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Kenya

Trout Tree

 

Good restaurants are thin on the ground in rural Kenya. The two doctors who were here in Embu before me would drive two hours to a restaurant outside Nanyuki called the “Trout Tree”, just for Sunday lunch. Well, anything is better than rice, beans, cabbage and chapattis after a while. We had already planned to stop here for lunch on our way back from our safari at Ol Pejeta.

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We got there quicker than we had anticipated at 11.30am, too early for lunch. A large group of safari tourists were already moving down to the restaurant. “Why don’t we go for a walk until 1pm and reserve a table once this group has moved on?” I suggested.

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The restaurant is built into a massive tree. It overlooks the trout farm. In the forest surrounding the farm, there were troops of colobus monkeys. The staff of the restaurant fed the monkeys at midday so they would come for lunch at the same time as the customers. They were a good tourist attraction. A few tree hyraxes (about the same size as a large rat) visited the diners on the top floor of the restaurant.

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The maitre d’ was rather flummoxed by our request to be shown some walking trails. “There are none here. This land is all owned by farmers. Why do you want to go walking anyway? Why not sit in the bar and wait for your table?” We didn’t believe him and walked up the steep drive to the main highway. Across the road, we could see a rough track.

We followed the track up to a radio tower on the hillside, enjoying the clean air and sunshine. We could hear voices in the woods but no one came to chastise us for trespassing. By the time we got back to the treetop restaurant, it was 1pm. The big group of Safari tourists were just leaving. I quizzed them about the food and they recommended the trout. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?

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We settled into a prime location and waited for the waitress. Service was extremely slow. It started off badly when my Danish colleague saw Carlsberg beer on the menu and ordered an ice cold bottle. It was not available, so he had Guinness, but was concerned about its provenance as the label had come adrift in the ice chest where drinks were kept. He wasn’t impressed by the smoked trout pizza, either. He kept us amused by reading out bad reviews from TripAdvisor as we waited for our food.

I asked for plain tap water and the waitress refused to give it to me. She said, “If tourists drink our water and get sick they will blame the food at the restaurant.” I told her that I live in Embu and drink the water from the tap, but she still refused to serve me. However, I had some wholesome vegetable soup, followed by the grilled whole trout with garlic butter and chips, which was very tasty.

We ordered tea and coffee with home-made biscuits but were given fresh fruit salad instead. After pointing out the mistake, the waitress said we could have it on the house, free of charge. But what about our tea and biscuits? It took a long while to get lukewarm water and tea bags. By this time it was almost 4pm, time to get back to Embu before darkness fell.

Categories
Kenya

Lunch

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.

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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.

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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.

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After 2pm, the lunch crowd has vanished

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.

Categories
Kenya

Fillet Steak

Steak and chips is my favourite meal. In Kenya, people generally prefer fatty cuts of meat, with a chunk of bone to give extra flavour. Fillet steak is considered less tasty and is reasonably priced. It isn’t always on display in the butcher’s glass cabinet at our local supermarket. I nipped in last week over my lunch break to see if any was on sale.

The display was filled with slabs of beef, capons, broilers and fish fillet, but not what I desired. I asked the butcher when the next beast was being slaughtered in an attempt to reserve the fillet. He told me that there was some fillet steak in the cold room, but it was still attached to the carcass. I jumped at the chance.

He used his machete-cum-cleaver to deactivate a switch high on the wall and sent his assistant into the cold room. I’d never noticed the cold room before. It has a large picture window where the meat is displayed hanging from hooks. I could see the assistant hacking away at the inside of a cow cadaver. He was using a heavy knife, stabbing downwards within the ribcage. It reminded me of the shower scene in Hitchcock’s film “Psycho” where Janet Leigh (actually it was her body double, Marli Renfro) was brutally murdered.

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I stood transfixed as he bludgeoned the psoas muscle free. It only took a few minutes. He came out of the cold room with the steak draped over his outstretched hands, his face beaming with satisfaction. Job (sort of) well done.

To be honest, it looked a real mess. It was ragged and torn, certainly not a classic filet mignon. He used his bare hands to pull away plaques of yellow fat and slapped the thick, long slab of gore onto the scales. He prodded and primped it up to look as pretty as possible, trying to conceal the crude, ripped edges. It weighed 800 grams and cost about £4.50. His boss asked me if I wanted another one. It suddenly dawned on me that the cow had two fillets. I was tempted, but I thought I’d try this one first before splashing out.

I took it back to the office in a freezer bag and left it in the staff food fridge until it was time to go home. I trimmed off the irregular edges, dissected away the silvery band of fascia and fashioned four thick steaks – two for now, two for later and the trimmings for beef stew. It was slightly chewy rather than melt-in-the-mouth, but it tasted delicious.