Food habits are shaped by the environment, available ingredients, climate, and even factors like class and income. Though food is first and foremost a basic necessity, it is also a cultural symbol and unifying factor.
Watching the food channel is one of my favourite pastimes. Most countries around the world have a robust and tantalizing food culture. Sadly, for a very long time, Kenya has had a lacklustre identity of the staple ugali and nyama choma. Perhaps it’s time to re-innovate and widely document our indigenous delicacies as a recipe to preserving our beautiful and varied heritage from all Kenyan communities.
Growing up, we used to relish mum’s kingly breakfasts that included pots of sweet and sour porridge, delightful lunches of free-range (kienyeji) chicken or beef stews with large, round, soft chapatti. Our small bellies were filled to capacity on most weekends or special occasions by succulent golden mahamri, spicy aromatic pilau and fresh traditional fried vegetables such as managu and kunde. Plus, there always had to be the signature Kenyan salsa fondly known as Kachumbari. Then as the evening breeze cooled down everyone and everything at the end of a hot day, cool and tangy tamarind juice or a cup of well-brewed white tea was in order. The beauty in all these delicacies was having them homemade and being involved in the lovely process to learn the ropes and be able to pass on the tradition along generations.
Many years later, socio-economic demands of a fast-growing capital have taken a toll on our indigenous gastronomy and seen a mushrooming of internationally renowned fast-food franchises within the capital city. A majority of city dwellers now rush to that corner café for some strong coffee and a warm Bagel. In between power meetings, we quickly drive through that funky fast food store at lunch to take away some Salad from a foreign land, accompanied by some overly breadcrumbed chicken pieces and a brightly coloured and over-sweetened slush. To end the day, we unwind at a fancy restaurant over a glass of wine or some Irish brew and an expensive platter of exotic seafood as the sea of traffic drifts away.
Attribute the change to a refined palette, comfort food cravings or simply lack of time and interest to make a solid meal from scratch, but the change is real, happening fast and taking over our indigenous food trends. Of course, change is constant, but it doesn’t mean that we simply abandon our own delicacies to discover new taste bud experiences and evolving food trends. Instead, we should strive to make the world appreciate and yearn to sample our creatively crafted, scrumptious and delectable cuisine and up the game in our fading Kenyan food culture.