My Ugandan culinary experience was oddly limited to Mexican, Chinese and a burger, although I did have a couple of typical lunches. Susan, one of the PSI staff, encouraged me to eat from the selections that are prepared each day by the kitchen staff and set out in chafing dishes on the porch.
There are a lot of starches in the African diet as protein is expensive and hard to come by for average people. The only things I’ve eaten here that I don’t care for are two of the staples, ugali and matoke. Ugali is corn meal that has been cooked, a bit like grits, and then spread out about an inch thick to harden. It’s served with most meals here because, although it has absolutely no taste (it could seriously benefit from some salt, pepper and olive oil!), corn grows well in even the harshest conditions, it is very cheap and fills up hungry bellies. In Uganda, the similar staple is matoke, steamed mashed plantains. Again, it’s totally flavorless, but very much stick-to-your-ribs. A lump of that will stay in your stomach for hours and hours.
Typical 40 Cent Nairobi Lunch. Ugali Under the Fried Egg
My Ugandan colleagues demonstrated their hospitality in preparing a large plate of food for me on my last day. It was smoked fish in groundnut sauce (similar to peanuts) - a typical Ugandan dish. My new friends showed their generosity by heaping the plate with ugali and matoke, as well as a large portion of fish. The fish was tasty, but was not filleted, leaving me with a mouthful of bones. The sauce wasn’t bad (although it was purple and didn’t taste anything like nuts), but the combo was a little odd. I just couldn’t eat the ugali and matoke and felt like a little kid trying to hide it under a pile of fish bones and skin so as not to insult my hosts.
The trip went quickly and I arrived back in Nairobi Thursday night. This time, I was delighted to see Alex the Driver at the airport. Arriving in Nairobi had a very different feel than it had a mere two months ago - it felt familiar and like home, although I wasn’t looking forward to my bed - the one at the Sheraton was pretty darn close to perfection.