Eating in Kigali on a Volunteer’s Budget

Deciding to leave your job – and forego your salary – to move to Africa and become a volunteer is an exciting (if daunting) step. Hopping off the plane into the glorious sunshine, discovering the markets and the matatus, and immersing yourself in the general madness of Rwandan society, is exciting. Realising that a pint of milk costs you more here than in the supermarket in the UK, that Rwanda’s East African neighbours are so big that it takes at least a day to get anywhere – or a small fortune for the luxury of flying – and that the restaurants everyone raves about are pushing European prices, is not!

But have no fear, if you’re new to Kigali and need to operate on a tight budget (or if you’ve been here for ages and just want to save a few francs) you’re in luck. Four penniless and well-meaning volunteers are here to show you how to do Kigali on a budget. This city is full of great things to do, and great places to eat, you just have to step behind a few beaded curtains, walk down a few unmarked tracks, and keeps your eyes peeled for fun and games.

It’s easy to eat well – and incredibly cheaply – by buying your food at local markets and cooking it yourself. Necessity is the mother of invention and when you have no oven, no freezer and only two small gas rings as we do, finding new things to eat every week can be a challenge. But it’s do-able and it’s fun in the process. You’d be amazed how many ways you can cook the humble plantain and lentils!

But that said; it’s still nice to go out sometimes and let someone else do all the faffing. And yes you can do it on the cheap… though the truth of the matter is that if you want to eat out cheaply you have to eat like a local… but hey, when in Rwanda do as the Rwa

ndans do, right? If you’re after burritos, burgers or biryani this isn’t the guide for you. If you want really yummy local food that will not only fill you up, but will support small local business people, AND will leave you change from 5,000 francs (for two people) then read on….

These are just some of our favourite places to eat but there are hundreds more and I recommend you pop into any local spots you see and give them a try.

Agape (Kimironko)

The roads around Kimironko market are swarming with little places to eat. This one is simply the easiest to direct you to! Being directly opposite one of the many entrances to the market, this place is perfect for pumping yourself up before you hit the stalls or for chilling out after you’ve jostled your way through your shopping list.

As with all of these places it’s traditional Rwandan food, self-service and offering every possible form of carbohydrate. But, not being one to load up on carbs, I’m drawn to places that also serve something in the line of vegetables and even some decent protein. Agape has a good salad, cassava leaves, really super beans and sometimes even beans of the green variety. The meat is pretty good, though I’m not sure what it actually is… and you certainly won’t go hungry if you skip it. You’ll also find that customer service is remarkably good. You’re greeted as you enter… twice. I’ve even been shown to a table! It’s thoroughly good food but in truth its real benefit is its proximity to the market.

The buffet is Rwf 1,000, (Rwf 1,300 with meat) and a Fanta will set you back Rwf 400. Having only ever eaten there with local people I’m yet to see another muzungu within its four walls, but I suggest you try it out. If you’re that way inclined they also play all the major European football matches.

To get there, walk out of the bus station towards the market just keep going. Go past the building its self and turn left at the next road – where the bike taxis and scurrying around. Walk about 300 almost to the main road and Agape is on your right. You can’t miss it, it has a big gorilla over the door.

Total bill for two people – Rwf 3,400

Camellia Tea House (City Centre)

We do stretch our little wings sometimes… so welcome to the least traditional of our el-cheapo lunch options.

Camellia Tea House is huge and green and in the middle of town. It’s well known for its reasonably priced (though not quite reasonable enough for this article) muzungu-friendly menu of burgers, fries, and of course pizza… but you can also eat here cheaply. They have a good ‘light menu’; my favourite being the ‘chapati special’. The term ‘special’ is used relatively loosely but it’s big and stuffed with a good amount of spicy minced beef and it comes with a small side salad. Despite its simplicity, it is somehow deeply satisfying and is the perfect will fuel for a trip through the madness of T2000 of one of those long and frustrating visits to the bank.

The food at Camellia is good, but its real selling point is its juices; the best of which has to be the passion fruit. I’m not sure if its fresh juice, but whether it is or isn’t, it’s damn tasty. And for Rwf 500, it keeps us hydrated and nicely under budget. They do also do a pretty posh buffet for Rwf 2,500 if you fancy splashing out!

