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Kenya and Sudan


qwertyy
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Jambo!

So it looks like I could be spending several weeks in Nairobi this summer for work, with possible side trips to Khartoum. While in Kenya, I hope to be able take my weekends out of the city at the closer-in game parks. Who has dining recommendations? Since I might be there for a while, I'm looking for the gamut--breakfast, lunch, dinner, quick local food, destination special meals... Also, any knowledge about Kenyan and Sudanese cooking (like, how it differs from its neighbors, Ethiopia and Uganda, whose cuisines I'm familiar with) would be much appreciated. Thanks!

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Kenya

Nairobi

Java House: Very popular, very overrated. Not great food, just short of horrible service. The chai teapot is nice. Locations throughout Nairobi, including Jomo Kenyatta airport, where it is the best/only place to sip and wait. Wilson airport is graced by a Dorman's--the other Nairobi coffee chain--which is better.

Karen Blixen Gardens: Lovely setting, a terrific chickpea salad, cold Tusker, slow service.

Norfolk Hotel: Several different restaurants offering terrific food, cold Tusker, slow service (see a pattern???). Favorites include the tilapia curry, lamb shwarma, and Greek salad. Chicken makhani is also good, but go with the fish if you're looking for curry (all are served with chapati, rice, and toppings on the side--yogurt and diced onion, tomato, and pineapple). Sandwiches are served on this oddly thick, dense bread that's quite good but deadens the flavor of the filling. Caesar salad is tasty, but invariably way overdressed. For breakfast, get the East African, which comes with good porridge, chapati, and mandazi--an African "donut" that's basically fried dough with just a hint of sugar.

I didn't try the famous Carnivore, which no longer serves game meat, or Haandi, which friends say has become a watered-down, milquetoast version of itself.

Outside Nairobi

Mara Siria: A tented bush camp in the Maasai Mara. Considering that the place runs on solar power and very limited water, the food was amazing. A favorite: fish "fajitas" served on chapati with "salsa" using chili sauce as a base.

Kiambethu Farm: A tea plantation outside Nairobi where you can arrange for a half-day's visit, including a quick nature walk, explanation of the tea growing process, and lunch, all on and around the grounds of a lovely English manor. Lunch is homey and tasty--soup, salad, stew, and mashed potatoes, with cheeses and custards for dessert.

Sudan

Khartoum

Solitaire's: Popular with the expats, decent sandwich and salad fare. Portions are HUGE; my pesto, sun-dried tomato, and mozzarella sandwich was actually four large pieces, and plenty for two. Definitely get the minted lemonade.

Kavoo's: Decent chicken shwarma in a tasty thin pita. Cheap! Fast!

Grand Cafe: Delicious lentil soup and tasty offerings on the salad bar. Icky fast-food-ish interior, bad service.

The Hilton: Wildly overpriced (twenty bucks for a continental breakfast???), stale baked goods, but it won't make you sick or anything.

Juba

The U.S. compound is THE place to eat. Period. Consulting chef is in from the Bellagio. Lobby for an invite.

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Dudes,

Could everyone sign in today and post about their most recent restaurant experience? I'm curious to see where people here have been dining. Hell, post on the McDonald's thread if you want to (I admit it - I went there once last week myself).

Cheers!

Rocks.

Well okay then.

Rumbek. The mess at the Afex Camp in Rumbek serves up a fine three meals a day, especially considering the lack of produce available locally and the immense obstacles to transport (like there being no roads). Each meal has a few cooked veggies (always carrots and cabbage for some reason), a few fresh veggies, one or two meat choices, and some starch. One of the meat dishes is usually a nice beef or lamb stew, which is dandy if you're tucking in to keep out the winter chill, but a little odd in the meltingly hot, high-humidity weather that Rumbek experiences at this time of year. Just a sandwich might be nice, know? (FYI, no air conditioning anywhere except the Internet cafe, which is $15 an hour--or closer to $22 a hour if you're paying in Sudanese dinar because the exchange rate they're quoting is abysmal.) But the beer is cold, the pizza is passable, and the company is good. And I don't think there's another restaurant in town.

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Where did everyone eat this weekend?

Me? Last night Comet Ping Pong (another great soft-shell, but DON'T ignore the simple "tomato and cheese" pie - it's fabulous, and only $7.95). Saturday, drink at Agraria, Oysters at Tony and Joe's, and dinner (or should I say, breakfast) at Yechon - they don't serve alcohol after 2 AM, grrrrr... Friday, Bebo Trattoria: Fantastic canneloni, somewhat dull double-cut pork chop, great asparagus in eggy-vinaigrette, and great proscuitto.

Thanks for asking!

Instead of sitting at Mombasa airport for four hours waiting for a delayed flight, we grabbed a taxi into town for lunch at Rozina (Ronzino? something like that) House, across from a park near the Mombasa Tusks. I had samosas and an excellent Zanzibar fish soup, which had a rich, creamy broth, chock full of cilantro, cumin seeds, turmeric, and about a pound of snapper chunks. A colleague got the Swahili fish stew, which looked just like the soup, but with a little thicker sauce, and she had them add extra pili pili, so it was mighty spicy. The third at the table got masala chips (fries), which weren't spicy (or all that warm) but had nice flavor, and the lemon chicken stew, which she said was positively awful. I declined a taste.

