It’s safe to say that Kenya’s native cooking is a bit of an acquired taste. Now don’t get us wrong, there are delicious staple dishes like nyama choma (roasted meat) served with ugali (boiled cornmeal) and collard greens, but depending on your itinerary and dietary customs this might be as close to a recognizable meal as you’re going to get. But before nightmares of self-imposed starvation go running through your head, let’s step back a little, shall we? First of all, you’re in Nairobi - the country’s most populated, ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan city. Dining options range from native Kenyan, Ethiopian and Indian to German, Thai, Italian and even Mongolian, so there’s no need to limit your palate here. But even if there was, would that really be a problem? The way we look at it, if you’re out to ascend the most difficult massifs in Africa, or camp out with the kings of the jungle, the prospect of sampling a few new and unusual flavors shouldn’t shake your resolve.
For anyone interested in good city-dining options, you’d do well to head towards Nairobi’s Central Business District. This area is chuck full of moderately priced restaurants scattered along streets like Kaunda and Moi Ave, where you can grab lunch or dinner with white-collar locals and a few other travelers as you observe the industrious pace of downtown Nairobi outside. There’s also a healthy dispersion of establishments (including several excellent Indian spots) in the popular Westlands neighborhood to the north. With a smattering of nearby bars and clubs to tempt you, this is prime territory for turning a meal out with friends into a crazy night on the town.
Anyone with a hankering for the real goods will want to consider bypassing major tourist haunts like Carnivore (a pricey favorite on Langata Rd.) and the Village Market Food Court (almost equally pricey, Western style mall dining on Limuru Rd.) in favor of something like the Kenyatta Market. Yes these rows of stalls may be a little less sanitary-looking than you’re used to, and perhaps the sometimes-pushy salespeople make the dining experience less intimate, but in the end this is where those who know the succulent goodness of nyama choma come to eat. You’ll find that, with most establishments in this vein, the story is similar; you can pay more for a restaurant that lets you escape from some of the less posh aspects of life in Nairobi, or you can embrace the foreign nuances of cheap, authentic local dining. Whatever your preference, you and your stomach have a lot of options and a little figuring out to do.