Atmosphere-wise, I’m a big fan of this place. There is a lovely outdoor area that is perfect for a relaxing Saturday lunch and though inside is often crowded (and a disturbingly green fish tank dominates the scenery) it’s still a pleasant place to relax if you’re in town and need a little refuge. Camellia Tea House is just up the road from UTC. Walk up the hill towards the big Bank of Kigali building and keep going. This place is bright green, so if you miss it you might need a trip to the opticians before you eat lunch.

Total bill for two people – Rwf 4,800

Chez Papa Guinness (Remera)

What’s not to love… a great local bar/restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, an eclectic mix of African and country music (with a few 90’s Euro classics thrown in for good measure), friendly staff, and a healthy number of Rwandan customers eating yummy local food. Papa Guinness in Remera is by far my favourite local eatery. It’s great any time of the day and any day of the week. I’m pretty sure we’ve eaten there every day of the week and both lunchtimes and evenings are equally buzzy.

The food is standard local fare, brochettes, chips, matoke, salad etc and the choices are painted on the wall so you might have to do a bit of neck craning to see. Ah yes and it’s also in Kinyarwanda… but the waiters all speak enough English so you can get by asking for beef brochette and banana if you’re not feeling brave. This place is pushing our Rwf 2,500 per person to the limit but you can do it. The beef brochettes are Rwf 800 and are both big and very tasty. The meat is good quality and cooked well. No chewing through old tire here. Goat brochettes are also Rwf 800 and for goat they’re pretty good. In my experience goat always has the texture of an old boot, but it tastes good at Papa Guinness at least! The fish brochettes are Rwf 1,000 but are worth every penny (excuse the currency mixing). You get 8 or 9 big chunks of grilled fish, flaky and seasoned to perfection. We’ve been known to order one brochette each as they’re pretty big but they’re very good so I’d suggest easing on the sides and going for a couple of brochettes instead.

In terms of sides, the chips are big chunky things, crinkle cut even. And they come with their own salad. At Rwf 1,000 they’re reasonable value and we easily share them between two. The salad would be superb if they would only stop giving you half a plate of onion. The rest of the dish: avocado, tomato, cabbage, cucumber and carrot, is really good. If you’re feeling up to it ask for no onion. It’s worth it. The salad comes in at Rwf 500 so again is pretty good value – and more than enough to share. The matoke are Rwf 150 each and cooked so they still have a bit of bite. Hmmm. A good alternative to chips if you’re feeling chipped out. Fried banana is also available at Rwf 200 and is a great halfway house.

To get there, walk out of Remera bus station turn left and follow the road up the hill. Where the road splits, keep left and after about 300 metres you’ll see Papa G on the left. If you get to the main road and can see Amahora Stadium in front of you, you’ve gone too far.

Total bill for two – Rwf 5,200

One Stop Café (Nyamirambo)

So many options came to mind when we were trying to choose our favourite place in Nyamirambo. Green Corner, Ten to Two and the Nyamirambo version of Papa Guinness were all contenders, but One Stop Café is great, and it’s such a small place that I thought it was worthy of the extra support.

The whole place is little more than a kitchen and 5 or 6 tables on a little covered terrace area, but it’s friendly and the food is good, big and cheap. There’s no menu; you basically ask for whatever you want from the usual Rwandan style lunch menu: rice, chips, dodo, beans, meat complete with soup, peas etc etc. It would appear that no matter what you order it’s the same price (Rwf 1,300) so just ask away and they’ll tell you if it’s possible. Being such a small place they don’t always have everything but can usually offer a decent alternative if they don’t have exactly what you fancy.

The service is remarkably fast, though be aware that if you choose ‘vegetables’ they cook them after you order so it takes a while longer that if you just trump for rice, meat and beans which are always ready to go and raring to be eaten.

The atmosphere is buzzy and the tables are always full of local people enjoying a hearty lunch. The staff are great also. They are super friendly and speak really good English so if you’re not sure what you want, just ask and they’ll be more than happy to help out or suggest something.

As you travel into Nyamirambo from town you’ll pass the mosque on the left and then come to a really busy stretch of shops. One Stop Café is on the right towards the far end of the shops. It has a huge ‘One Stop Café’ banner above the terrace – a dead giveaway.

