International Bites: Rwanda
Rwandan food is like Rwandan music. It's neither spicy, nor hot. It's simple, mellow and local.
You might have read my blogs on Rwanda where I have talked about my travels and a bit of history of this landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda being a very small country surrounded by Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Tanzania has a lot of influence on its style of food from these countries. Also, being a dutch colony in the past, there is a bit of dutch influence on the food too.
Unlike a few cuisines of the world like Indian, Thai, Mexican or Italian, Rwandan cuisine doesn't really have so much character. But, I strongly believe in eating local and am always on a hunt for new type of food.
Rwanda doesn't really have a street food culture and hence, one won't really find stalls of freshly cooked food on the streets like many other countries. The rural Rwandan diet consists mainly of sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet, plantains, cassava, and fruits. Rwandans who live in rural areas rarely eat meat. Some families have cattle, but since cattle are considered a status symbol, people seldom slaughter them for meat.
In cities meat is more plentiful. The most popular meats are lamb, beef and chicken. People who live near the lake do eat fish.
Rwandans often snack on fruits between meals. Tropical fruits such as avocados, bananas and mangoes are abundant in Rwanda.
Alright then, here’s a little guide so you know what sorts of local style food is available for your hungry bellies.
Meat on a stick! If anyone asked me what sort of food Rwanda is known for, I would have to say the mighty brochette. It’s basically, a kebab of meat or fish. Most local places will only offer up goat (sometimes with liver or intestine thrown in for a little surprise) and some more fancy places will also do fish, beef or chicken. One thing they generally have in common is that the meat (especially goat) is cooked to oblivion. But somehow it’s super delicious. Everyone finds their own favorite local brochette place so hit up a few bars, sample some meat sticks and see if you can find a great place of your own.
“Nimish my friend, this is Akabenz. A.K.A. Benz. We love our pork as mush as we love Mercedes-Benz!” That was Vedaste talking about Akabenz sitting at this bar called Come Again. It’s a sweet and savory pork barbecue. I think Come Again is the only decent place in Kigali (Capital of Rwanda) which serves this fancy pork dish with Banana French Fries and Onion Salad topped with Mayonnaise.
…is delicious! I’m not sure if ‘Nyama Choma’ is roasted meat in general or if it refers specifically to roasted goat meat. It’s a very popular dish in Kenya and you can find it at various places around Kigali. It’s basically a leg of goat meat roasted and then chopped up into pieces. Seriously yummy.
Being a landlocked country, Rwanda isn’t really stockpiled with fish but, being close to Lake Kivu and Lake Victoria, some fishes find their way here. There are a bunch of local places in Nyamrambo (and probably in other places all over the city) that serve up a giant fish that you can easily share with two or three friends. I’ve never really been totally 100% sure what the fish is that I happily rip apart with my hands but when asked, someone told me that it's a Tilapia. One thing I do know – it’s a damn fine tasting fish!
Well, with all that said, there are a few etiquette and ways one needs to keep in mind while eating with Rwandans.
Many Rwandan men enjoy drinking beer, but women rarely drink alcohol in any form. They do drink tea with lots of milk and sugar. You may think that coffee is famous but it's mainly exported.
Refusing to partake of offered food or drink is considered an insult. Hosts might sip from drinks and taste the food first before passing them to the guests to show that they are safe for consumption and have not been poisoned. This comes from the genocide days about which I have spoken in my earlier blog about Rwanda.
Dress appropriately. People in Kigali take pride in their appearance and tend to dress up. Do not wear shorts to your host's place—shorts are worn only by Rwandan schoolboys.
Food might not be what Rwanda is known for but when there, I would suggest you to try out some of the dishes that I have mentioned here and do let me know if you like them.