Food should be tasty. And tasty food must be delicately prepared. Hypothetically, it requires an effort to prepare a descent meal.
One time while in college, this awesome lady pulled out a bomb recipe of wet fried garlic paprika liver, served with hot ugali. Weuh! Being a first interaction with such spices, my divided excitement almost ruined it. Even had to learn to say the names right! But as promised, the meal turned out to be such a delicacy. And a big challenge to my idea about good food. It was so inviting, and tasty that the smell and the tenderness still linger.
Frankly, I love to eat. Thus I enjoy being spoiled with good food. So often I tell people, like the awesome lady, that I don’t know how to cook so they can get to impress me. Many times it has worked, but in some occasions I had solemnly wished to have had prepared the meals myself.
So presently, it is no surprise whenever I hesitate to let this friend who I hadn’t seen cook before make us a meal.
Also, the taste for nice food gave a leverage on eat outs (those moments when I had to choose a eating den). The rest of my kin from college, (Had promised to write about you guys! 😅 Ed & Will, (the first walkers, the closest & most hung out with), then came Kama, Jijo and Gisan), these true sons of mama pima had a saying: sio kwa vibanda zote nani. See, what we looked for then was not centered on the fanciness, delicacy, nor the aroma. Actually our main worry was, will the food be enough? And was it clean? Was the place clean? We dreaded a running stomach like plague! In several occasions this phrase had worked in our favor in rating the joints.
I remember when we started out we had this eating spree just to find out which one of the dens had a fare deal. By this I mean was the soup thick ama ilikuwa maji maji, ukiitisha kata ilikuwa inaletwa aje? None the least, walikuwa na saucer? Na warembo? So we went round analysing, checking, marking and crossing.
You might argue that cooking might have been cheaper. True. But for the lot like us who rented miles and miles outside campus, we avoided the rushy dash in between lectures and the kitchen. How you sweated. For this reason, supper and breakfast were two main meals you never wanted to miss, leave alone eat them wishy-washy. Only on special occasions, when the schedules were so tight, did we slip into the nearby female hostels armed with avocados or potatoes to add into the lunch recipe. Damn! avocado always did the trick.
So like the norm, our trio (Ed, Will and I) was to meet over lunch then see how the rest of the day would go. We didn’t last very long in our search. Frankly because we met Ed, the chief walker. No, when we finally met Ed, because missing out on the first chance really cost us. . We often met on each other’s call. Whoever spotted a joint alerted the rest of the crew then we’d gather to rate the place and in turn award points on the walker. It was more than a ritual, and so far Ed had managed to scoop more points than the rest of us combined.
Earlier, I had been determined to make the first call. The afternoon lectures having ended earlier than planned, I am anxious to kill my pangs. Am calling Ed’s cell, when Will walks up to me. I pitch out my catch and he’s in. Bingo! Now I can use one bird to snare the other. But Ed’s mteja (unreachable), as usual.
Tunapanda ivo stage, milk bar karibu na PS ya Fillo. I pray he gets to see it. Fast.
Had spotted the place this morning on my way to lectures. It was a new one, simple but remarkably redesigned. From the door, past a clean pair of see-through curtains that partly separated upon a gentle brush of wind you could peep into a tiled floor, neat tables surrounded by what looked like renovated chairs, and a beauty behind a glass counter. Just the thought of being up on those couches was enough to make we want to try it out. I fancied their food to be good too. Outside, on a smooth board, the menu was chalked out, delicately. We storm in.
Chapo tano supu, mbili. Zote zikatwe. So we sit our broke asses and savor. This is good, we nod at each other. For sure it was, the soup soaked the chapos completely. Just as thick, slightly more on the spices but still fine. Acha bill ikuje, 110. Soup ni 5bob, the waitress explains. WTF! Lakini si mngesema? She timidly points at the board by the door. Supu 5/=, beneath everything else. F**k! In our hurry we’d failed to read out the whole lot. Embarrassed, we hastily hand her the cash and dash out with tails between our legs careful enough not to raise eyebrows.
