Former Kenyan Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and Mission to the European Union Professor Jacob Kaimenyi has asked Kenyans to engage in ‘food diplomacy’ to promote Kenyan delicacies in foreign countries.
Now retired from civil service at his Mulathankari home in Meru County, Kaimenyi is urging Kenyans in the diaspora to market and promote the country's dishes abroad.
The former Education and Lands Cabinet Secretary in Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration said Kenyan dishes can market the country’s diverse cultures and also have the potential to earn investors good returns.
Kaimenyi confesses that he took every opportunity to serve Kenyan food whenever had the opportunity to host visitors in his official residence in Europe, where he served from July 2018 to June 2022.
“Promoting local cuisine while in Europe gave my guests a chance to sample a wide range of Kenyan flavours, taste, and aroma, and in the process an opportunity to learn our cultures,” he said.
He is urging more Kenyans working and living overseas to take advantage of the popularity of Kenyan dishes and invest in restaurants.
“Most of the foods, including arrow roots are in good supply, and have high nutritional and medicinal value,” he said.
Kaimeyi said astute business people in Europe were sources of most of the food items from Kenya, including avocado, mango and others.
“If you wanted to eat ugali there were places they sold maize meal. We ate plenty of nyama choma there,” Kaimenyi said.
“We must have food nutrition diplomacy; for those abroad, you must have the sense to promote that which is Kenyan foodstuffs because they are good,” he added.
A trained dentist with expertise in nutrition, Kaimenyi said indigenous foods have immense health benefits.
“The African meals or diet is very rich, is very healthy and is good for diabetics,” he said.
“There are many people out there who suffer certain diseases like diabetes and they don’t know how important it is to promote those foodstuffs,” Kaimenyi added.
He said foods like arrow roots, sweet potatoes, greens and others had health benefits hence the need to promote them.
“What I would like to see in foreign countries is more Kenyans opening eateries and promoting Kenyan foodstuffs. There is money in it,” he said.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
To underline the popularity of Kenyan food, Kaimenyi gave an example of when they served the food during forums organized by the 79-member Organisation of African, the Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), a crucial trade bloc.
“We used to have a day in OACPS to showcase the best in our respective countries with regard to food. Lo and behold. You cannot believe it, people loved nyama choma and ugali,” he said.
Kaimenyi said he did the same in occasional parties he hosted during national days where he made sure the food served was Kenyan.
“You should have seen how the people, from all cultures, loved eating the Kenyan food,” Kaimenyi said.
He noted at his church abroad, they used to have an annual event where members prepared meals from their countries.
“I would get my cook to prepare Kenyan food and take it there for people to enjoy. People loved the ugali. They would crowd the area serving Kenyan foods,” he stated.
While ugali and nyama choma quickly come to mind, there are many other Kenyan dishes and drinks that whet the appetite of both locals and foreign tourists.
Other nutritious and popular foods include irio, a mix of mashed peas, potatoes and vegetables and githeri, a mixture of potatoes, beans and maize, and matoke - made with bananas and other dishes
It is these and other popular local dishes that Kaimenyi is urging Kenyans living abroad to market.