As far back as I can remember, we gathered as a family to eat. Food was central to our gatherings, it was a part of our family ritual a time to talk, laugh, drink and play. It was often simple, always good.
It was perfectly normal that my mother worked. She was forever organising events, talking on the phone, making arrangements. She was a master orchestrator (she still is) and would go through her cookbooks and magazines, pick out recipes for the chefs in her business to make. Her instincts were unnerving and she always knew where to buy the best ingredients to go into the food she served. Even now her foodie instincts are amazing – she taste tested a shepherds pie for me the other day.
“What did you put into the mash?” she asked me.
“What else?” she continued.
“Salt and pepper.”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “It was excellent!”
After a short pause she continued, “You’ll need to develop microwavable dishes you know. Old people are fussy.”
It is a privilege to be her daughter and I am lucky to have the benefit of her advice.
My food journey followed a natural route – to the homes of friends, our large extended family who lived on the farm at Thika, my grandmother’s home. It meandered along and I grew to love the act of eating out. Restaurants in Nairobi were numerous – Italian, Chinese, Indian , Japanese, French – our family followed the circuit.
Sometimes meals out took the form of ordering Masala Chips from the car park outside a hotel in town.The waiter would come to the car with our drinks and plates piled high with fresh golden fried and crispy chips smothered in a hot, peppery, spicy sauce. At other times we ate at The French Cultural Centre, always exquisite, always delicious. A less salubrious but nevertheless a complete favourite was to eat Makati Mayaii – a form of street food bought from the pavement sellers on River Road. Makati Mayaii is a kind of fried eggy-bread sandwich with minced beef. On other occasions it was a chicken tikka dinner from the Supreme Hotel.
The fusion of different nationalities and ethnicities….Americans, English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, Swedes with the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Somalis brought about a special assimilation of food tastes and cultures. A love of food, a natural obsession or buzz gained from the heightened physical reaction to eating was inescapable for us all.
As a result of this my recipes are ones that have been handed down and passed around between family and friends, colleagues and neighbours. So, for example, a recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala is not simply a great recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala but it was Mrs Shah’s recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala. Indeed, most likely it was not even Mrs Shah’s recipe but the recipe given to her by her grandmother who may have got it from her next door neighbour when she lived in Malawi. The neighbour may have been given it by a friend who’d acquired it from a colleague when she’s lived in Durban. Such is the way with food…and recipes….we all have our favourites and our favourites all have a story.