Finally out, it hits us just how hungry we’d been. And we burst out laughing. Hard! More at how the lady had chickened out. You had to beware of comrades, *some. But you never knew… even the shyest of them could throw a stone when in a company of crooks. Will makes to mimick her face and we laugh out more, at the bewilderment of onlookers. We didn’t care.
Just about that time Ed calls. I narrate where we are with no mention of the soup escapade. Apparently he hasn’t eaten, and he’s eager to sponsor. He directs we join him in some other joint. Another milk bar, tiny and neat he’d said.
We walk into Ed’s, further out of the campus. Grey wooden walls and a rusty sheet of a roof. The normal not-so-attractive face of shanty joints. Here wooden plunks erected from the ground acted as tables. Attached to them were almost similar plunks, thinner and lower, on both sides: chairs. On one of these he sat engrossed in his plate. Chapo ndondo, viazi. We perch onto the opposite one facing him. How did you find this place? We can’t suppress our amazement. You know me, he brags. Well Ed was Ed.
At first we thought he had ordered all the three separately. ‘Hii supu inakuja pamoja na viazi ka tatu ivi. For free!’ He beams. We stare at him mesmerized. For real? He dares us to make an order.
Chapo tatu, supu. The potatoes, as thought, made the soup thicker yet none of us had expected the result to be very tasty. Even our appetite surprised us. In our satisfaction we found ourselves opening up to him about the soup we had bought for 5bob. Makosa. Sema kuchekwa! How hungry were you people? Na mnakula tu bila kuuliza food ni ngapi? He wishes tungechonga viazi. Actually he makes us regret it the more on the claim that he had planned to spoil us.
Fast forward we update our markings and make Ed’s joint the one time spot. We needed our kawaida dish in the kawaida price. And this place offered quite an enjoyable lot. Whatever we’d learnt, was engraved. For food to be nice and tasty, it must be spiced up. Viazi ndani ya beans, and things like that.
But how I had lowered such standards with Kevin three years later is still hard to tell. Perhaps it was his charisma, or maybe his constant nagings that he could cook.
We had never let him cook before despite being two years older. Jim and I were of the same age, just three months apart but neither of us attempted to cook whenever he was around. He was the voice in this sector. One, was for his talent. This ninja cooked like a ‘lady.’ He insisted on preparation. If he had to fry anything he would first take his time to arrange the ingredients; chop them in separate plates before even lighting the gas: tomatoes in cubes, onions in rings, and everything else in between. Second, it was his kitchen. We were crushing in his crib so just like that, his opinion was valued. Whatever he wanted to do in whichever way we had to oblige. We were that loyal.
So this evening as Jim is out for choir practice I am left with Kevo. He is on the bed watching TV while I play Temple Run on the chaise lounge conjoined with the bed’s foot board forming an L. He had suggested to cook countless times but on each we had denied him a chance. So when he asks to make us supper, as always I tell him to wait on Jim. I just didn’t trust his cooking, for no apparent reason really. Guess it was fear of the unknown. Or maybe it the fact that he’d once bragged about having 3 elder sisters who ‘rarely’ let him step into the kitchen.
Meanwhile, I text Jim to ask what time he’ll be back, I include whether I should let Kevo jump on decks in case he runs late.
30 minutes pass, no reply. I check again whether the issue could be on my side, the message was delivered meaning his phone is on. It clocks 8. Maybe the phone is silent or he’s just occupied I reassure myself. All this while Kevo has refused to talk to me, and he keeps flipping channels like some spoiled child. He only looks up to ask ‘amejibu’ every five minutes.
‘You could just call him,’ he insists.
‘He never likes being disturbed while in practice.’
‘It’s running late, we have to do something.’
‘I know, but let’s wait a little longer.’ I manage to buy time.
‘But not for long, 20 minutes at most.’
So we decide to prepare rice and potatoes which Kevo cheerfully stands up for. ‘I know how to cook those, leave it to me.’ I am amused since I always saw this as an ‘okoa jahazi’ dish and not necessarily as a complete meal. But could he pull it through? Anxiety builds up. Since it is his idea, I play myself to relax.
He jumps from his remote and starts to set the ingredients. I observe. Halfway He pauses, as if contemplating whether to start with the rice or potatoes. Finally resolved, he oils a sufuria, pours the onions and he’s on. Tomatoes follow. Couple of moments later he has a thick paste, soft and tender. Then he adds water. Lots of it.
