, here's the main roasting pit, with many types of meat on swords.
As in any rodizio, the waiters keep coming to your table with different kinds of meat until you lay down your little flag and "surrender." Here's a shot of my plate early on--clockwise starting from the baked potato we have chicken, ostrich (very tasty when not overcooked--dry when overcooked), ox testicle (yup, you read that right--it was very tender), pork sausage (yum), and lamb sausage (meat was good, but trying to eat th casing was a mistake).
Here is Andy later in the meal, contemplating a bite of crocodile meat. It turns out that the meat itself is fairly good, but the fat is really fishy-tasting and disgusting.
The last thing I'll say about Carnivore is that we kept our flag flying for so long that finally a maitre d' came over to us and asked if there was anything particular we wanted more of, since we'd already eaten everything they had. Apparently, most tourists concede meat-defeat much earlier than we did. Ha, we conquered Carnivore!

Sticking with the meat theme, on our last day in Nairobi we went out with Jusca for some nyama choma, which is Kenya's national grilled-meat dish. Usually it is goat, but can also be beef, and that's what we had. The waiter brought a board full of meat to our table and chopped it up before us, then gave us toothpicks to eat with and little piles of salt to dip the meat in. Very flavorful!
In addition to nyama choma and ugali, chips seem to be a national food obsession in Kenya. A big plate or bag of deliciously greasy chips costs about 60 cents in Nairobi. They are served with hot sauce instead of ketchup. Yum!
I think this is the only yogurt I tried in Kenya. It was tasty, and I enjoyed the slightly-more-creative-than-usual naming used by this company.
Finally, as I was preparing to spend our very last few Kenyan shillings at a supermarket before heading to the airport, what caught my eye at the checkout but my old friends from Argentina, Peanut Rocklets?? We've sometimes seen other Arcor products randomly around Africa, but I had not encountered my favorite Peanut M&M knockoffs since Chile. I did a happy dance and added them to my basket. (Sadly, they were kind of old and crumbly when I finally opened the bag, but heck, they had journeyed a long way.)
Our bellies' next destination was Ethiopia, which was a whole new bag of (deliciously spiced, delicately pureed and served atop piles of injera) beans. Stay tuned!


  1. I am thinking that the mound of unidentifiable green stuff on your plate was a turtle of some kind stufffed with, what else, turtle meat.


  2. ... the name of the fruit with the papery shell is Physalis. Found them in Paris and like them.
    Congrats for your trips in general and your fight against worms in particular !

  3. The green mashed item is Irio. I've had it several times. Good stuff.

  4. it is also known as "mukimo" ( Moe-Kee-Moh)
    which simply means mashed.

  5. The picture of the fruit that Andy was holding is also found in the states. They are hard to find, cause I've been looking for the seeds. My parents used to grow them and mom made pies outof them. They called them ground cherries, but they do have another name. I fianlly did find them in a seed catalog.