This piece originally appears in full in the Lifestyle Section of The Manila Bulletin.
There was nothing but excitement as the escalator took me up to the floor of Arrozeria at the Century Mall. Known for its paella and other dishes focused on rice, the venue of choice piqued my (blooming) sensitivities to expand my palate. This was the lunch venue of Cheryl Tiu’s “Cross Cultures” food tour, a movement to experience the food we don’t often see (or taste) very often. For lunch, we had Rachaleve’s Kenyan Cuisine behind the counter. Her full name is Rachaleve Kamau, born in Nairobi and like many foreigners with similar origins stories of landing in the Philippines, fell in love with Manila in 2009. She lives here part time, sharing Kenyan cuisine in dappled regularity at bazaars and catering.
I was alone for lunch and my worst fears of sharing a meal with strangers were negated with the distraction of the detailed menu plan sitting at the table: I negotiated through the afternoon’s menu of eight dishes, and it was a welcome dampener to keep me patient in my little corner of the table. Let me enumerate them one by one:
Viazi masala – the description starts with “a greasy plate of deeply fried fries” and that was enough for me to forget that I was dining alone. So as not to make you feel guilty, it was sided with a serving of kachumbari (mixed veggies). Imagine a spicy and flavourful salad with sinfully greasy fries. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of the state of the world.
A hefty serving of kuku njugu (their version of chicken with peanut sauce) on a bed of mukimo (mashed peas with potato — sort of like their version of mashed potato but more starchy with corn kernels and peas).
For mains, it was Kenyan pilau (spicy rice) with niama (beef steak) and a fascinating ‘ugali’ which was essentially cornmeal that looks like a rice ball, or puto with a much smoother texture. I’ve never had anything like this before and I gulped down a whole bowl of three servings side by side the stew.
And then there’s dessert – nazi-viazi kitamu. It’s cake. But made from the unlikely combination of coconut and sweet potato. I had two servings because the seat beside me was empty.
According to Rachaleve, everything that was served today could be found in every Kenyan home. This was the equivalent of our adobo and sinigang. “Perhaps 70% of all ingredients of Kenyan food can be found in Manila. It’s my secret spices that I need to bring in from Kenya.” It was oddly comforting because of its familiarity. But really, if you’ve lived here long enough, I’ve come to posit that the Pinoy palate is verbose as we’ve become a melting pot in the past several centuries.
“Is this how you would have prepared it back home,” I asked. Rachaleve told me that she had to tone the spices down a bit to make it more palatable to the general Filipino public — the type you find in bazaars and other trade shows. As a fan of all things spicy, this made me even curious to book her kitchen for another round.
If this piece is making you regret not reserving, you can always do a search for Rachaleve’s Kenyan Cuisine on Facebook or call +63917-5892372. She does catering. If you’re looking for more events similar to this, the Cross Cultures events platform can be found on Facebook, Instagram and on Cheryl Tiu’s blog at www.cheryltiu.com.