The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Thursday, April 19, 2018

12 Questions with the Kenyan Nomad

I'm a huge fan of getting beneath the surface, of getting to know people beyond what they present to the rest of the world. Given my recent challenge-to-self of being more vulnerable and stepping out of my comfort zone, I thought it only fair to give others the opportunity too! I hunted around the Internet for a few questions, but I'm open to taking yours too (within reason ;) ).

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
Well, this is a tough one. Do I have to choose between having J.R.R. Tolkein over to tell me stories about middle earth, or a random person from a random period in life who could tell me all about how they lived? Since the choice is hard, I'll take the easy route and say - my best friend.

2. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Oh, mind, definitely, provided that it retained the ability to grow and learn.

3. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
The various relationships and opportunities in my life that have come my way.

4. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
TELEPORTATION! It would solve so many of my problems. Within reason? I'd love to be a polygot.

5. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
So much! At the end of my life, what are the regrets I would have? How long will it take to discover life on other planets? Where will I be professionally (without giving too much away) in 10 years? In 20? Where will I be personally (again, exec summary) in the same time period? What happened to Roanoke? Who are the top 10 people I speak to the most over the decades?

I feel like this question could be a post of its own... maybe the things I want to know are pointing me in a certain direction, and I probably need to reflect on that!

6. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
There is - and I'm working on it :)

7. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Another tough one! I'd say one of the things I'm really glad about is the fact that the number of close friends I've known more than 7 years (you know why) is quite a good number - we're willing and able to put in the time and effort to keep these relationships alive.

8. What do you value most in a friendship?
Long version or short? If it's the latter, then trust, emotional intelligence and the willingness to grow.

9. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
Well, crap. I'd hope not - I'd like to think that I may be at a stage in my life where I'm making good choices - but hey, see question 5, and feel free to advise ;)

10. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
Amazing, grateful, inspired, blessed - I really could go on forever.

11. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
Within the past month, actually, for both. See exhibit A: being vulnerable is not a bad thing and B: I believe that having a good cry once in a while is actually healthy.

12. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
Is my desk or my bookshelf an option? That would count as one item, right? More realistically, it would have to be something tied to memories, and knowing me, words. So whether this is letters, all my birthday cards ever (I'm quite organised) or things I've written, I guess they'd all be fair game!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fonda Nairobi: Restaurant Review

You may remember a series of posts I did last year about the top dishes, drinks and desserts one must try in Nairobi - well, I'd mentioned a Mexican restaurant, Fonda, and decided it was finally time to go do a full tasting! I'm incredibly nostalgic about Mexican food (#MiCasa #YSR), and so any experience that gives me a chance to recreate those memories is welcome.

I'd been in touch with the managing director, so I grabbed a good friend, told them we were coming, and off we went!

(In retrospect, maybe we should have gone unannounced - we got to try the tasting menu and couldn't move once we finished!) 

I honestly have to say that this may be the best Mexican I've had in a LONG time. Fonda has definitely moved up into my top 10 restaurants in Nairobi. We had an AMAZING time. Great company + great food + great ambience + great location = always a win, right?

Fonda is located in the Rosslyn Riviera mall - a little removed from my usual Westlands haunts, but I liked where it was - and I don't think there was any construction in sight! 

To start off, we got a salsa platter (with 6 different signature salsas!), guacamole, and tortilla chips. The salsas all had varying levels of spice - and let me tell you, they varied from good-for-a-5-year-old to make-you-cry-like-a-maniac! Salsa has been around for thousands of years, being used as a condiment to give different foods more flavour. You can find out more about the history of salsa here.

I apologise in advance for forgetting the names, but I'm sure if you take this picture to anyone who works there, they'll tell you which salsa is which! My favourites would have to be the two darker red ones - but don't let my tastes influence yours! The thing I loved about these salsas - apart from the fact that they're made with ingredients grown by the restaurant! - was that there was such complexity of flavour and multidimensionality! Try the roasted pineapple habanero, and try tell me that you're not in love. I can easily see a world where I go to Fonda for an evening of margaritas, tortilla chips and these salsas.

The guacamole was good, too, but as you can tell, I was so excited about the salsa that I forgot to have as much of this!

From Fonda:

Guacamole was originally made by the Aztecs as early as 15th century. Traditionally, it was prepared by mashing ripe avocados with the use of a molcajete, sprinkled with salt and some hot peppers for finishing touches. This ancient avocado-based dip was a prized delicacy not just of the commoners in the Aztec empire, but reportedly a favourite of Emperor Montezuma.
The Aztecs originally called the now famous Guacamole “ahuacamolli” or “ahuaca-mulli”, which literally means avocado sauce. The name was a combination of two Nahuatl words, āhuacatl which means avocado and molli, which means sauce.
When the Spaniards came to Mexico, they too fell in love with this beautiful dip and brought it back to Spain modifying the the original recipe by introducing onions, cilantro and lime juice and calling it Guacamole.