We enjoyed the meal with Orange Fanta, 2006.

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There aren't a lot of places in the world like Lamu, Kenya. It's a beach resort and a Muslim enclave, Swahili and Arab, dry and ... not. There are two vehicles on the island--an ambulance and a lorry--and everything else is transported by donkey. Most of the streets are about three- to five-feet wide, and the walls of the buildings are 1.5-feet thick, keeping the whole place amazingly cool amidst blazing sun and humidity.

Ours was one of the first international conferences there, and the hosts couldn't have done a nicer job. The Stone House provided our lunches and tea bitings every day--delicious nosh including Somali rice, sambusas, curries, and Ethiopian stews. Every night we ate at Lamu House, which served us phenomenal fare, including some of the best risotto and calamari I've ever had. They also serve alcohol, which few if any other restaurants on the island do.

I've stayed in most of the international hotels back in Nairobi--Serena, Intercon, Norfolk, Mayfair--but none even comes close to touching Tribe, which opened in September in Village Market, which seems too far from the airport if you're just staying for a night, but I think it's worth it. Great food, great staff, great rooms, great grounds. I can't recommend it more highly.

In deep denial over my miserable cold, I ventured out to lunch today, to Tamambo, a new tapas joint in Village Market. It's set off a bit from most of the shops, which might explain the few customers, but which also makes it a nice respite from the crowds. The tapas sampler was a bizarre mix of influences--gratineed oysters, crab salad on shrimp cracker, camembert-spinach samosas, salami, hummus. All was good, but the neat surprise was the Thai chicken "bruschetta," which was a delicious spicy chicken salad served on a blanched carrot slice. I could have eaten ten of those things. Service, as almost always in Kenya, could not have been more friendly or welcoming.

I wasn't going to cancel either of my potential dinner dates, but feel so hellish that I'm not terribly disappointed that both sets of folks are also sick or unexpectedly traveling. So hunker down for the night I will, with macadamia nuts and wine and tea. Cross your fingers that there are some good movies on...

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I'm okay with continuing to talk to myself on this thread, if only because it helps me remember for my next trip.

Aaaaaanywayyyy...

After a month in Nairobi, I have not performed to my expectations, food-wise. Granted, 12-16 hour work days somewhat limit one's desire to get out and experience the food of a foreign city, as does the availability of cheap, competent Swahili food in your office cafeteria (seriously--stewed lentils, chapati, and greens for $1.25? why would I go out???) but I am still disappointed in my results. In any case, here they are, starting with the best:

Labor Day weekend, I stopped over to Lamu again, where I stayed at Peponi Resort. I really can't say enough for this place. Not only is it beaustiful, run by wonderful, hospitable, personable people, but it also served me the best meal I think I've ever had in Kenya. They are authoritarian about only one thing: getting you dinner order as early in the day as possible. But that's so that they can make sure they buy the right fish, meat, and protein for their guests. The menu offers a great range of options, but I couldn't help but order the Swahili meal both nights. And while delicious both nights, the first night was absolutely spectacular--lightly curried fish, buttery chapati, spinach and tomato stew, fish samosas. And for every meal, I was served at least three kinds of house-made chutney, marmalade, or other relish.

Peponi also arranged for me to be taken out on a boat snorkeling, wandering around a coral island, and then having lunch on a mostly deserted island (fish and chicken grilled up by my dear guide, served with fruit and potato salad carefully packed in Tupperware by the Peponi kitchen, and of course, a few Tuskers).

Back in Nairobi, we had a spectacular meal at Anghiti in Gigiri. Guide books will tell you that Haandi is the best Indian in the city, but locals scoff, saying that Haandi's best days were a decade ago. I've never been to Haandi, but never mind. The Indian food in Nairobi is the best I've had outside of India. At Anghiti, while our palaak paneer was dull, everything else--the papadum, onion bharti, naan, fish, chicken Anghiti--was phenomenal. And it was all even better the next day treating the hangover caused by too many of Anghiti's carafes of cheap but passable white wine.

Cafe des Artes (Gigiri) is a lovely spot. Full of sculpture and paintings (all for sale), it's very charming, with charming service--a rarity in Nairobi. My first meal there I had a very nice paw-paw/mint gazpacho followed by a delicious soy tuna skewer served with rice and a green salad with a yummy green dressing. The second time... well, an okay carrot soup followed by a deeply undercooked mustard chicken skewer.

But listen, I can't damn the place. Only one of the three skewers was undercooked. And they were really tasty.

Clearly, I'm rooting for this place--the service, the herbed butter served with the warm rolls, the homey atmosphere... I'm just saying you have to watch yourself a bit. In addition to the undercooked chicken, the check charged me KSH480 for a glass of wine when my server had told me it was KSH250 (KSH75=$1). When I mentioned it, they changed it with no problem--embarrassed even.

But you do have to remember where you are. I took a KSH600 taxi ride, and when I hailed someone for the trip back, he quoted me KSH1200. Well, no, I said, and bargained him back down to the correct price.

But know: this is a bargain society, and while I would like to presume that my wine pricing at Cafe des Artes was a mistake, you can't ever forget that to come to East Africa means signing on for every price being negotiable.

More to come...

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