Unlike a lot of other hardship assignments, Nairobi is not a “consumables” post. Had we been assigned to a country that fit that designation, we would have been entitled to ship 2,500 pounds of consumable products to ourselves from the US. This is not necessary in Nairobi, as one can buy pretty much anything here. Nakumatt, a mega chain of supermarkets that extends throughout East Africa, carries a wide variety of products and produce, albeit at a price.
The main difficulty lies in finding where to buy some of the less common ingredients that S likes to employ in her cooking. Back home, we do a lot of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s while also seeking out sustainably raised, organic produce at local farmers’ markets. That option does not exist in Nairobi, and though we do go to City Market for fruits and vegetables, sustainability and healthy living are not on the minds of the produce vendors there.
We are fortunate that Nairobi does have a few specialty stores. For instance, Prime Cuts markets itself as a “European Butchery & Bistro” and offers an impressive array of fresh meats, seafood, and cheeses. Prime Cuts is expensive, but it is the only safe option for satisfying D’s carnivorous yearnings because the meat elsewhere is of questionable freshness (Bulgakov’s assertion that “there’s only one degree of freshness — the first, which makes it also the last,” notwithstanding). Prime Cuts also has bagels, which D claims taste even better than the ones S used to buy in Chicago. There is also Zucchini, a greengrocery that has the freshest produce in Nairobi.
Even so, there are a few items that we have learned to do without. For instance, we simply cannot find sour cream here, a devastating blow to D’s Russian roots. Also, canned products here are of a markedly inferior quality and S has given up on buying foods that have been processed. Milk has been another disappointment. There is only one company that markets “fresh” milk but it tends to spoil too quickly, perhaps because it does not meet minimum health standards (according to our milk-savvy social sponsors). The only alternative is Parmalait-like cartons that do not require refrigeration and keep for months; S refuses to consume this tasteless, adulterated milk.
Not surprisingly, finding quality spices here also proved to be a challenge. Fortunately, our social sponsors had stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall Indian shop that had exactly what we sought. The only issue was that the owners would only sell by weight and only in absurdly large quantities. The upshot is that not only has S managed to find most of the ingredients she needs to continue making our favorite recipes, but we now also have enough turmeric and red chili powder to last us well into retirement.
Editors’ note: the last two posts grew out of a question posed by one of our readers about what we eat on a day-to-day basis. We love your comments and appreciate your feedback – our goal in launching this blog was to make it an interactive experience. If there are other topics that interest you, please let us know and we’d be happy to blog about them.