Speaking of margaritas - over the course of the evening, we tried five different ones, and I loved them all! These were the margarita clasico (original), tamarindo (tamarind paste - not something that I would have thought would go in a margarita, but it was a perfect marriage), maracuya (passion fruit variation of the original), hibiscus, and mango y habanero (yes, it was spicy). It'd be hard to choose a favourite, as they were all amazing! Maybe these could come in a 'tasting' size too? ;)

Fun fact - no one really knows who invented the Margarita, and whether it truly is Mexican or not! There are multiple stories about its origin, with the most common claiming that it was a "happy accident" resulting from a Tijuana bartender named Henry Madden grabbing the tequila instead of gin to make a "Daisy" which coincidentally is Margarita in Spanish.

Margarita Maracuya
Tell me these don't tempt you?!

Margarita Tamarindo
Next up, we had the uchepo (tamale), which was served with two salsas (salsa verde and salsa rojo). I really enjoyed this, as it had a comfort food feel - and the salsa verde would have to be a winner for me! Uchepos are a regional tamale from Michoacan made with fresh, rather than dried, corn and served bathed with cream or as an accompaniment to stews. At Fonda, these classics are served with red/green salsa and crema. But the history of tamales is a long one and actually related to war - read more about it here.

We also had a tostada pescado, with fresh shrimp marinated in chillies and lime, served with tomatoes, onions, capsicum, coriander and avocado salsa. I loved the flavour in this! The different ingredients blended together really well, and I may have to declare this my favourite dish of the night. From Fonda, about the birth of the dish:

Almost 2000 years ago, somewhere in Mexico, someone decided that they needed to extend the shelf-life of a tortilla. And so was born the "Tostada". Tostada literally means toasted in Spanish - and is generally a day old tortilla fried to crispy brown. You can sometimes get baked or roasted options, but mostly these fried tortillas are then loaded with a bean puree and other meat or vegetable toppings.

One thing I really love about Mexican food - if you're expecting to make do with a fork and knife, you may have to adjust your expectations a little bit! It really does engage ALL your senses, and having to use your hands only makes the experience better. 

The queso fundido was essentially a plate of melted cheese (my mouth is watering again...) topped with sauteed mushrooms, onions and coriander, served with tortillas and a salsa (the salsa de morito). Another amazing attention to detail here - the cheeses are created specially for Fonda at Brown's cheese in Tigoni (another must visit if you haven't yet been!) Who doesn't love cheese?!

By this point, we were starting to get full, but bravely soldiered through. Next up, we had a plate of three tacos, all with different fillings - one with pescado a la baja (beer battered fish served on  a bed of radish-lettuce salad with chipotle mayonnaise), hongos y quelites (wild earthy mushrooms sauteed with fresh leafy greens topped with queso fresco) and the conchinita pibil (shredded pork marinated in oranges, annatto paste and spices). 

While I liked all three, the hongos y quelites was a definite favourite, followed by the pescado a la baja. The next time I try this one, I may try another filling instead of the pork. The hongos y queltes was a perfectly earthy blend - the leafy greens really brought out the flavours of the mushrooms, and the queso was a delightful complement to the whole thing! 

Can you tell that by this point, even my picture taking was affected?? For the main course (yes, we hadn't even made it there yet...), we had the mole poblano (also known as Mexico's national food dish) with chicken. This is an extremely complex dish, made with more than 30 ingredients, and it was served with rice, beans and tortillas. More about its history here. Did you know that one version of the legend about its origin says that it was inspired by an angel?

To be absolutely honest, this dish wasn't my favourite, and I may not give it another try. I feel that it lacked multidimensionality, and the complexity didn't come through very well. 

Now, it was FINALLY time for dessert! We did ask for a meanwhile in between, which thankfully was taken into consideration. Dessert for us that day included the pastel de tres leches - the traditional tres leches cake, but with a chocolate twist - and the coffee flan. Tres leches has a fascinating history - read more here

I think these two were the perfect ending to a great evening, with the tres leches being my personal favourite. 

To finish off, we got these delicious tamarind sweets - if you love sweet and sour (emphasis) on the sour, you need to try these! But do NOT eat them in one bite. You'll have goosebumps on your scalp!

