A few months ago I walked into a kibanda — the makeshift, street-side eateries made of wood beams and aluminum panels — in Uthiru and had my last cup of tea and chapati in Kenya. After eight years of living and working there I had decided to move on.
It’s been my observation over the last two years that you don’t go to a restaurant if you want to eat a tasty chapati. Much like the most delicious burritos in Southern California are found in “hole in the wall” Mexican food joints, the tastiest chapatis are found in vibanda (makeshift restaurants made from aluminum panels) all over Kenya. It’s a well-established fact: if you want a nice, hot, fresh chapati like you’ve never tasted before, it has to be cooked over a wood fire on a pan of questionable cleanliness by a lady on the side of the road.
I live in Westlands, an uppity suburb of Nairobi where there is a lot of work being done to make new housing and business complexes for upperclass Kenyans and expatriates. These shacks pop up to meet the demand of the day laborers who do work on the construction projects around the neighborhood. There was no food in the house this morning (and today was a public holiday, Kenyatta Day), so I walked over to the junction up the road and had a chapati and a cup of chai. People driving by must think I’m crazy, but everyone there knows me already — I buy milk every day from one dude, four chapati on Saturday mornings from one laday, and sometimes I even go there for lunch (greens, beans, etc, all for twenty shillings or so). The guys even shout Niaje?! (what’s up) when I walk by.