Africa-Press – Ethiopia. Whenever we think of Swahili cuisine the first thing that comes to mind is nyama choma and ugali. While those two items form a key part of Kenyan food, we should not forget that there is a plethora of exciting and delicious food from the region that many of us may have heard of but never had occasion to taste.
Few people in Uganda are aware of the historical perspective of this wonderful cuisine that is a confluence of the long historical conquest and occupation along the eastern coast by the powerful seafaring nations of the era made up of the Portuguese along with the Arabs and the British.
As for the strong Indian influence, this was brought about by their presence as immigrants and traders whose first port of call was the coast which without a doubt bears the strongest influence on Swahili food.
Conversely, Zanzibar where Swahili culture is all pervasive and is famous for growing a myriad of spices, theirs has taken on an exceptional fame due to the incorporation of spices such as ginger, cloves, cardamom, chili, cloves, fresh coconut.
Delia Ann Smith, the renowned British celebrity chef who is in her early 80’s, once remarked that, “Cooking is like love. It should be entered to with abandon or not at all.” Nothing can better describe the Swahili Night experience held on the last Saturday of last month than the wise words of Smith.
All in all, it was a veritable and a memorable gastronomical tour de force. This was the second Swahili Night, that will take place every last Saturday of the month. One can only marvel at how Chef Salim managed to pull of such a laudable feat. Needless to say, rather like an orchestral presentation with its vast components of musicians and instruments, Swahili Night was no different with different types of food from Kenya seldom seen and sampled in Kampala.
Given the enormous experience that maestro Salim has garnered over the years, under his supervision, he came up with a menu that offered an interesting and eclectic compilation of diverse foods many of which were at the same time unique and tasty. Rice is the staple food for over two billion people (sic) worldwide, and for over two thousand years, the world over meals have begun with a bowl of rice.
In Kenya, to have a meal without rice is akin to not having eaten at all and it is not surprising that we were offered three well-known Kenya staples of rice viz. coconut rice, goat biryani and Swahili pilao.
I have tasted many pilao renderings in my life and Chef Salim’s pilao has to be ranked among the finest that I have ever tasted, while the coconut rice was also to be commended. Speaking of coconut, which combines well with rice, and the same has to be said of fish.
Also on offer was makande which resembles an ordinary bean chili or a thick soup of beans and sweet corn and is always a great option for non-meat vegans. More popular in Tanzania than Kenya and especially popular during the maize harvest. The salad selection was huge and impressive of course there was the kachumbari better known as salsa among non-Kenyans and with just the right amount of chili. We loved the idea of creating one’s own salad from the many vegetable offering available such as beetroot, cherry tomatoes, onions, carrots, olives, garden berries etc.
Last but not least we were all praises for the Barbie which was out doors in the garden with juicy chicken legs and skewered goat meat and naturally the legendary Chapter One pork chops.
I hasten to add that in the true old fashioned nyama choma style of roasting meat, salt is the only additive whereas this was not the case. I see nothing wrong with taking license and spicing up things and justifiably so I might add.
Besides the monumental challenge of ensuring that the food was pleasing to the eye and palate, Chef Salim and company were able to achieve something seldom seen or experienced on the ordinary Kampala dining out scene.
I am referring to the scourge of monotony and boredom that is so often the norm than the exception with buffets of this scope and ambition. To achieve distinction of taste and overall excellence in the presentation of the end product is never a chance happening but a sum total of consummate team work.