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Four One One

Exploring East Africa through food

Nyama choma, a delicacy loved across different Swahili cultures was one of those on the menu. Photos | Andrew Kaggwa

If there is one element that always brings people together, it is food. A celebration, merry-making and gathering will always be considered successful if the food was good and the rest will be background noise.

It is upon such a background that Protea Hotel usually finds the need to celebrate the region through food.

Using their Swahili Experience, a concept that has existed since 2022, the hotel hosted the first edition of 2023 on Saturday evening. The experience was deliberate towards exploring foods from the rest of the East African Community as opposed to only Kenya as it had been in the past.

Thus, there was an inclusion of Ugandan beverages, Tanzanian and Congolese dishes.

This meant that the resident chef, Amos Otim, had to think out of the box with the dishes, spices and choice of beverages.

East Africa generally has many things in common; it is a region that loves rice, fish and chicken. For instance, it is said every home has a recipe of both rice and chicken. For a celebration of East African food, it meant that rice and chicken were going to be a big part of the serving.

Otim says the Swahili culture has a lot of influence from the Arabs and Indians who traded with the region during the pre-independence African times. Thus, some of the dishes sound and taste familiar to dishes made famous by Indians and Arabs.

However, Otim says what makes these dishes different is the fact that most Swahili dishes have coconut as an ingredient.

“What makes a Swahili dish is the fact that they have an element of coconut, many other cultures may have dishes that taste like that, but they rarely incorporate coconut,” he says.

And of course, Swahili culture is heavy on wheat products such as mandazi, samosas and chapattis.

As it has always been with such experiences, music and beverages play an integral part of the do. Fauti Band was amazing with covers of famous songs while beverages were totally experimental, especially with beer cocktails, a culture that seems to be catching on.

But for a Swahili culture because of religious affiliation, beer cocktails do not make highlights, regardless of how good the mixologists made them.

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