The African Food fair

 

I love food and I am not in the least partial to national cuisine. Sure i love Indian, Japanese, Chinese and Mexican cuisine but i believe Kenyan and African cuisine is one of the finest in world. So when I heard about the African food fair it was my gastronome muse’s dream assignment. To stay I jumped in with two feet would be wrong as it was my stomach and tongue that got there first.

 I pride myself on being an Afircan food connoisseur. Some of my best friends in school were Namibian and from Botswana and living in South Africa I had also sampled the culinary delights of the Xhosa and Zulu, and if cow tongue curry and fish eyeball soup didn’t induce my gagging reflex then i knew I was game for anything new my taste buds would encounter.

This year the African food fair was held at the National Museum from the 25th to the 26th of November. Mine and fellow food stall owner’s grumbles were that it should have been spread over the weekend to encourage more people to check the fair out.

Nevertheless I was still unbelievably excited and thinking I would be fed exotic African dishes I have to say I was beyond disappointed when all I saw were rows and rows of health tents and only a few tents dedicated to food.

Walking down a flight of stairs dejectedly with a rumbling tummy indicating starvation I was greeted with a French accented ‘Hello’. I looked up to see the smiling, warm face of Delphine who told me she was from Cameroon and would I like to sample what her people ate. My spirits soared and my stomach immediately smiled with anticipation of the culinary delights that would be entering it.

Delphine

She took me around her make- shift, hygienic buffet, proudly showing off fried plantains with beans that looked a lot like our ‘Maragwe’. Cameroonian food according to Delphine consists mainly of Fufu-a softer, mushier version of ugali made either from pounded yams or maize flour. Fufu is usually eaten with a meat dish, vegetables and a tomato sauce.

Fufu, okra and greens

Delphine loaded a plate for me with boiled Okra (that was so slimy I thought I was eating boiled slugs or boogers), a mixture of huckleberry leaves, Spinach and Ameranthus (that ended up looking like boiled Sukuma Wiki but was even tastier) fish skewers with sliced, green bell peppers, some beans with the friend plantains all doused with the delicious tomato sauce.

fufu okra greens and tomoato sauce

To say I fell in love with Cameroonian food is an understatement. The Fufu was creamy and didn’t stick in my throat like Ugali usually does and I realised I could actually eat it without any accompaniments. The Okra while slimy and once I got over the feeling I was eating my own snot, was actually delicious. And the idea of eating fried bananas- I know plantains are different but if it looks like a banana it is hard for the mind to conceive it as a plantain-was foreign to me but the crunchy sweetness of it with the salty, spicy tomato sauce was unbelievable!

Plus Delphine said Cameroonians adore spicy food so she had made a special chilli sauce with green chillies and other secret spices that went as a side garnish. That chilli was so good I quickly bought a couple of bottles from her.

Before I left her stall full on a half portion of the food she sold me, Delphine gifted me a Cameroonian delicacy called ‘Chin Chin’ made of flour, sugar and water that is usually fried and served as a treat at weddings or parties. She said Chin Chin is eaten as a biting or snack and usually dipped in various sauces and again it was beyond tasty.

From the Cameroonian stall I headed over to the Coast stand managed by Pauline and her lovely assistant Juliana. They boasted popular Coast dishes like Mandazi, Madafs and divine biriani. I honestly believe you have not eaten biriani until you have tasted Coastal biriani and Pauline’s was perfect. The beef was so soft that it simply melted into my mouth and for a mere 150/ Kshs. it was a true bargain.

 

I was however surprised to see Indian Daal bhajias in the mix as from my knowledge they have nothing to do with the coast. But Juliana explained they had become popular in the Coast as a snack with tea.

My tummy full and my bag even more so as I had taken away extra helpings of Biriani and Fufu, i trudged to the nearby Kisii stand hosted by Akunga. I tasted brown ugali, Kisii bananas made in Matoke style, some goat stew and Chinsaga and Rinagu- very new to me! It was enjoyable but I didn’t feel it was authentic enough as the goat stew tasted more like curry. I guess Indian cuisine has more influence in our African food then we know.

The next stop was a stall that said they came from the Roysambu area-I’m still confused about that one as they were meant to be displaying cuisine from Meru and Taveta. This stall had food I had eaten countless times like mukimo, kuku curry, sukuma, cabbage stew, matoke and white rice.

In the end I would have thought an African food fair would have boasted more food stalls from our continent. The lack of marketing the event and poor organisation added to the poor show in stalls and customers. Sure the trophy African singers and dancers were present but when you say you are having an African food fair and you only have 5 stalls with little variety how can it even be called an African fair?

The fair was also meant to start at 9am and I got there at 10 am and nothing was ready-even the breakfast stand had nothing to display. If it hadn’t been for Delphine and Pauline’s efficient and warm service I would have left without experiencing the ‘Africaness’ of the event.

So while I did enjoy the Cameroonian, Coastal and Kisii dishes I feel more African variety in dishes would have been welcome. I honestly felt like I had gone to a Kenyan food fair with a Cameroonian food stall and I thank my lucky stars I had at least three new experiences or my stomach would have never been able to forgive me.

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