Mombasa Food Experience
I recently had an opportunity to travel for a weeklong vacation to Mombasa. It was purely for pleasure, and as you’d expect, exploring the food culture of my destination was right up there on my to-do-list.
I have always wanted to travel and see what other people eat, the cultural, historic, religious and geographical influence on their food choices. The goal was to do a comprehensive survey, ranging from the street food like shawama, swahiri pizza, coconuts and dried mangoes locally known as achari, all the way to hotel food menus. I didn’t quite execute the plan as intended and this review could be a little more exhaustive, but I made a couple of observations that should help someone who is curious or planning to travel to Mombasa plan for a good culinary experience.
You can’t have a complete Mombasa experience if you haven’t tasted Mombasa street food. The varieties are many, ranging from fried cassava, fried fish, and their different versions of kicomando. One of them, a popular breakfast is Chapati kwa maharage ya nyazi, which is chapatti with beans in coconut cream sauce. The chapatis don’t look much different from ours, except for the fact that they are neatly layered and super soft it literally crumbles in your hands.
Another alternative could be the Mahamri kwa mbazi za nazi. Mahamri is a coastal type of mandazi made with coconut milk and cardamom. This gives it a really potent flavor and makes it really soft. The mbazi za nazi is cowpeas in coconut sauce, and you could wash this down with masala tea or rangi tea.
It is clear that coconuts are a major sauce of food for people of Mombasa, it’s a common sight to find street vendors pushing karts of fresh coconuts that they slice to provide refreshment in form of water. This was the first time I tasted coconut water, and I greatly loved it. It is very nutritious and said to be rich in potassium, calcium amino acids and antioxidants that help neutralize oxidative stress. But beyond just water, it’s used for making coconut oil which is used in both cooking and skin care, then cocnut milk and coconut cream with are quite versatile in the kitchen.
Mombasa’s proximity to the Indian subcontinent, Zanzibar and the historical influence of countries like Portugal and Arabia is quite evident on it’s food. This can be seen with popular Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon and many more more that could pass for staples like Biryani. The Arabian influence can be seen with foods like shawarma which can be seen on many street corners in old town the evening ours.
Religion also plays a major role in influencing food in this town. Because majority of the 1 million plus local population are Muslims, this makes pork a rarity in Mombasa town, even in chain restaurants that have almost the same menu in Mombasa and in Kampala like Java House and Cafesserie; you won’t the succulent pork ribs you’re used to eating in Kampala on their menus. The few daring restaurants that will sale pork won’t have it spelled out plainly, but will call it names like “mbuzi Ulaya” which means foreign goat, to avoid offending people.
Mombasa is a coastal town with a rich history and fishing has always been apart of it. There is a wide variety of sea food in Mombasa, and it tastes so fresh you can easily tell it apart from to the limited frozen options we have in Kampala. I had two sea food platters in different places. First at Reef Hotel and then in Diani beach down in Kwale.
In Diani for example, I had sautéed prawns in garlic and chili oil flambeed with whisky. This one was served with toasted bread and came like those Asian sizzlers, this time with a visible flame. For the main course, we had the Fritura Mixta, a mixed platter of grilled prawns, calamari, fish, served with spanish fries and garden salad.
I can confidently say the sea food was the highlight of my culinary experience in Mombasa, at it’s something that I wish any sea food lover who has never eaten it beyond Uganda would experience.
View the deliciousness that is Mombasa!