If you haven't checked out Fonda yet, I have NO idea what you're waiting for! Aside from superb food and amazing service, their ambience is great and well thought out, with amazing attention to detail, and most things being locally made or sourced. Stepping into Fonda, it may be easy to forget that you're in Kenya (or even Africa), as the decor has been thoughtfully done to make one feel as though they could be in a marketplace, a veranda, or a cultural centre somewhere in Mexico. 

Every piece has a story, every space has a feeling, and every nook and corner has a touch of a cultural experience that you'll be sure to enjoy. The ambience has a strange way of making you feel like you've come home after a while - not sure I can do the feeling justice in words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking here!

Liked this post? Do make sure to let us know - and if you visit Fonda, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Special thanks to Fonda for some of the pics and the history behind the dishes, and to my co-reviewer for the night!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rita Laibuta: Personal and Professional Insights

As some of you may know, I sit on the Board of the Young Women Social Entrepreneurs (YWSE) Nairobi network. We host monthly dinners - "How she does it" - where we have women speakers come and talk to us about their professional journeys so far.

April's speaker was Rita Laibuta. She is an Electrical Engineer by training and the Energy Consultant for the French Development Agency on the DFID /EU - funded Green-mini Grid (GMG) Kenya program. She is implementing Mini-grids and productive use projects in Kenya therefore providing electricity to more than 13,000 households and businesses and supporting more than 10 privately owned Kenyan energy companies. Rita is a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow and a 2013/14 Tullow Group Scholarship Scheme beneficiary. She loves promoting the development of renewable energy projects and advocates for entrepreneurship in Renewable Energy including participating in the British Council Entrepreneurial Africa London Showcase in 2016.

Rita shared a lot of great insights that she has picked up along the way on her personal and professional journey, and I thought that these were too good not to share! Some may be more specifically applicable to women, but I would encourage everyone to give this a read. Do you relate to any of these? Do you agree or disagree? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!


A summary of the learnings picked up throughout my professional and personal life:

1. Battling the “impostor syndrome”: Every time I read my bio, I always wonder - who is this, and why is she lying to people? A lot of brilliant, accomplished women, including the COO of Facebook – Sheryl Sandberg, Shonda Rhymes (the founder of the production company Shonda Land and author of Year of Yes), Arese Ugwu (the author of the Smart Money Woman) and many others, talk about this annoying syndrome that plagues more women than men globally. Knowing that this said “syndrome” is not only affecting me but many other women out there has given me the confidence to own my successes.

We all have our failures, I have failed many times than I can count, but I have also achieved quite a lot. I am proud of my achievements and excited about how much more I will achieve in future. Re-reading my bio with the knowledge of this “syndrome” that affects many other women has helped me think to myself more and more that, “You know what? That is me. I deserve this. I did this.” I am learning to celebrate my successes and in turn, it helps me to celebrate the success of everyone around me, appreciating the fact that we are all on our different paths, and it does not hurt to pat each others' shoulders when we do good.

2. It’s all about the mindset – Life really is what you make of it - cliché, but it’s true for me. I have lived the typical negative Kenyan life. This was in me in highschool, in campus, until my friends in university - best friends to date - pointed this out. You know the talk: "there are no jobs”, “if you don’t know anyone you won’t go far”, “how do people get these things?”

I’ll tell you that it influenced this: my looking for a Masters scholarship until I got one (and no, I did not get a first class, so trust me, I was not applying while thinking I am the most brilliant Engineer in this country); applying for the Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF), (I got rejected in 2015 by the way), but I was one of the 1000 Africans meeting Obama in the summer of 2016, in Washington DC! I had decided to apply every year until I got in.

I've been accused of living in a bubble. And I'll admit I love my bubble. The thing is, a positive and fluid mindset goes a long way, and it is a choice we have to deliberately make. We can today choose to see ourselves as winners in what we do or as victims of life, constantly wondering “How do they get those things (jobs, recognition, etc.)?"

3. On mentors and relationships – I am the type of person who, if stuck in a rut, will be googling a book on "how to get ahead in your career and relationships", “how to negotiate”, “how to become financially independent”, etc.

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In spoke to a lot of my work related doubts. Thanks to Shonda Rhymes, I am more comfortable in inserting myself in uncomfortable situations, saying yes to requests that I would normally decline, like making public speeches; Outliers questioned my idea of what brings on success; Arese Ugwu, Robert Kiyosaki on money management, Stephen Covey is why I have a personal vision statement, Robert Greene has pretty scary laws.

My observation is that mentors do not only have to be people in our physical spaces. As an introvert, if the only option I had was to request total strangers to mentor me, I would have been depressed for sure. I have also learnt to look for groups with similar interests - you will always find these when you look for them.