Total bill for two people – Rwf 3,800

Stonehouse (Kicukiro)

OK, so the main reason to go to Stonehouse isn’t that the food is exceptional. That’s not to say that food isn’t good, it’s just that the surrounding area and the view are its biggest selling points. The food is of course also good – and cheap. During the day it’s a haven of peace and quiet, making it a blissful place to stop for lunch and to get you out of the midday sun. The view from The Stonehouse in Kicukiro takes in Remera and Kabeza as they sprawl, all lush and verdant, over the valley towards the airport. Once you’re sitting in the garden area you can very easily forget you’re only a few hundred meters from the Sonatubes roundabout.

Lunch is a relatively standard buffet affair, though it’s not self-service. Nevertheless the portions are sufficiently Rwandan to fill you up – and then some. Lunch is a ‘mixed plate’ made up of or your choice of: mashed plantain, beans, cabbage, chips, cassava root, yam, sweet potato and ugali. There were other things (mixed green beans and carrots, I think) on the list too, but I lost track!

As with most buffets you can choose to go veggie or pay a bit extra for meat. The day we were there the meat option was beef in a thick vegetable soup. The beef was good quality, though a fairly small portion but the soup was really good. Worth splashing out as it adds a good amount of additional flavour to the meal. The mixed plate comes in at Rwf 1,200, but the meat will cost you an extra Rwf 300. A Fanta will set you back Rwf 400, bring the entire meal to Rwf 1,900 each. They do a grill in the evening too but it’s too expensive for our wallets so we haven’t tried it out.

To get there, walk away from the Sonatubes roundabout towards Kicukiro and Stonehouse is on the left after about 500m.

Total bill for two people – Rwf 3,800

Umurengi (City Centre)

Fantastic Restaurant may be the biggest buffet in town but Umurengi could certainly give it a run for its money in terms of value. This place is hidden above a bunch of shops just near the big main Bank of Kigali building in town, and has the fastest moving and therefore freshest food I’ve ever eaten at a buffet (and I’ve eaten at a lot of buffets).

Other than finding a seat, which is almost impossible at lunchtime unless you hang around someone who looks like they might be finishing and smile sweetly, the toughest thing about eating at Umurengi is pacing yourself so you can fit it all in. As well as the usual pure carb-tastic ingredients of your average Rwandan buffet (including mashed and boiled matoke, plus two different rice choices – white and pilau), Umurengi also offers salad, both of the green variety and the bean variety, and it serves the freshest and tastiest (least salty) dodo and cassava leaves I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. I’m a bit dull at a buffet – attempting to avoid too many carbs and also often shying away from unidentifiable meat – but my fellow diner went the whole hog.

It seems if you’re game you can have soup to start, complete with big chunky bread for dipping, then the whole standard buffet, and if you still have room there is fruit to finish. It was pineapple the day we were there but I’m told sometimes its mango or papaya. You have to get all your food at once, unless you can collar a kind waiter who can help you, so if you think you can match it don’t be shy. You get a drink included in the price (as far as I can tell you can have Fanta or juice – nothing alcoholic sorry) but wait! It gets better – the whole meal comes in at Rwf 2,000! Yep, 2000 for a three course meal and a drink. If you need fuel for a big afternoon at work/or exploring, this is a fabulous place to go.

To get there, walk away from Simba Supermarket or UTC towards Bank of Kigali and you’ll pass a huge building site on your right. As soon as the scaffolding ends turn right down the hill. Take the first right and look up to the left. You’ll see the Umurengi sign. Either ask someone how to get in or wander into the shopping ‘arcade’ beneath the sign and look for the stairs.

Total bill for two people – Rwf 4,000

About Ruth, Paul, Ciaren and Nessa

Ruth and Paul ventured forth from the UK in late 2012 seeking to do a bit of good in the world - and to escape the miserable and fast-approaching UK winter. Joined shortly after by Ciaran and Nessa, seeking to avoid the equally miserable Irish winter, together we make four well-meaning, sun and fun-seeking volunteers. And here we are still, living in this beautiful city, and enjoying as many of its charms as possible while at the same time attempting to keep our few remaining pennies in our pockets.