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Nairobi food joints and their fight to win more customers

By Graham Kajilwa and Jennifer Anyango | Published Mon, August 28th 2017 at 00:00, Updated August 28th 2017 at 08:28 GMT +3
Fredrick Musyoka(L) and Joseph Kiilu at their work station in Kenyatta Market. Kiilu is one of the men tasked with preying on customers outside the market and driving them to the stall for delicacies.

In summary

  • The enthusiastic ‘choma’ traders don’t charge a cent for the first bite as they compete for clients.
  • Most stalls set whole kilo aside to lure potential customers

Are you hungry but have no money? Well, you might consider paying Kenyatta Market a ‘random’ visit at lunch time. Here, you will eat to your fill of ‘nyama choma’ served with enthusiasm and without paying a single cent courtesy of business owners fighting for customers.

Tasting is free, they say, and if you are not satisfied with meat from one stall, just move on to the next, and the next. When you get to the seventh stall, wash your hands without soap, pick a tooth pick and walk majestically back to your place of work, head high and with the scent of roast meat all over you as evidence that you have had lunch.

The struggle to win many customers at Kenyatta Market seems to leave hungry passers-by happier than they expected. As we found out, all you need is to be respectably dressed (probably throw in a pair of spectacles) to look like you have money.

Meat touts

Immediately we arrive at the market’s entrance, men in white lab coats surround us. Each one is shouting his offering in the most convincing language. Others go to the extent of not letting go of our hands, literally pulling us to their meat stalls.

“Mkubwa, unataka nini? Nyama choma? Kuku? Samaki? Sema tu... kila kitu iko (Boss, what do you want? Roast meat, chicken, fish... we have it all),” says one of the bidders, who later introduces himself as Joseph Kiilu.

He has been in the business for 20 years, since he was 17 years.

In the midst of the confusion and spoilt for choice, we find ourselves in front of Stall B2. In a flash, a chunk of fresh roast beef, still steaming, is spread on a wooden board and hurriedly chopped into pieces. Some salt is put on the side with ready-made kachumbari complete with pieces of avocado.

“Hiyo ni yako. Ni ya kuonja tu (This is yours; just for tasting).” says Mr Kiilu.

Another stall

He says if we are not impressed, we are free to move on to another stall with ‘softer’ meat as he goes on to serve the next customer.

And just like that, one is free to explore the meat from other stalls as the owners cross their fingers that you will order something more substantial.

Some visitors to the market, however, never order. As Fredrick Musyoka reveals, most of these ‘customers’ are college students.

“But we have no problem with that because we always budget at least a kilo for customer service. But if you keep coming back, you will be blacklisted,” he says.

If you do not want to be blacklisted, do not ask for chicken, mutton or goat meat when you are given beef to taste. Unless you plan to buy.

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