Food from Kikuyu and Kisii

When I first tasted Mukimo (featured photo) it was a completely new dish to me. I tried a little by itself: starchy, with the flavours of the vegetables and beans mashed into it. It was clear that it was supposed to accompany something. I added a little grilled meat, and the combination tasted good. I’d just recreated a Kikuyu dish, but don’t give me too much credit. I’ve had enough meat and potato in parts of the world not to recognize what a starchy mash would go well with. The servers were not too helpful, since they would say “Kenyan” to every question about the provenance of the food. I later found that Mukimo probably started with the Kikuyu people near Mount Kenya and has now spread pretty much across Kenya.

When you travel your enjoyment of food can improve tremendously if you learn to take new food on its own terms. In Kenya it is not new flavours that you need to appreciate, it is the degree of wetness of the food. In Kenya one has to learn to appreciate the dryness of Mukimo with Nyama Choma (roasted meat) or Ugali (cornmeal porridge) with Sukuma Wiki (kale).

Another new thing I came across in the same spread was a green I first unthinkingly identified as Sukuma Wiki. It wasn’t. The pleasantly bitter leaf was labelled Managu. I piled more on my plate. Every time that she would see the same three or four varieties of leaves in a shopping basket, my grandmother used to reminisce about fourtenn varieties of leaves which could be bought in the market in what she called “my days.” I guess some of those stories have influenced my habit of trying out every kind of edible leaf I see.

This one comes from the Solanum family and is eaten right across sub-Saharan Africa. I would have hesitated to buy Solanum, since some of the deadly poisons that one knows come from this genus. But this iron-rich variety is considered to be so nutritious that pregnant women are advised to eat it in quantity. I guess this was a local Kisii preparation, not only because we were close to the Kisii homeland, but also because it was named in the Gusii language. Interestingly, it was cooked with another edible Solanum mixed into it: tomato.