I’ve asked every Rwandan I know about ‘akabenz’ and they always laugh at my questions. I ask if I’ve said something wrong but usually they are just surprised I know what it is. It’s a sweet and savory pork barbecue. It’s no revolutionary concept to me. Americans eat barbecued pork all the time. However, whatever they do to the pork here is different. I don’t know if you’ve tried this stuff but it’s amazing.
Since ancient times, pork has been shrouded in a cloak of mystery. There are a lot of sacred mandates regarding the other white meat, and some suspicions too. Eating it has never been a moral dilemma for me, but too, the meat I buy in my motherland has all sorts of regulations on the cleanliness of preparation.
Here we have a different story. Many Rwandans really aren’t all that thrilled about eating pork. I’ve seen all stances on the subject, I’ve pestered young and old. I want to know who eats it, who doesn’t, and why. Also, how did it get that name?
Most older Rwandans shake their heads and say won’t touch it, that it is too dirty. Slightly unsettling with a belly full of akabenz. One of my Mamas told me it’s not widely eaten by older generations because of the cleanliness of pork. But she says she always hears the young men on the radio talking about akabenz. So hip hop stars like it, that’s one thing I’ve learned.
Rappers and poets alike have expressed their love for akabenz. Did you know Priest Alexis Kagame wrote a poem about it? That was way before Rwandan hip hop was a thing. My Kinyarwanda Googling skills have failed me but i was assured I could find a copy of the poem in the standard P5 text book. Great…
Related: Do you know how hard it is to get your hands on a P5 textbook?!
Maybe it’s the pop culture shout-outs and moving homages in writing (that, try as I might, still can’t vouch for) that make akabenz more widely accepted among the young folks. A lot of my friends here love it. At least I know I’ll always have a handful of people to call anytime I want to get some. Questions still unanswered, at least there’s some relief.
Even those in favor of akabenz take caution. They also claim the meat is dirty but trust that which is cooked properly. It needs to be cooked for a long, long time. And doused in alcohol, apparently. The alcohol kills all of the bad ‘things’ that ‘come out’ of the meat. I’m only telling you what I’ve heard. Akabenz is best enjoyed with a cold beer. Or room temperature if that’s how you take it. Beer supposedly will kill the last of whatever survived the cooking process. Cheers!
The best story I’ve heard about how akabenz became akabenz is a little tale I heard from a group of kind men. Somewhere, deep in the Rwandan countryside, a small, nameless eatery, known only to the locals, began slow cooking pork in a sweet and glorious sauce. News travelled fast, but finding this delicious pork trove was next to impossible! Directions always ended with mention of the Mercedes-Benz parked outside the restaurant. It never moved; only served as a sort of flagstaff, X marks the spot.
Have you ever noticed how much the Mercedes symbol looks like – go with me on this one – a pig’s nose? Strange, huh? Yeah, I never saw it either until I heard the story. But that, my friends, is how akabenz became akabenz. Unless you have a better idea.
Maybe there really is a connection between Mercedes and pigs, I don’t know. There are a lot of questions I still can’t answer about akabenz. I’ve exhausted all my resources. I have a feeling pork will remain the mystery meat for a long time.
I’ve heard that Come Again Bar in Remera is the finest place in town to enjoy this delicious dish but maybe you have other opinions on where the best akabenz in Kigali is hiding. Or maybe you know the story of this mysterious dish! Anyone?