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There is a universal phenomenon found in just about every culture in the world… dudes roasting meat. I don’t know if there is some sort of social aspect to this, or if perhaps men just like the feeling of domination that comes from having one’s prey cooking in front of you…
Whatever the case, it is no different in Kenya.
In the U.S., we barbeque. In Kenya, this delicacy is called “nyama choma,” which translates (surprisingly enough) as “roast meat.” Kenyans love nyama choma, and it is the preferred means of celebrating birthdays, weddings and visiting guests.
To serve nyama choma, beef or goat meat is roasted thourougly, then served on a massive cutting board in bite-sized pieces. The most common side dish is called ugali, a relatively tasteless maizemeal porridge.
The trick is to roll the ugali into a ball with your hand, then make an indentation with your thumb, then use the small ugali “bowl” to scoop up pieces of meat.
I’ve had nyama choma many times, in many different places (some of them a bit shadier than others). However, my first experience with nyama choma was definitely the most traumatic.
th It happened back in 2005 after I had only been in Kenya a week or so. A couple of fellow interns had bought a goat, and were going to celebrate. They asked if I would like to come.
“Sure!” I said, trying to act a little bit more adventurous than I felt (at that point, I still had trouble eating anything with a bone on it!).
When I arrived at the party, I went into the back yard to see what was cooking. On the grill were several unfamiliar looking cuts of meat.
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to a long, stringy piece.
“It’s the goat intestine.” My friend said. “It’s almost done, do you want some?”
Not wishing to be impolite, I forced myself to say yes.
As he was cutting up the intestine, I heard an odd crunching noise coming from behind me. I turned just in time to see two other guys splitting open the goat’s head with a machete!!! WHAT???
“They’re making goat-head soup,” my friend informed me. “Here, now try a piece of intestine.”
He handed me a small piece of meat. I popped it in my mouth, focusing all of my mental power on not fainting or throwing up or something.
Somehow, miraculously, I got the chewy, leathery piece of meat down. But let’s just say that I didn’t eat a lot more nyama choma that day. And I definitely didn’t try any goat-head soup. Which is a real shame, because now I can’t say that I’ll try anything once. But the next time I have the chance to try goat-head soup, I will. I promise.
Over the course of my year-long internship in Kenya, I ended up having nyama choma numerous times, and now I can honestly say that nyama choma with ugali is fantastic. Seriously! Even if it did take me a little while to get to that point.
Just promise me you’ll take this piece of advice if you ever find yourself in East Africa: Don’t start with the tripe!
About the Author: Barry is the founder and director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.