Maandazi and Samo 

It’s easy to be a foodie in Kenya.

Agriculture makes up a giant portion of the East African country’s economy, and it prides itself on crops that flourish in its red volcanic soil—tea, and coffee, macadamia nuts and pineapples. It has a renown tourism sector that thrives on world-class hospitality, and food is a big part of that. And finally, from the sandy beaches in the east, overlooking the lapping Indian Ocean, to the western border, marked by the dark waters of Lake Victoria, from the northern arid desserts in Turkana, to the south, where the savannah plains cannot sense the border that demarcates the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the country (which is precisely sliced in half by the equator) has a diversity of terrain, and with it, resources, and people.

As I write this, I’m acutely conscious of the distinction between the gourmets and the hungry in Kenya. The chasm between the wealthy and poor is getting ever-wider, despite the country’s booming economy.

I am determined to study Kenya’s food history more deeply some day, but for now I can only guess that the country’s most enticing street food evolved as a cheap alternative to the shamba-grown meals.

Among the most celebrated Kenyan street food are maandazi—a fried beignet-like doughnut—and the meat-filled sambusa, a larger East African cousin of the India samosa (which itself came to the subcontinent through the Middle East, via Iran, sometime in the 13th century).

Both are well-recognized “kiosk” foods. As a child at school, each cost about 5 ksh, and, clasping the distinct seven-sided silver coin in line at a kiosk was a truly happy event.

I’m not sure where the tradition of stuffing the sambusa inside a mandazi evolved from. I suspect, it came from school children. Some schools worshipped the combination, which a friend recently remarked reminded her of a “chicken and waffles” sweet-and-salty combination.

Well, here they are in fusion. Not entirely convinced they belong together. In fact, I think they’re tremendously more delicious on their own, and I’m hardly a purist.

Kenyans, care to comment?


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