‘Kwani unataka kuzipika aje?’
‘Hiyo ni swali kweli Biko?’
I look up from my phone.
‘Yaani viazi na rice kwa sufuria mmoja?’
‘Kwa hivyo ulijua na bado unauliza.’
Nigga stop bitching, and cook!
‘Nilitaka tu niskie ukisema. But hey you are the chef, with all the rights to withhold self disclosure.’
‘You may think you know it all… because you can write, draw and the like. But just let me finish cooking before you show me your smartness.’
I can see veins pop under his temple and I think for a moment that things could go too far. He rumbles on, in-distinctively. Was I ruining his moment?
‘Alright. But am not sure we will like it, more so Jim. Don’t think he’ll like it.’
‘He will. Sababu hivi ndio iko tamu,’ he explains. ‘In fact mkionja mtapata iko na kataste flani.’
Bullshit. And still feel like pecking into poop.
‘Your water is boiling.’
I crawl back to my phone. He is adamant and I am nervous he is about to ruin our meal. So am caught in between wanting to show him how I want it made and wanting to let him just do it like he knows. Perhaps after messing up he will learn.
‘You know what? I might just try out your trick.’
So that’s how Kevo dipped potatoes into the water bath. Doesn’t approve of his style but in part I am glad we weren’t going to eat such a pathetic rice after all. See, I wasn’t being hard on him just for the show of it. I just didn’t think he had handled the potatoes properly. Heck I didn’t even think he had it in him. Did he even understand the word simmer? Had imagined that after the paste was ready he would first let the potatoes absorb the ingredients slowly like you do with skuma wiki… After which he would have added water. Not to flood it, but just kiasi ya kuacha viazi ionekane na juu. This is what I thought builds up a taste. This I would have applauded.
You might wonder how a ninja who loops between vibandas has a theory in cooking. Won’t hate you for that. Because literally I don’t. I just go for what works: whichever means is bound to get the desired results. See, what I like is to have a smooth fusion of vitungus, tomatoes, dhania, or whatever else is to be used in the pot. I want to have this fused mold tantalize my senses, evoke some craziness and make me feel good about eating. After all it should be fun! And enjoyable… Maybe too imaginative, but just like an artist’s stroke with the brushes, I see cooking as an art. Kevo’s style was nowhere close to giving us this kind of fun.
Anyway, there was room to learn, and trying out new techniques… and boiled potatoes might just taste as good. So as the potatoes cook he goes back to the telly. Some ad pops announcing 9 o’clock news is about. I lay on the chaise lounge and busy myself with the game. When he finally remembers about the potatoes, they are all soupy. Damn! Now we got the poop.
‘Sasa utaongezea mchele juu?’ I tease.
‘I can now since hazikuungua.’
Nigga, seriously? Ata sijaskia vibaya. But I couldn’t really tell who had gotten whom so I busied for a comeback.
There is a knock on the door and Jim pops in. He is barely breathing. His words are muffled up in his gasps for air, barely audible.
‘Sorry guys am late… Choir was intense. Saw you message but couldn’t reply… So far?’
‘Kevo’s is cooking tonight.’ I cut in.
His face goes pale and I expect a bombshell at any minute. Nothing. We exchange awkward glances with Kevin. Maybe he is tired. I hope that the fact that I had asked eases things a little. I manage a grin. He just goes about settling in. Then he inspects. The grin disappears and even Kevo flinches.
‘Magi to ang’o?’
‘Tulisahau tukaacha ikachemka sana.’
Kevin stares at the ceiling. Jim collapses on the bed next to him and he looks further away. I suppress my chuckle.
‘Hii tunahitaji meno kula kweli? Ona maji ni mingi halafu waru zimejibonya bonya. Ama sasa ikuwe uji?’
It is meant to taunt Kevin but I feel afflicted. How should I answer you now? Just tell me how to answer you...
‘Unanonaje? Rice will be done in a minute.’
‘Hata sasa mkileta ugali sistashtuka. Ama nione aje. Nikaimwage nje na ni bidii yenu?’
