Eating out in the city of a thousand brochettes

As in any other city, the cost a cup of tea or a snack in Rwanda’s capital depends entirely on where one takes it.

A Rwandese cultural dancer performs a Chinyarwanda folk song during a community gathering in Nyamagabe. Picture by Morgan Mbabazi 

BY Lloyd Igane

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As in any other city, the cost a cup of tea or a snack in Rwanda’s capital depends entirely on where one takes it.
A cup of tea at Chez John in downtown Kigali won’t cost the same as a cup of tea at the Kigali Serena.

One of the best ways to judge the cost of food is by following the cost of a traditional Rwandan buffet and that of Rwanda’s favourite delicacy, inherited from the Belgians — the brochette.

“Every meal has beans in it” — A Kenyan in Kigali.
Almost every eatery in Kigali offers buffet-style dining. The offerings, always in covered, shiny silver warmers, vary with establishments.

But they include white rice, coloured rice, pilau, fried and boiled bananas, peas, beans, boiled cassava, chicken, beef (fried with oil or without), ugali, salads, cassava leaves, cassava ugali (aka kaunga), groundnut soup, and fruit — usually a ripe banana or a tree tomato.

The cost of the buffet per person ranges from as little as Rwf 900 (about $1) at the Rwasco Staff Canteen, stabilising at Rwf 1,200 (about $1.30) to Rwf 1,500 (about $1.80) in most downtown eateries and “restos.”

At classier establishments like the food court outside Nakumatt, the buffet comes at around Rwf 2,000 (about $2.20). Just a stone’s throw up the hill, it is Rwf 2,500 ($2.50) at Blues Café.

There are other establishment however where the buffet costs Rwf 3,000 (about $5) or even Rwf 4,000 ($6.80 ) at the spectacularly appointed City Valley Restaurant tucked off the beaten path in Nyabugo, not far from the Nyabugogo bus terminus.

The hotels have their own buffets too and the cost of a plate ranges from Rwf 1,500 ($1.80)) at the Isimbi Hotel to Rwf 4,500 ($7) at the Impala.

They also offer the luxury of a la carte, especially for foreign guests who are not as fond of the buffet as Rwandans are.

A restaurant called Happy Rwanda offers one of the best Italian buffet in the city centre, for Rwf 3,500 ($6), just like the African buffets at most upper class establishments in the suburbs.

“Welcome to Heaven” – An usher at the entrance of Heaven, a posh restaurant in Kyovu.

Few places in town offer a la carte menus. Besides serving good coffee in Kigali, the Bourbon Coffee outlet also serve juicy burgers and cakes and sandwitches, accompanied by chips.

They are situated in the same building as Nakumatt (UTC), MTN Centre in Nyarutarama, and near the airport.

The food court at UTC building also serves chips and chicken, tea, coffee and sodas, besides a Rwandan buffet; so does the Blues Café next door and Simba Restaurant just up the hill in the CogeBanque Building.

An excellent a la carte menu is to be had at Heaven Restaurant in Kyovu, just a few hundred yards from the Central Bank buildings.

But the business you take there had better be worth the price of the meal.

Down the same road is Republika, an enchantingly pan-African setting with a Rwandan slant. The food is great, the prices accommodating.

“If I see another brochette I’ll commit suicide on a stake” — Anonymous tourist

There are no fast food places in Kigali to speak of.

It is possible though, after a long walk, to find an obscure all-yellow kiosk-like food place near BCK Supermarket that makes a decent special omelette. Consisting of eggs fried with onions and tomatoes and chips, it comes in five minutes flat and costs Rwf 700 ($0.80).

A few bar and restaurant establishments such as Chez Venant in the city centre also serve this (not quite uniquely) Kigalian delicacy — but not in five minutes, and not at that price.

Kigali’s and Rwanda’s official snack, however, is most decidedly the ubiquitous brochette — bits of goat meat, or chicken or liver or fish, alternated with fried onion and tomato, and roasted on a stick.

They can be eaten with roasted potatoes or chips or baked bananas, or just enjoyed on their own, and cost anywhere between Rwf 200 ($0.30) to Rwf 300 ($0.40) per stick, depending on the vendor.

Every establishment with a kitchen or just a charcoal burner will whip up these delicacies quickly.
“This goat does not taste like ours” — a Kenyan customer at Car Wash.

There are several goat roasting places in Kigali but most are not near the city centre and certainly not as stylish as Kenya’s Carnivore or, at the other end of the scale, Kwa Njuguna or Kia Michael in Nairobi.

But there are two places for the visiting East African who can’t wait another day for the usual nyamchom and mukimo or ugali or even chips.

One is called Little Kenya or Car Wash, and the other, a relatively new establishment in Kichukiro called La Place Kagarama.

Both places serve — beside the regular brochette and Kinyarwanda buffet — a regular helping of goat ribs or leg for anything between Rwf 4,000 (about $7) and Rwf 10,000 ($17) depending on the size of the helping.

Accompaniments cost extra. These Kenyan joints even serve Kenyan beer and, occasionally, include chapati and ugali in their buffet lunches.

Huge shopping malls and supermarkets are just now making their way into the citizens’ shopping consciousness.

Every neighbourhood has a little shop that sells all sorts of household goods and has a few stools that people can sit on and drink Primus, Mutzig and Amstel beer at recommended retail prices.

At the busier shopping centres like Remera, Nyamirambo, Gikondo and Kimironko, one can find mini supermarkets.
The big new entrants — the Kenyan Nakumatt and the Rwandan Simba Supermarkets — are the main superstores in the city centre.

They cannot be said to be in real competition because, whereas Simba is famous for value, Nakumatt is known for variety and convenience — it is still the only 24 hour supermarket.

In this respect, it is similar only to a 24/7 section of Nyamirambo called Mirongo Ine.

The Chinese supermarket T Deux Mille (T 2,000) offers both variety and value, but not as high quality as the bigger two.

“That is expensive, it comes from Kenya,” – a Kigali clothes vendor.

Most Kenyans in Kigali kick themselves when they want to buy something they forgot to buy in Kenya, only to be told it costs more in Kigali.

These include things like clothes, accessories and shoes.

Generally, life is more expensive in Kigali than in Nairobi.

Email: kreative@earthling.net

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