the Dollar Menu

…and a couple of cents give or take.

It’s not just wishful thinking. Someday, I’ll giving Anthony Bourdain and his Parts Unknown a run for their money. Credit to that is the fact that, akin to Mr. Bourdain’s travel exploits, I too have become a self proclaimed connoisseur (of sorts) of great but cheap eats in the course of my comings and goings.

Eating is the easy part. Try grabbing a hearty meal for under One US dollar. The dollar meal in Africa today is becoming increasingly elusive as food prices continue to soar. By my own admittance, the endeavor of finding this meal requires no mastery. Such meals are simply a function of the compositions of the meal itself and the location. Therefore, if you don’t mind sometimes sharing dining space with things that crawl or if you can look past the luxury of eating while sitting down (for example), you could turn an empty stomach into an nourished one a dollar later.

Dollar meals shouldn’t always constitute an evocation of the ‘big M’ and its mc nuggets, mc doubles etc.

Here is an example of my culinary adventures with sub-dollar meals.

Chapati-Matumbo na Mchicha

Chapati-Cow Intestines with Spinach

Dollar Menu: Chapati, Mchicha na Matumbo

Chapati, Mchicha na Matumbo

Price: 90.00 Kshs   0.98 Dollars

Location: Likoni-Mombasa, Kenya

In a little wooden shack in Likoni, right after you get off the ferry, a man endlessly rolls fist size balls of dough into flat disks; mechanically. There is half a meter stack of cooked chapatis on his right and a charcoal stove glowing in the dimly lit cooking area right in front of him.

Samaki Mkavu, Chapati na Maji ya Maembe

Fried fish, Chapati with Mango Juice

Dollar Menu: Samaki Mkavu, Chapati na Maji ya Maemba

Samaki Mkavu, Chapati na Maji ya Maemba (Fried Fish, Chapati and Mango Juice)

Price: 100 Kshs   1.09 Dollars

Location: Lamu, Kenya

If Kiswahili words meant nothing, one would still find endless strings of poetry in the effortlessly melodious accents of the patrons of Hamza’s little restaurant tucked away in the paved shoulder to shoulder streets in the maze that is Lamu town.

Ugali, Nyama

Maize Polenta with Beef

Dollar Menu : Ugali Nyama (  Maize Polenta  with Beef )

Ugali, Nyama ( Maize Polenta with Beef )

Price: 1500 Tshs   0.83 Dollars

Location: Kigamboni-Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I was half kidding when I requested, even demanded, that I get an extra piece of meat. My excuse was that great things come in threes. And how was it that I had ordered Ugali with beef, yet my plate had more beans than meat. She pointed out the extra sardines and vegetables that come with the meal but my smile brightened when a third piece of meat dropped into my plate splashing delicious beef stew onto the sides of the partitioned silver plate.

Urojo na Chapati

Urojo (mixed vegetable, meat and egg soup) with Chapati

 

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Price: 1800 Tshs   1.00 Dollars

Location: Zanzibar, Tanzania

I haven’t the slightest clue as to what my meal constituted in its entirety. On one hand, I had a chapati rolled like a scroll. On the other, my spoon was pointed downwards into a concoction of a potato, a hard boiled egg…etc.

 

I stand accused of eating, praying and loving. Perhaps you yourself have thought of my travels and likened them to that very tale of a lonesome Elizabeth Gilbert.  I claim neither innocence nor guilt as I am still faced with six more months of deliberations with roads, time, people and places unbeknownst to me.

A better high and a quest for a Rolex

Boda Boda rider waiting for oncoming passengers.

I am sitting at 1000cups coffee house in Kampala, Uganda day dreaming of a Rolex. This Rolex, unbeknownst to me prior to a few days back, is not a time piece. It is Uganda’s favorite snack. A Rolex, by my definition is the progeny of a crepe and a breakfast burrito: A chapati enveloping a cabbage, onion and fresh tomato omelet. Having had three for yesterday’s lunch and two for dinner, the Rolex is now the most recent agent of my guilty conscious. Soon enough I might be a junkie. After all, ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’.

Grocery Stand in Bweyogerere

 

I am unable to pinpoint the exact inception of this spell of courtship. However, I do have certainty of a few things. The first is that the first spell began at birth on these soils and was nurtured for a lengthy eighteen years. My second surety is that this second spell of courtship has most definitely reached ‘First Base’. At my three day marker, I confess that Africa’s seductive allure has grown just as strong as her perverse efforts to give me a hard time.  Perhaps as part of a reclamation endeavor. Despite that, I feel heavily endowed with a heap of courageous sensibilities.

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Motor powered wooden boat taxis in Luzira

After all I am a junkie, powered by thirst and feeling strongly about my position on the better side of 25, I have cashed out and guaranteed myself wild adventures courting the African continent. All in the name of a better high. Africa is who she is. Elaborate in her impressions and complex in her expressions, I approach her wielding my camera on one hand and my Huevos on the other asking to make portraits of her. Portraits that will dignify the African experience as simply as it is lived. Portraits of her people within their unique individual economic, social, political, environmental and cultural contexts.

Village boutique

I write from a traveler’s heart. A market in its own right. Where merchants and eager buyers are pitted against one another in a bargaining duel. The merchants air their wares whilst the buyers revisit their desires for those wares. A bargaining characterized by bilateral flirtations and cultivated by multiple consultations between these two prior to the defining engagement, that is the adventure between these separate persona embodied in one personality: the traveler. This traveler feels more than he thinks. The feelings are never right or wrong, they are ‘no’, and synonymous degrees of ‘yes’; absolutely, of course, sure and why not. He is suspended in a perpetual hypnotic state. A place within his skull that is brimming with wanderlust. This traveler relishes the struggle between the elements and his aircraft. The rumbling of the landing gear being deployed. The promise of the destination.

His journey is similar to a drive a through a foggy road. Regardless of the approach, the elements of surprise are a constant reality. Whether its a deer in your headlights or an unveiling of a spectacular landscape, a dance of sorts ensues that is preceded by a taking away of a breath. Or two.

I write from Kampala, Uganda. Where the challenge on my mortality posed by Ebola slowly (hopefully not successfully) creeping in from the west is puny in the face of that from Bodas: Rampant motorcycle ‘cowboys’ that weave lawlessly through traffic ferrying unperturbed passengers who seem distracted by their mobile phones. A threat so credible, that my western persuasions, coupled with my lack of health insurance, beseech me to enter the helmet buyers-market. Where cranes, Ugandan cranes, are lazily perched on every other building. I exaggerate, but have been staring at three of these very cranes trade spots between two buildings by slowly flattering their lanky wings for the better part of the last two hours. These cranes: My muses. It is also here in Uganda where my observations have noted a certain phenomenon that would demote Nicki Minaj’s  Anaconda to the de ja vu shelf. (with little left to the imagination)

A clean Boda makes the difference.

I write from Uganda, where I have a glimpse on the African experience and it is colored with industry.

I employ my industry in search of a ‘Rolex’. I must sign off.

 

From Kampala with love

Agata