‘Madafu’ in the city: Are we going back to the basics?

At the junction of Peponi and Spring Valley roads in Nairobi, a ‘madafu-fuelling station’ has been set up.

Madafu, or unripe coconut, is popular along the Coast for its juice. The coconut is cracked open and you can drink the juice through a straw or drain it into a container. It’s sweet and natural. No additives, just as nature intended.

It can also be fermented into traditional beer called mnazi or palm wine, which is very intoxicating. I learnt that after trying it in Ghana. The Government has cracked down on mnazi a number of times because of the unintended consequence of drunkenness.

Madafu joins deep fried cassava as the other delicacy from the Coast that’s brightening up city cuisine. It’s not clear why Coastal cuisine is making inroads into Nairobi. Could it be tourism? After visiting the Coast, Nairobians may have developed a taste for the region’s natural foods. It’s also possible that food entrepreneurs have discovered Nairobi is a bigger and more lucrative market.

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Coastal cuisine is gaining popularity after KDF, a relative of the mandazi but harder. Before KDF was ngumu, which are small mandazis but denser. Incidentally you can buy madafu, cassava and KDF along Peponi Road on a stretch a kilometre long.

Going by the number of vehicles that stop to buy madafu, there’s no doubt it is a popular drink among the affluent, unlike KDF, which is popular among the hustlers who compete for space with cars on the busy road. This road was never designed for pedestrians; it has no walkways.

While madafu and cassava are sold all day, KDF is sold mostly in the morning to the hustlers walking to work.

Why now?

What’s driving this popularity of madafu?

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It’s part of the general shift to traditional foods, from boiled maize to nduma and ngwaci. Even five-star hotels have not been left behind. I find it strange that the popularity of traditional foods is going up as fast food offered through outlets like Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and others are changing our gastronomy landscape.

Could traditional foods like ugali, which I now find in five-star hotels, be fighting back against the encroachment of their turf by foods from the West?

Traditional foods like madafu or cassava are often offered on roadsides and, therefore, can’t be direct competitors to Western food outlets. The fact that the affluent would prefer local foods and not exotic dishes is food for thought. The popularity of traditional foods could be driven partly by the rise in diseases of development, such as diabetes and hypertension, and rising medical costs.

It’s also possible that among the affluent, there’s an ingrained desire to return to the basics, to the old familiar foods for sentimental reasons. After reaching the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, why not try the bottom, which some often forget on the way to the top? The bottom has the food we ate growing up.

For hustlers, such roadside foods are cheap and affordable. For example, madafu goes for Sh50, while a piece of cassava goes for Sh20.

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The sellers focus on volume, not unit price, to make their profits. Some have joked that for hustlers, this is the best way to visit the Coast without actually going there.

What’s clear is that despite the arrival of Western food brands, our traditional foods are also enjoying a revival. Did the leading Western food outlets foresee this when they came ashore?

Let’s enjoy and celebrate our traditional or natural foods. And it’s a hot afternoon, so let me go look for madafu ....

 [XN Iraki; [email protected]]      

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