What to drink in Kenya

Anything but the tap water, if I’m to believe travelers’ tales. Sounds strange that accepted opinion in so many countries in the world is that you do not drink tap water. Things have really gone down since the fall of the Roman empire, it seems! The Family had water from our taps tested in a lab for several years and it always came out clean, although people around us mistrusted the same tap water. So I’m forced to believe that the burgeoning distrust of water available freely from taps is a marketing idea which has gone viral (Yes, I know. My choice of words is deliberate). Persistence of such beliefs also lets local governments get away with a deterioration of water supply. Fortunately Mother of Niece Tatu had more than a decade of experience that it was safe to use tap water for tea. We took this as a fair indication that municipal water in Kenya is safe to drink, but adopted a policy of using bottled drinking water while on the road.

Kenya has, reputedly, a huge variety of beer. I did a little web search and figured that there are at least five different large breweries, each with multiple labels. But the fact of the matter is that one brewery dominates the market. I did not have much time for bar hopping, and most of my beer drinking was done between safaris. In these restricted conditions, I found only beers by a single brewery. I asked about the bocks, pilsners, and red ales made by other breweries, but the lodges in Amboseli and Masai Mara did not stock them. It will be interesting to track them down the next time I’m in Kenya. The two labels I managed to drink were Tusker and the less common White Cap, both owned by East Africa Breweries. Tusker lager is said to be fully local, made with barley from the Mara region, water from Aberdare, and locally sourced yeast. I liked the taste of this lager more than White Cap. The Tusker malt was also rather good.

I’d read about a local wine from grapes grown in the rift valley, a couple of kilometers above sea level. That seems to be the only wine made in Kenya. While searching for wines I found several labels which claim to be from Kenya, but a closer look shows that they are South African wines in disguise. South Africa has wonderful wines, and I’m sure many of these labels would be worth uncorking. But if you are looking for Kenyan wine, then Leleshwa (named after an aromatic camphor bush) seems to be the only choice. I tasted the rose and the white. It is definitely far superior to the plonk you get in cardboard boxes, relegated to the lower shelves of wine dealers in Kenya, but we did not think it was worth the trouble of bringing a few bottles back to India with us. Amazingly, several shops did not know that their stocks include Leleshwa. The winery produces a red, but even after a lot of searching in Nairobi I could not find a bottle.

If I leave you without a word about the Mosquito Killer, I’m sure you’ll not let me hear the end of it. So I’ll end with a couple of words about the drink: worth ordering.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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