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Why open-air cooking in the city is becoming the in-thing

Xn Iraki


 People eat food at Muthurua and Burma Market. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Open-air “hotels” have become a distinctive feature of our capital city. Here, hotel owners prepare chapati, ugali, vegetables, fruits, or other foods openly on sidewalks or pavements, a trend extending even to affluent suburbs. These establishments cater to individuals on the move, particularly those commuting to or from work.

Why the surge in popularity?

Surprisingly, the allure lies in cost-effectiveness. Despite initial skepticism, street food proves cheaper when considering energy and time inputs for home cooking. The freshness and affordability of street-cooked meals attract a rational customer base, predominantly comprised of hustlers who prioritise volume.

Customers make calculated choices.

For instance, university students opt for Sh20 chapatis over a Sh1000 pizza, illustrating the economic rationale. The appeal extends beyond price; street food is hot, fresh, and resonates with the hustlers‘ familiar tastes, fostering customer loyalty evident in long lunch hour queues.

Doubting their popularity?

Consider the scarcity of queues in 5-star hotels. Given food‘s status as a necessity, there exists a readily available market. The low cost is attributed to minimal rental fees for open-air premises, often without utilities.

These eateries thrive on basics, with water being delivered in yellow “mitungi” on carts.

Could the prevalence of open-air eateries serve as an economic indicator?

It might. Factors like high fuel prices and increased walking commutes contribute to the growing market for this fast-food hustle, predominantly offering breakfast and lunch.

Consider weather conditions.

Open-air cooking is impractical in severe winters, making our favourable weather a catalyst for this trend. Even high-end hotels capitalise on this, featuring terraces.

The permissibility of open cooking by the authorities, locally known as “kanjo”, raises questions. Perhaps, there‘s a political sensibility in allowing this practice.

It prompts contemplation on formalising and popularising outdoor cooking and dining, considering our equatorial location.

Have you tried food cooked outdoors? Share your experience.

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