Roasting is one of the earliest forms of cooking . It remains the best way of cooking meat as it brings out the best flavours in meat through caramelization on the open flame. It is a slow method of cooking and for that reason it is usually done during special occasions. In Kenya, pork is an expensive delicacy. Therefore, whenever we access it, we do it justice by preparing it in the best way we know how. We only access it once in a blue moon and so we like to make the experience as memorable as possible.
Major occasions like family get-togethers, parties, dowry celebrations, are never complete without roast meat. Even if not much food is served by the hosts, if there is roast meat, guests feel happy and satisfied. They often tell those who did not attend how well they were fed and taunt them with stories of ‘nyama choma’ (local name for roast meat). Men and post pubescent boys take up the role of slaughtering and roasting the meat as women and girls prepare the side dishes. Most of the time men eat their food and have their drinks while roasting meat outside on a charcoal grill; as women stay indoors, cooking and sharing stories. They then serve the meat to eager guests after they have finished other dishes, better to save the best for last! In other words, in Kenya, nyama choma is the ideal ‘dessert’ in any occasion.
Roast meat mostly goat, pork or chicken, is often served alone or with ‘kachumbari’, a Swahili salsa made up of onions mixed with tomatoes and coriander. If nyama choma is the main protein in a meal it may be served with kachumbari or stir fried dark leafy vegetables like kale mixed with spinach and a starch mostly ‘ugali’, a staple maizemeal cooked in boiling water to a dough-like consistency. Some people prefer having their nyama choma with ‘mukimo’, a popular dish in central Kenya made of mashed potatoes mixed with green maize, peas, blended greens and some caramelized onions.
‘Pork choma’ is also served at pub joints on weekends and people have their choma with their choice of accompaniment and some beer as they prepare for a night of fun at the club. Some of these nyama choma joints are so popular that people have road trips just to be part of the fun. Some men end up frequenting nyama choma joints, often as a way of establishing their social status by buying kilos of roast meat for colleagues and friends. Some on the other hand, spend most of their nights at these bars as a way of evading familial responsibilities or as an escape from quarrelsome wives.
Unfortunately, too much of anything is poisonous, even nyama choma! The charring that gives nyama choma its characteristic flavour, has been increasingly linked with increased risk of getting prostate cancer. The frequent intake of nyama choma downed with beer has also led several men to suffer from ‘rich man’s’ diseases like gouty arthritis. Nevertheless, nyama choma remains at the top of Kenya’s gourmet food chart. As a dietician, I preach the gospel of moderation. With moderation, all kinds of foods can be enjoyed. Nyama choma doesn’t need to be eliminated completely from our diet because of the health risks associated with its excesses. Nyama choma is a delicacy that has been there for many generations and I would like for my great grandchildren to be able to enjoy it, just as our forefathers did, as part of their heritage as Kenyans!
I have shared below a recipe for nyama choma and kachumbari so that you can have a taste of Kenya, wherever you are!
Pork Choma Recipe
- pork ribs
- 4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- juice of 2 lemons
- curry powder
- freshly ground turmeric
- paprika/ chillies (optional)
- salt and black pepper
- 1 tablesoon of natural honey (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine together seasonings, spices, herbs and stir together thoroughly.
- Place the ribs inside, then pour the marinade over them. Cover. Allow to marinate for at least two hours – overnight, in the fridge, is even better.
- Nyama Choma is traditionally grilled/roasted over hardwood charcoal, so cook it that way if you can. Or you can broil it in the oven. Otherwise just cook until so tender that a fork will easily pull the meat away from the bones.
- Serve your Nyama Choma with kachumbari/a salad/or some stir fried vegetables and ugali, a Kenyan favorite side dish /mashed potatoes/French fries.
- 2 tomatoes (diced)
- 1/2 medium onion (diced)
- 1/2 bunch dhania/coriander (chopped)
- Chillies (optional)
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Mix all the kachumbari ingredients in a bowl and serve.