When mama mboga and buying local inspires great food
Kaluhi Adagala of ‘Kaluhi’s Kitchen’ speaks with Cha Kula Editor Christine Mungai, on sourcing for fresh produce, why it’s important to know where our food comes from, and the three ingredients she absolutely cannot live without.
Your recipes are simple and easy to make with locally available ingredients. Where do you source your ingredients and why is this important?
I source my ingredients from our local street vendors, or mama mboga as we often refer to them. The main reason is convenience and proximity to home, plus they stock up pretty well with fresh items that are frequently replenished.
It sometimes feels that shopping for fresh produce in Nairobi is like searching for the Holy Grail – it is sometimes difficult to get an affordable price, safe and quality produce all in one. When it’s cheap, it might be of dubious quality or compromise on best practice health and safety standards. When it is reliable, gorgeous and full of flavour, you’re going to pay a hefty price. How would you suggest consumers strike a balance between managing a budget, whilst being mindful of their health and supporting local producers of quality food?
I completely disagree with the notion you have made that cheap is necessarily bad quality and that for produce to be good it needs to be expensive. I speak from my own experience when I say cheap produce is just as good as those that are slightly marked up. The difference may only lie in where they are sourced. For example, if lemons are imported, they will be costlier than our local lemons. But, does that mean our local lemons that cost 10 shillings are bad? Absolutely not! If I buy a debe of potatoes as I travel on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway at Ksh 250, that does not mean they are bad compared to polished new potatoes from South Africa I may get elsewhere at Ksh 800. My advice is to form a rapport with your mama mboga and learn, or simply ask straightforward, where they get their produce from. Most times what we want to know is just a question away. Shopping for good produce can only be as expensive as we make it. Even when one shops in supermarkets or formal grocery stores, the prices are more or less the same as that of mama mboga. A lemon or a bunch of dhania (coriander leaves) costs the same in Zucchini (an upmarket grocery store) as it does at a local mama mboga’s stall. Many times, locally sourced produce will be labelled and separated from imported varieties. I say that to support local farmers and buy local varieties. The produce will be smaller in some instances, in other cases a bit bruised or slightly misshapen, but that absolutely does not mean they are bad.
How does the quality of ingredients affect the final outcome of a meal? What are some of the common ‘blunders’ that people can avoid?
If the ingredients are processed, the quality may affect the outcome (e.g. cheese, meat, milk). For fresh produce, the only thing, in my opinion, that would affect the final outcome is if one used spoilt produce – and remember, this is not the same as ‘cheap produce’. If I make githeri with rotten tomatoes, the entire dish will be ruined. But, if I make githeri with tomatoes from my local mama mboga while another person with tomatoes from Carrefour Supermarket, they will both taste the same.
What are some of the interesting things you’ve discovered along the way of where our food comes from? Why is it important that we care about how our food is produced, transported and brought to our fridges, pantries and tables?
Some of the questions I usually ask include: Are they grown using toxic chemicals? Are there chemicals being used to buff and polish them to give them a ‘perfect’ appearance? Is my purchase directly contributing to the growth of the community my food came from? It is important to know how our food is produced so that we understand exactly what we are putting into our bodies, and how our money is being channelled back into growing our communities.
You recently participated in a food discovery series, where chefs discovered cooking methods, flavours or ingredients from other African countries and made one fusion dish with qualities from each country. What was your favourite ‘mash-up’ dish from this experimentation?
My favourite was the mbuzi-choma-rolex where flavours from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania were melded into one delicious dish.
I realise that you only recently put up recipes for goat biryani, after being asked many times by followers. What are some of the recipes that people keep asking for? Do you notice any interesting trends or ‘fashions’ in the diets of Kenyans?
In my five years of blogging, I have so far covered everything that has been requested, but currently, lots of baking recipes are being asked for. I am working on refining my skills in that before delving in. Kenyans in general stick to what they have always had and my sense is that not much changes over time. However, with greater exposure to knowledge and with conversations on the internet, there is an emphasis on having more vegetables with each serving and more people want to know how to handle traditional vegetables in particular.
I know you love mangoes, but what is your ‘food unpopular opinion’ – the thing that everyone seems to be crazy about but you just don’t feel the same?
None that I can think of. I think I love everything in equal measure!
If you were stranded on a desert island with three ingredients to live on for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Garlic. Potatoes. Cardamom.