Easy mate. Easy. Kevin is still mute, motionless. Why am I even feeling responsible? Jesus!
‘Kevin wewe unaonaje, after all we ndio chef leo.’
Even then didn’t expect him to answer. No one ever dared to raise a voice towards Jim, leave alone bring up an excuse before him. For some reason he was feared. Maybe it was his bloodshot eyes. Or his direct manner of approaching things; black was black, and white was white… No greys. Kevo was the least of people you’d expect to talk back to this ninja. At times I responded or even questioned him because we go way back. Even this I did while maintaining some safe distance. He was easy with his hand when so agitated.
Silence. So I tried again. Perhaps a softer touch could do the magic.
‘Hii waru tunaikula aje Kevo?’
‘Unajua sielewi shida iko wapi. Ni food haitalika sasa ama ata haikuwa inafaa nipike? ‘
‘Sio ivo. We’ve never eaten something like this.’ ‘
‘As pathetic as this.’ Jim joins in.
At this moment Kevo does quite an astonishing thing. Maybe a litlte bit stupid. He takes the sufuria and its contents and make out for the door.
‘Hey, wait. What’s with you?’
Jim grabs him by the shoulder turning him around so he faces him. The swirl catches Kevo off-guard, he almost topples and the sufuria hangs dangerously under his fingers. He is adamant not to let it fall so he allows himself to sink in with it’s weight to the ground, crouching in a crazy posture.
‘What do you mean? It’s clear you don’t like this food.’
‘You seem to like it more, why couldn’t you let it fall?’
I froze. Almost thought he’d slap him. But he didn’t. But the authority in his voice had shaken some air out of me. Wondered how Kevo managed to stand still. And I was in awe.
‘Sikutaka tu ianguke. Ingechafua floor.’
‘So unaenda kuishambulia nje ama? Biko apa naona tactics za uchoyo…’
‘Ata. This is going to the drain so you can make your own perfect meals, Mr. Chefs.’
‘Now see. Sulking won’t help much. What’s the last time you cooked?’
Silence. He glances at me but I can’t stand the shame in his eyes, I look away. For starters I felt bad for Kevo. Jim was pulling up his monkish lingo and this could really get rough on him.
‘So if this is your first time man you’ve got to own up your craft and defend it.’ Jim was saying. ‘Some of us have made even worse meals than this. Trust me.’
‘But you didn’t sound like this before. Why now?’
‘Because that’s just how it is for first timers. What’s more we were made to eat out food with the rest of the family.’
‘We’ll eat this one together with you then you’ll see.’
Then I was disappointed. Why bad he looked up at me all puppy eyed, if he’d not wanted mercy, or even sorry? I’d expected he’ll make a scene, wince maybe or even complain for resistance sake. But he’d drawn in to Jim like some kungfu student to a master. You should’ve seen him: all meek and humble and ready to learn.
Instead I became angry. This was just about cooking food, and the ninja had tried and came close to what could be eaten. He himself had proved it. Why would Jim act all Shaulin about it? And why would Kevo not resist? I liked his aggressive side more.
For a moment it I felt he was being conned, used and made into a lame worshipper of good cooking. Then I hated myself. Had I not in part acted all like Jim? Hadn’t I aided in all this food glory by making Kevo feel bad about his cooking? Was I not part of all this plot? So who was the person being used more? The priest or the student?
So Kevo and Jim went rumbling on in their student teacher talk. Jim was saying: ‘See, anyone can cook but we don’t have to eat everything. There has to be a standard of what you can take as a person.’ This stuck. But Kevo was thinking differently. ‘Lakini ukishashiba tumbo ata haitajali kuhusu taste. Ni jinga ivo.’ True but comical.
Almost felt like throwing in who tastes food with their stomach? But held back my tongue. We live to eat another day. For now tudanganye minyo na Budalangi perhaps their taste buds could decide for us.
The fact Jim had said something that resonated with my earlier ideas about nice food helped calm me down a little and also retain some respect about his chefery. For Kevo, it was a matter of time till he’d see that ‘the everything’ Jim meant may have included his entire favorites. Nothing personal against him though. Perhaps I might have been angry for not seeing any drama where I had expected one.