And finally, I have found that mentors can be anyone around us; there is so much to learn from others. We have heard many times that we are the average of the people we surround ourselves with – I can safely brag that my circle is full of brilliant women and men. Women whom I learn from every day, women who have helped me be the woman I am today. So yes, it’s great to get that one figure that can mentor us in our various spaces, but if they are not easily accessible, look to learn from your surroundings, and books. And of course, what value are you adding to your circles? It is always a give and take. 

4. And finally on self-love – I believe that self-love is the beginning of it all. You can call me the self-love ambassador. I strongly believe that if we were all taught to love ourselves from an early age, this world would look very different. You will always know a woman who has learnt to love herself from her talk, her principles: and it's a process. Women: we are beautiful, we have so much to give, but we have to start by giving ourselves. We have to learn to celebrate our success. I have read that science supports the power of positive affirmations.

“Affirmations are basically a form of auto-suggestion, and when practiced deliberately and repeatedly, they reinforce chemical pathways in the brain, strengthening neural connections”.

Affirmations make me feel good about myself. And so as I wrap it up, my answer to how I do it is this, “I wake up every morning to my “I AM” affirmations – I am confident, loved, loveable, awesome, enough, unique, special, strong, joyous…I am my biggest fan.”

I urge every woman to be their biggest fans. With this mindset, we will continue to conquer our worlds.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Jahazi: Dar es Salaam Restaurant Review

At the Dar es Salaam Serena Hotel is a gorgeous little seafood place called Jahazi. I loved it so much that I ended up going twice within a span of a few weeks. This review mainly covers the first visit, but I will touch on the second one a little bit.

First of all, the ambience was absolutely GORGEOUS! Very deliberately designed, and there's no mistaking that you're in a seafood place while you're there. They had beautiful pictures up on the wall - I fell in love with one, and was quite sad that it wasn't for sale!

The picture I fell in love with is the one on the left

Jahazi is the kind of place where you're brought complimentary appetisers, sorbets and bread baskets, so that's already a plus!

Their bread basket was great! First of all - who doesn't love bread? Secondly, they brought a variety of butters, including garlic butter and seafood butter. I'm incredibly impressed by the self-control I displayed in NOT polishing off the whole thing and then being forced to run laps to fit in all the rest.

They brought us a prawn starter (apologies - wasn't on the menu, and I forgot to ask the name). While I'm not a huge seafood person, prawns I do love (see my main course later), and I quite liked this one! It was tasty and refreshing, without being too overpowering, and paired well with the mango that was slightly sour.

We then ordered some starters - the crab croquette and the calamari. The crab croquette, while being a tad overspiced, was very tasty. It had some mango pickle and clove, and a hint of a butternut taste. Definitely would order again.

The calamari on the other hand, was overspiced - too much pepper, and lacked multidimensionality. Would not order this one again.

After the appetiser, they brought us some sorbet. INSERT ALL THE HEART EMOJIS! I'm such a sorbet fan (I may or may not have been known to beg ask restaurants to just let me have the sorbet as a dessert), and theirs lived up to expectation, and then some. Lovely tropical flavours and great presentation, with the magic of just the right amount of sweetness = 100% on this one. (The pictures below are from both my visits.)

Let's move on to the mains, shall we?

The first time around, I ordered the prawns masala. OH. MY. GOODNESS. Two things I can honestly say the Serena in Dar es Salaam does better than ANYWHERE else I've ever been. One is their chilli paneer (yes, truly!), and the other is this prawns masala. I may just have to wax poetic here!

It was absolutely PERFECT. In the view of my (albeit limited) culinary expertise, I can say that there's nothing they could have done to make this dish better than it was. From the perfectly cooked accompanying basmati rice, to the fluffy and delicious chapati AND naans they served, to the spicy, flavourful and tangy curry itself - this was a match made in heaven. I daresay I'm quite in love and if any of you see me looking depressed in the near future - it'll be because of an unmet craving for this dish.

The second time around, I had to FORCE myself not to order this again, and to try something new - leading to my first ever crab experience! I ordered the chilli crab, and again, absolutely loved it! I didn't really have a crab baseline to compare this to, but I would order it again.

Food aside, the service was friendly. The chef came to ask for feedback - and actually listened and asked questions, which some restaurants absolutely fail to do! When we mentioned our grievances with the calamari, we were promised that this would be worked on. Yes, the place is a little pricier than your usual, but in my opinion, it was DEFINITELY worth it.

So, the next time you visit Dar es Salaam, you should definitely check out Jahazi! (And maybe order the prawn masala and send me pictures hey??)

Liked this post? Please feel free to comment and let me know!

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