Sarah Saleheen, the founder of Boho Eatery in Nairobi, says she is most comfortable in the kitchen and creating menus, and is passionate about flavoursome food and mindful eating.
Though her earlier career was in the NGO sector, Saleheen was inspired to change the perception around vegan and plant-based food.
“There is stigma and preconceived notions about what it is, or that it is boring food,” she said.
During my visit, I particularly enjoyed the Tostones, which are twice fried plantains with chilli and guacamole, and the dumplings of Shiitake mushrooms and tofu with Szechuan chilli oil.
The pulled beef hamburgers and Crispy Chicken Tacos are some of Boho’s most popular dishes.
“Enjoy what you are eating, but not for the sake of it,” she said. “Know where your food comes from and focus on quality over quantity.”
Her business ethos around conscious and sustainable living informs every aspect of the eatery. The Boho décor is rustic trendy but, says Saleheen, it is more than just about being fashionable. The furniture is custom-made from locally sourced cypress timber, and other pieces are crafted from recycled wood or composite marble.
Sustainability influences the product sourcing and 80 percent of their ingredients are locally grown. “We can track back the farms, we know how things are grown, at what age they are slaughtered and are they harvested in season,” said Saleheen.
Saleheen is originally from Bangladesh. In 2012, she moved to Nairobi with her Kenyan husband and left employment in order to have more family time.
When a housing agent sent photographs of a bungalow at the Ngong House estate in the Karen suburb, the property caught her interest.
“It had charm as a rustic, colonial type architecture with dark wood panels,” said Saleheen. “I wanted to maintain the integrity of the space but make it friendlier as a dining place.” After renovations, Boho Eatery opened in 2017.
Saleheen did not train as a chef but she is the brains behind all the new recipes and has opted for a non-cuisine-based model. “I usually start with a base ingredient and decide what else is going with it,” said Saleheen. “I look at what we have, what is in season, what we are changing, and what the favourites are.” A balance of flavours, colours, ingredients and textures also informs each dish.
“Nobody wants to eat a meal that is entirely mushy or crispy or fried.”
Quality and consistency is her other key ethos because, she says, one of the most frustrating things is going back to a restaurant for a dish you liked and it doesn’t taste the same. Consequently, she trains all kitchen staff from scratch, and prefers hiring people without a culinary background.
“Our entire kitchen is full of people from stewarding and they are really interested in learning,” said Saleheen. Her way of teaching cooking is to focus on taste, palette and flavour. “Then they understand how things should taste and that ingredients can vary from season to season.”
The Covid-19 pandemic was tough for business. The restaurant closed twice due to lockdowns and breakfast sales have still not fully recovered, a consequence of changed eating habits, concludes Saleheen. Nevertheless, Boho is celebrating 5 years of operation and in honour of this achievement, they have brought back some of their old favourites. These include the Spicy Black Bean Tacos, Zoodles (zucchini noodles) with Halloumi cheese, Salmon Croquettes and Chicken Cigars.
Says Saleheen. “About 70 percent of our clients are repeat, so there is something here that they like and I hope it is inspiring them to change the way they eat at home.”