When it comes to culinary flavors, Mombasa’s strategic location has given it something of an unfair advantage. Not only does the city specialize in fresh seafood caught daily off the shores of the Indian Ocean, but its diverse selection of African, Asian and European cultural influences have infused the dining scene here with an exotic gastronomic edge as well. Lucky you. There are, of course, huge disparities in quality and pricing that exist, depending on whether you opt for regal beachside establishments or the more humble and lively offerings, say, downtown. Still, with options that range from Swahili to Italian to Indian to high-end Chinese (and a plethora in between), all you and your appetite will really need is a nudge in the right direction.
There are a few names you’re likely to encounter upon doing some preliminary research into Mombasa’s restaurant selection, including Tamarind (seafood), Il Covo (Italian/Japanese), Pavilions (African/Middle Eastern) and Galaxy Chinese (take a wild guess). Now while many of these beachside/waterfront options can be relied upon to deliver high quality food and above average service, expect their prices to reflect their clientele (aka tourists). If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something with a little less pomp and a little more urban authenticity, head downtown towards either Moi Ave or Old Town. The former, near its intersection with Digo Road, offers a variety of good casual eating and drinking spots including Fontanella “Steakhouse” (our parentheses) and the Royal Castle: amalgams of acceptable food, fun atmospheres and great people watching. The latter, one of Mombasa’s biggest cultural attractions, boasts plenty of relaxed cafes and inexpensive restaurants among its Arabic architecture - including the Mombasa staple Tarboush. You can also find the popular Blue Room restaurant and ice cream parlor not far from here (on Haile Selassie just across Digo Road, though it’s something of a tourist haunt these days).
For those with a steady resolve and the desire to get a much more up close and personal experience with local foodstuffs, Mombasa’s daily Kongowea Market might be right up your alley. Be advised: this experience is not for the faint of heart, or those who squirm in unfamiliar situations. Amid the smells of raw meat, fish, fruit and veggies, however, you’ll get an authentic taste of what goes into Mombasa’s kitchens citywide, along with the opportunity to cheaply sample some of the region’s unadulterated produce. All in all, when it comes to the culinary arts, the selection here is surprisingly broad enough to warrant much more conversation than a simple summary can offer; still, it’s good to have an idea just how wide a swath of gastronomic territory we’re talking about. Now all that’s left to do is get out there and eat something.