Nyama choma, or roasted goat meat is the ultimate Kenyan experience. For visitors to Kenya, one of the things they are most struck by is the shear volume of nyama choma (roast meat) that Kenyans consume. Men, women, young or old will create any excuse to converge in groups for a session of nyama choma. Be it after work, birthdays, and weddings, even funerals; there is hardly any inappropriate time to eat this national delicacy. Goat’s meat is the most popular for roasting as the flesh is fairly tender and the fat melts into the crevices as the meat is roasting, retaining a nice level of moisture in the meat. 'Choma' evenings are an integral part of the Kenya lifestyle, where friends and colleagues love to mull over the events of their days while chewing on succulent morsels of freshly roasted nyama. If you're inviting a large number of guests home for a party, it is almost mandatory for you to buy a whole goat.
So what is it that draws Kenyans to consume copious amounts of meat? Perhaps it is the sense of togetherness created by sharing a meal from the same tray or platter that makes us keep going back for more. For it is rare to find a person dining on nyama choma alone, not least because the meat is usually ordered by the kilo – quite a lot for one person to consume.
Nyama Choma dens
Preferably, it is consumed in a 'choma' place and washed down with cold Tuskers (local beer). Choma places can be found in all qualities and price classes. Njuguna’s, the popular venue on Waiyaki way, Wambugu’s in Parklands, Buffet Park in Hurlingham and Visa place in Upper Hill are only a few of a wide selection of venues frequented by choma lovers. In fact, when visiting any part of Kenya, you won’t have to go far to find a place that serves nyama choma.
How it’s done
The process of grilling meat in Kenya is different from the process of barbequing meat typically used in the United States or Europe. Herbs and other seasonings are not used on authentic nyama choma, save for a mixture of salted water, for basting the meat while it roasts on the grill. Diners can choose from different parts of the goat i.e. the ribs, hind legs and front legs, and specify the number of kilograms they’d like to eat. It takes an average of 45 minutes to get ready and brought to your table on a tray and sliced into bite-sized pieces. With a relish of kachumbari (see glossary) and a choice of ugali, potatoes, chapati or mukimu and little piles of salt for dipping the meat into before bites, the meal is complete. Cutlery is never used to eat this meal; instead it is eaten by hand. Hand washing facilities are always available for before and after your meal.
The only down side to this gastronomic experience is the effects it has had on the health of Kenyans, particularly men, who tend to over indulge in name choma. Gout is a common complaint amongst many elderly Kenyan men (and a few women), who eat copious amounts of meat, with equally copious amounts of beer, practically on a daily basis. It is no surprise that the body developes complaints when placed under such immense strain over a period of time. However, unlike other ailments, suffering from gout is treated like some sort of trophy that the ‘patients’ brag about to anyone who cares to listen. Reason being that most people are aware that gout developed from over indulging in nyama choma and the accepted theory is that only the well off can afford to eat that much. Hence why Kenyans have dubbed it as ‘The rich man’s disease'.