By Peter Wanyonyi
City-dwellers, unlike villagers, are fussy about food. The villager knows that food serves just one purpose — to keep people alive. Getting all fussy and nitpicky about food is a waste of time that could better be spent milking the cows or weeding the millet.
But not to the image-conscious city-dwellers, to whom eating is more of a social statement than a biological necessity. So imagine the villager’s shock when she discovers that, in the big city, people don’t eat — they “dine”. And they don’t drink either — they “wine”.
Even the media are in on the act and have employed writers whose only job is to drive around town eating in one famous establishment after the other, and then sending in cryptic reports of their experiences. The reports that these foodies send us every week paint a picture scary enough to keep the villager away from our so-called “finer” dining establishment forever.
It appears no classy restaurant can afford a good location. They are almost always located in squeezed fifth-floor cubicles on buildings whose most distinguishing feature is a lack of ample packing. This, apparently, helps keep diners’ minds off the food and more on the safety of their vehicles, which are likely to be subjected, by street boys to a dismantling not too dissimilar to that which the diner subjects his choice fare to.
For some strange reason, the more expensive restaurants insist that one makes a reservation days in advance. Just walking in and sitting down to eat isn’t good enough. One peeved gastronome wrote of being turned away from such an establishment for lack of a reservation, even though the restaurant was clearly half-empty. He bitterly cautioned against anyone patronising the snooty eatery.
Having somehow found parking and bribed a street boy to not vandalise the the car, the diner settles down and is bombarded by a bewildering array of foods with strange-sounding names.
The Kenyan city dweller or villager speaks two languages: Mother tongue, which for city dwellers is a mish-mash of Kiswahili and many other tongues, and English. Any menu that’s not written in either of these, is indecipherable to us. The waiters, knowing this, bully the unlucky diner into accepting some exotic-sounding dish that costs the equivalent of half a month’s salary. As soon as you order it, you know you made a mistake.
The food, when it arrives, is underwhelming. Nothing is clearly identifiable. There are things that look like green paste in it and the strange reddish blobs around the plate might be tomato residue — one never knows.
The diner proceeds to force this gunk down — strictly knife and fork, no finger-eating in this restaurant please! As the alleged meal comes to an end, the diner wishes there was a good, cold beer to wash away the taste of the gunk, but such restaurants don’t serve beer, offering some very expensive wine instead.