16 C
July 10, 2020

The hidden, delicious Ethiopia, smack in the middle of urban Nairobi

When I was little, I would tag along when my granny went to the marketplace every Saturday to sell her bananas and an occasional chicken. She had lofty dreams for me thinking I had an early affinity for business, but, really, the highlight of that day would be going into a hotel for lunch.

But she was choosy, and we would weave in and out of those hotels.

As I got older, she told me she couldn’t eat in a hotel that didn’t have a resident cat. What? She didn’t even have a pet! Turns out that was her way of telling if the food served was fresh. Well, I wouldn’t have cared much, as my favorite mandazi would still have been my favorite – fresh or otherwise.

Tantalizing Anjera platter, with accompaniments
Tantalizing Anjera platter, with accompaniments

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And that’s how today, I happened to be staring at Shiro, well filled in a tiny number. Light-colored, hot and a little spicy.

Before your mind wanders, as it surely has, my Shiro is a marinated yellow bean sauce, with a hint of hot spice, and an exotic nut aroma that lingers in the nasals, in a small special bowl fitted with live coal underneath, to keep her hot. Not that the actual Shiro in my neighborhood ain’t hot and light-colored, just saying.

Viva, Yejoka Garden Restaurant.

This is probably one of Nairobi’s best kept secrets in dining circles, specializing in Ethiopian cuisine. The unique name has a similar meaning to ‘baraza’ in Swahili, though in their rich culture, such Yejokas’ are tight family bonding sessions over coffee – not to be confused with peculiar Kenyan Get-Together’s when blood relatives meet annually to get drunk and judge each other.

Speaking of coffee, turns out Yejoka Restaurant grind and brew their own coffee. As you wait. I am tempted to rush home, pick a handful of berries from my grandpa’s coffee farm and rush back. That’s great value, and authentic, and I was floored. Ok, literally, too, as the coffee section has a traditional setting where guests can sit on neat cushions on the floor, if they so wish.

Striking, neat gardens at the Restaurant
Striking, neat gardens at the Restaurant

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I’ve always wanted to travel to Ethiopia for religious reasons, but since I still haven’t got to that, well, this feels close enough.

But I’ll look like a weirdo if I start chanting Rastafarian loyalties and maxims here, so I shut up as I painstakingly watch my colleagues test the waiter’s patience to the limit trying to learn Ethiopian from a pamphlet I realized was a menu. But the guy is cool, composed and professional. What jackasses these be, he must’ve been asking himself.

Service to mankind is service to God, but still.

Doro Wot. Tibs. Kitfo, with Special Kitfo. Assa, Assa Gulash. Bozena Shiro. Tegamino. Jesus Christ!

It’s my turn to order.

“Sir, what’ll with you have?” The waiter goes. Broken, Ethiopian English. Very cool.

First, I get really uptight if someone calls me ‘Sir’. Back in the days, my brother and I would refer to father thus when we screwed up. The bike is broken: Sir, we need your money for the mech. I got a D- in Mathematics: Sir, the Maths paper didn’t go as we thought, I got a D-, but, it was a very strong one.

Cool lounge seating at the Main Bar
Cool lounge seating at the Main Bar

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Any who, I won’t be an ass in front of an Ethiopian.

One day, he might be in the Customs Office when I eventually land there for religious reasons, and he could be like, “No, this guy ordered our food like an idiot back when I was an intern at Yejoka in Kenya…..” and refuse to stamp my passport.

So, I have to defuse and distract his attention. Perhaps, I could be so lucky that the food my crew has ordered may arrive, and I could see what, and go the safe Kenyan way, “Niletee kama ya huyu…”

But I don’t know how to distract this smiling waiter for 15 minutes, as that what it takes for a meal here. The entire menu is exclusively ‘a la carte’, some fancy French for…..never mind, in this context, they cook your food on order.

My granny wouldn’t need a pussy cat here to be her food’s freshness-meter.

Oh, to my ordering.

The crew torments the ice-calm waiter at the table
The crew torments the ice-calm waiter at the table

“Sir, I drive an Outlander, parked near the gate and the mirrors have to be shipped from South Korea if they are stolen. Is she safe?” I ask him. If only we had got one of those stunning Ethiopian waitresses to serve us, this distracting business would have been a hell easier.

“Oh, we have round the clock security guards, Sir, and we have complete CCTV coverage. Na kwani Outlander ni za Korea? What do you want to eat, sir?”

I didn’t have a car. But I like to believe my granny was right to have those lofty, grand dreams for me.

For a moment, I am tempted to go vegetarian. Their section on the menu is plainly labelled: cabbage, kales, whatnot. I remember am not exactly herbivorous, I lack a diastema. Plus, who navigates all that traffic to try out vegetarian? Am in freaking Ethiopia.

Gearing up for the heist...
Gearing up for the heist…

“Ok. Give me this Tibs, and some Shiro, and some Assa Gulash, and some……come on, bring me some darn food with meats, bro. Pick whatever you will!”

They sure do some serious auditions vis a vis training on their staff. He doesn’t burst out laughing. Not so much for my colleagues, though.

I lean back, and say a silent thanksgiving for this place. The ambience is cool. Lots of short, well-trimmed hedges, and cool shades. Green creepers dressing the concrete walls, reminds me of home, and they conceal some awesome balanced garden music.

There is good spacing amongst the tables – I certainly would cringe if someone saw what stuff am streaming over the free Wi-Fi. I hear Avengers is hot right now, eh?

All the same, am tempted to find out if those insanely lean athletes battling Vivian Cheruiyot and Janet Jepkosgei on Diamond League Races, pass by. Like, Dibaba, for instance. Yes, I know you’d also like to know that.

Dibs on Dibaba.

I wouldn’t hate me walking Dibaba down some of these Cabro pathways with neat hedges. Doesn’t have to necessarily be an aisle I be walking her down, you see. Not that management would mind, anyways. If we so decide, we can decide to host a whopping 200 guests for the Ruracio manenos – where are my friends with rich folks spinning noisy, blue Subarus, again?

Oh, perhaps, I should say with Subaru, it’s ‘spinning’. Not ‘driving’.

I can’t say how ‘Anjera’ is spelt, but who cares, it’s not elementary class. In it comes in generous abundance, on a gigantic platter. At first glance, it seems someone has rolled out a thin paste of brown and white chocolate to resemble those gigantic Chapattis they sell on the roadside in Utawala. And, oh, loads of tantalizing meaty sauces and salads, artistically spread at the middle.

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Someone in my group has ordered wisely, I see. I just dig in, I cannot tell when we crossing paths with Anjera again. If, ever.

P.S. Not to be confused with Injera, the Rugby player. Not that he’d be familiar with the dish, I suppose. No offense, but the Luhya are genetically inclined to embrace Ugali, that local staple of sorts.

Turns out, Yejoka Restaurant, though diplomatic-elite-class level, still takes pride in a full bar with friendly normal prices for local beers, spirits and wines. We can fit very well in their bar, to ignore teething problems we had in the eating section.

We have to temporarily cross back to Kenya, Our Beloved: “Wallahi, si tuchangeni ka mzinga jamaa…..”

Oh, am certainly coming back to this place.

If only my beloved granny was alive, she’d be my date.



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