Saturday, February 13, 2010

Food, Part I: Buying It

Welcome to Nakumatt

Some of you have been asking about Rwandan food, and finally I think I can say what we’ve seen and eaten.  The bottom line is that, except at fancy restaurants, eating in Rwanda is not an inspiring experience. Unless you are very hungry, and then it’s downright spiritual. 

During our first few weeks here, we have mostly eaten our own food, both cold and cooked.   There are a few supermarkets in the city center, which is a half-hour walk from our guest house.  The one we tend to go to is called the Nakumatt, and it is an African Wal-Mart on a smaller scale.  In addition to food, toiletries, etc., you can buy appliances (including large ones), clothing, hardware, bedding, and furniture (for both home and office—you can buy a boardroom table and appropriate chairs for ten).  All this squeezed into a space 1/3 the size of a non-super Wal-Mart.  Much of it at prices that are twice those of Wal-Mart, or more.  Nakumatt is a Kenyan chain, and most items in the store are imported from Kenya, including the produce. 

For that reason, the produce there is pitiful.  It is often sad and tired, and the availability is unreliable.  (They have been out of bananas for the past several days.  How does a store in a country covered with banana trees run out of bananas?)  A few times we have been to a meal at someone's house, where we have been served the most astounding mangoes, pineapples, avocados, tomatoes, and even berries.  Each time, when I asked where they got their produce, they shrugged and said that their cooks or housekeepers got it for them.  We have since been introduced to the local marketplaces, which are crushes of humanity with bananas galore, and everything else you can imagine.  (We often eat little half-sized bananas which are a little sweeter yet have a light, almost lemony taste behind the sweet.)  Most locals do their daily shopping in the smaller mom and pop stores that line the neighborhood streets. 

Nakumatt caters primarily to abazungu and rich Africans.  I do not think the average Kigali resident can afford much that is in there.  ($140 for a standing oscillating fan.  $10 for a box of Weetabix.)  Actually, the staples are fairly affordable, even at Nakumatt.  They carry Rwandan dairy products, coffee, and tea, and buying them is not painful:  $3/pound of Rwandan gouda vs. $20/pound of imported gouda.  We like the Rwandan gouda, and have been eating it steadily for the five weeks we’ve been here so far.   We have been splurging on the Weetabix, however. 

The groceries available are not extensive.  If you want to get interesting with your cooking here, you cook Indian.  In Texas supermarkets, an entire supermarket aisle is devoted to Tex-Mex.  In the Northeast, it’s Italian that gets its own aisle.  In Kigali, it’s Indian.  We can live with that.


  1. It's lunchtime, and now you've made me hungry! Glad all is well - your discussion of the nice new buildings and no supplies reminds me of moving into Murdock - and will probably be repeated when the new science building opens!
    I found a cute message on your office door the other day, but I couldn't figure out how to get it into this post, so I sent it to you by email.
    Love ya! Nancy

  2. Hi Adrienne and Bill,

    Interesting about the food. Are all the restaurants expensive? Don't they have a Chili's there? Tonight we had garbanzo-flour croquettes made with parsely, garbanzo beans, scallions, and red bell pepper, seasoned with chili powder, cumin and salt, then fried in olive oil and topped with chopped cucumber, tomatoes, scallions and goat cheese (topping seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil). Yum! When you come back we'll make it for you and see if we can't get you off your Weetabix and banana habit.


  3. Hi Ted,
    No fair taunting with the goat cheese! Restaurant prices for the ones we can eat at without fearing gastrointestinal consequences are comparable to American prices, ranging from cheap to ridiculously expensive. We have not tried the ridiculously expensive places.