Saturday, August 02, 2008

Muryohe Rwe! A Short Field Trip to Rwanda

Field to Feast has never wrote and posted in situ, but here goes - I am writing to you from the shores of Lake Kivu, in western Rwanda, a 10-minute drive from the border with the DRC. Lake Kivu has the unenviable privilege of being considered one of Africa’s “killer lakes” because of the amount of dissolved methane gas and carbon dioxide at the bottom of the lake – gases that could one day burst to the surface, releasing toxic fumes. On the bright side, the methane is being explored as a source of energy – it has even been used to power the nearby Bralirwa brewery.

Today is a little overcast, so the lake and the sky are an almost indistinguishable grey. But, small waves are lapping on the sandy beach and the air is mild, so I am not complaining about the bland view. I had enough spectacular views this morning on the 20-minute drive to some nearby hot springs. The bumpy road wound through hills and valleys of banana grooves, with slices of the lake visible around each bend. Tiny shops lined part of the route – buildings of painted clay, some labeled “cafĂ©-resto,” others selling phone cards or a small selection of groceries. Homes were scattered on the hillside, some on precarious perches, with tiny dirt paths snaking up to their doorsteps. Men pushed rickety bicycles uphill, loaded down with sugarcane stalks or bananas, and women made steep climbs, carrying huge, gravity-defying baskets of bananas and avocadoes on their heads.

Although I’ve been in Rwanda almost a week, I have not been doing as much food research as I should. Yes, I did eat brochettes (kebabs) and chips, with potent chili sauce. And, yes, I have consumed more bananas this week than I’ve had in the past year – fried plantains, bananas boiled with green split peas (amashaza mu gitoke), bananas as breakfast, and bananas as dessert. Beyond brochettes and bananas, I really liked isombe, a cooked mixture of greens, peanut butter, and chopped, baseball-size white eggplants. I’ve also eaten sambaza (sardines) from Lake Kivu (the same ones that are dried and called kapenta in Zimbabwe), and paid homage to the aforementioned brewery, which makes Mitzig and Primus, the most popular local brews. I’m sure there is much more to Rwandan cooking and drinking, however! To be explored in a future trip…hopefully one I which I see the gorillas and drink homemade banana wine.

Despite the brevity of my trip, I did want to share with you some Kigali restaurant tips. As a complete coincidence, while searching the internet in the hopes of double-checking some spellings, I discovered that I went to all four restaurants listed in this May 2008 article on Kigali’s best-loved restaurants. Clearly, I was getting good dining-out advice from my colleagues! Chez Lando is an open-air, beer garden-esque place, where I had high hopes of ordering the whole grilled tilapia. They were all out, unfortunately, and it was painful watching the last two orders go to a nearby table; the dish looked stunning, and plenty for two people. I ate the fish brochettes instead – they were a little bland for me and needed a good dose of pili-pili hot sauce! Goat brochettes are supposed to be the restaurant's specialty. Khazana’s ambiance may be over-the-top Bollywood, but the food was, without exaggeration, among the best Indian meals I’ve had at any restaurant. The hearty, deeply-spiced chickpea dhal was my favorite. And I’d never taken a liking to injera – this is, until I ate the injera at Lalibela, an Ethiopian restaurant near the stadium. The shiro wot was fabulous. Even me, who has a mushy bread phobia (one reason I have never been too keen on French toast) was devouring the mushy spots of injera where the shiro had soaked right through.

The sun is setting, so I’ll close my post. I’ll be back in Zimbabwe on Monday, learning to cope with the new currency!


Alex said...

What a relief that you have been posting again - you had me worried!

Isombe looks like my kind of thing, I got addicted to Groundnut Stew many years ago after being taught to cook it by some African friends. I MUST try this!

Jeanne said...

I was thrilled to see a post from you pop up in my reader - I get a little nervous when you go quiet... THe field trip sounds totally fascinating - thanks for sharing your experiences with us. Good luck with returning to Zim - you are never far from my thoughts.

Deborah Dowd said...

What a great and interesting post.I do not know much about African cuisine, but I am sure if I keep coming back to your blog, I will be an expert in no time!

Anonymous said...

Hallo Carolyn
I recently discovered you blog and it's an absolute joy! I've added you to my blogroll and will make an entry about tis blog to direct some traffic your way. It's a real armchair traveller's delight.
Sonia Cabano

Anna said...

sounds like an exciting little escapade.
glad you weren't attacked by exploding toxic methane fumes.

Deca Durabolin said...

I love Rwanda, can't wait to get back.
Thanks for sharing.