Hopeland Hotel isn’t the most lavish or opulent place to eat in Embu. Its narrow entrance leads from an unmetalled road. If it wasn’t for the sign, you could easily miss it. The first time I ate there I wasn’t sure of the quality of the food. “We now serve chips!” said a poster on the wall. So to play safe, I had chips with a couple of samosas.
I haven’t had chips there since. My favourite meal is minji, which is peas in a thin beef broth with a lump or two of potatoes and some freshly grated white cabbage. I like madondo, which is a simple dish of stewed red beans, served with ugali (a bit like a dollop of polenta), pilau rice or chapatis. Sometimes I have a mixed plate of green grams (a type of lentil) with mashed potatoes and beans. It’s heavy on the carbohydrates, but we probably eat too much protein. An average meal costs about 50pence.
Occasionally, I lash out and have half an avocado. The last one I bought was so large, creamy and perfect that three people shared it with me. I don’t drink the water and I stay clear of any pre-prepared fried pastries in the glass cabinet separating the diners from the chapati production area. Oddly, the main kitchen is at the other end of the restaurant.
From 1-2pm, it is extremely busy. People get their heads down and eat fast. There is a high turnover. The tables and chairs are packed in, but people don’t mind moving to accommodate new customers.
After seven weeks the waitresses are getting used to me now. They know that I like a small bowl of spicy consomme to accompany my food and if avocados are available, they let me know. I lost a bit of weight in the first few weeks I was here and I noticed that I seemed to get bigger portions than my fellow diners. Now my weight is stable, I get the same sized meals as everyone else.
Sometimes there are troublesome flies, but when it is busy, they are shared out among lots of diners. The seats are uncomfortable, but service is brisk and we don’t linger. The worst thing is the massive amount of flatus the food creates.