Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nyama Choma

Kenyan restaurants usually serve nyoma choma which means cooked animal and that is exactly what it is. They will bring a leg of lamb, goat or cow right to your table and cut it into little pieces and you eat it with your hands and dip it into salt.

(Our server cuts Choma for us at our table)

They also serve the basic kenyan dishes that I wrote about in Everything and Hot Sauce. Choma is actually really good (and after spending months at Daraja only eating meat once a week it is sometimes VERY good). The problem with choma is that the Kenyan restaurants have a series of mzungu scams. I am pretty sure that most of them have been tried on me, often successfully.

The first time I went for choma was the first day we were in Kenya. We were in a large group and the waiter went and pushed two tables together for us and talked to the bartender and ordered our drinks for us. Upon ordering our food the waiter said that for such a large order they needed to get half of the money up front. Fortunately I was not one of the decision makers on this journey and we insisted on talking to the manager. We soon found out that our “waiter” didn't even work in the restaurant as he ran out the front door.

As we found out the next time we went (to a different restaurant) scams aren’t just limited to people who don’t work in the restaurant. We went into a well known restaurant in Nanyuki and we were greeted by the manager who sat us down at a nice table and began to make suggestions. We admittedly did not know what to order so we were happy taking his suggestions. To the table he brought the biggest leg of choma I had ever seen and 10 side dishes for 3 people. Way too much food for us, but not blatantly dishonest.

When the bill came I was a little surprised. It was around $25, which for a night out in the states is nothing, but for a meal for three at a local Kenyan restaurant is pretty outrageous. I started to feel a little ashamed for letting him order us so much food and then I looked at the bill and realized that the prices were twice as much as what was advertised. We called the manager over and asked him about this. “Those are the correct prices” he says as he reviewed the bill.

“But here (on the bill) it says pilau costs 120 shillings, and there on the wall it says 60 shillings,” my girlfriend pointed out.

“Oh yes,” said the manager, “those are the OLD prices.”

I looked at him incredulously and said “I see, you have the wrong prices posted on the wall of your restaurant. Perfectly clear.”

“Let me see that” he said as he quickly snatched the bill from my hand and ran into the back with it.

Later he came out with a reduced bill costing $10 less than the previous. We paid and got out of there but we were pretty unhappy.

The last time we went to Choma we were veterans in Kenya so we knew what to expect. Before we ordered I asked the server how much each dish cost and wisely compared it to the menu. We ordered one KG of choma. As it arrived at the table we were very pleased to find that it was quite large. Later when we got the bill we found out that they had charged us for 4 KGs. When the manager came out he explained that he had seen how many people we had so he had decided to order extra choma for us. He had ordered us 2 KGs.

“We were charged for FOUR” I said shaking my head.

“I know,” he said, “that was a mistake by your server. But you do have to pay for two.”

“If you had given extra choma to that table that they hadn’t ordered,” I said, pointing to a table with a Kenyan family “would you have made them pay for it?”

“Of course not,” he replied, “but you need to pay your bill.”

Such is the life of a Mzungu in Kenya. It’s a good thing it was tasty.

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