Rwanda isn’t exactly known for its cuisine. In fact, when you arrive here you might have some trouble even determining what typical local fare is. Sadly, there’s no street food so just walking down the street and browsing at steamy food carts isn’t possible. Instead you’ll have to wander into a local bar or restaurant and know what you want to order. Here’s a little guide so you know what sorts of local style food is available for your hungry bellies.
Meat on a stick! If anyone asked me what sort of food Rwanda is known for, I would have to say the mighty brochette. It’s basically, a shish kebab of meat or fish. Most local places will only offer up goat (sometimes with liver or intestine thrown in for a little surprise) and some more fancy places will also do fish, beef or chicken. One thing they generally have in common is that the meat (especially goat) is cooked to oblivion. But somehow it’s super delicious. Everyone finds their own favourite local brochette place so hit up a few bars, sample some meat sticks and see if you can find a great place of your own.
Being a landlocked country, Rwanda isn’t really stockpiled with fish but, being close to Lake Kivu and Lake Victoria, some fish finds its way here. There are a bunch of local places in Nyamrambo (and probably in other places all over the city) that serve up a giant fish that you can easily share with two or three friends. I’ve never really been totally 100% sure what the fish is that I happily rip apart with my hands… tilapia maybe? One thing I do know – it’s a damn fine tasting fish! Check out Green Corner or Ten to Two in Nyamirambo for some of the finest fish in town and a cheap, fun night out.
So I don’t know much about this mysterious dish except that I’ve only ever had it at Bar Etoile d’Or, a local place in Nyamirambo. They advertise ‘Special Michopo’ outside their door but I’m not sure if this is a specialty of theirs or if you can find the dish elsewhere. It’s mysterious but delicious! The first time I tried it, I went with a friend who swore that it was pork. Being that the restaurant is in Nyamirambo, a Muslim area of down, that’s unlikely. The second time I want, I was told I was eating roasted lamb. You think I’d be able to tell the difference between the two but, alas, I could not. The dish wasn’t particularly porky or lamby but it was really tasty.
Any time I can order meat by the kilo, I’m happy. Anytime I’m served a dish with limes on the side, I’m even happier. Akabenz satisfies both of my happiness requirements. It’s a pork dish that you’ll find in a lot of local places around town but mostly in Remera (and probably not in Nyamirambo). No one is really sure where the name comes from but it’s rumoured to have something to do with the Mercedes Benz. Why? Well, nobody I’ve met really knows. I’ve only had akabenz once at Come Again Bar which is supposedly one of the best places in town to get it. It took awhile for them to finally get the food to us, but it was well worth the wait. It’s yummy stuff, my friends.
…is delicious! I’m not sure if ‘nyama choma’ is roasted meat in general or if it refers specifically to roasted goat meat. It’s a very popular dish in Kenya and you can find it at various places around Kigali. It’s basically a leg of goat meat roasted and then chopped up into pieces. Seriously yummy. Executive Car Wash and the Kenyan BBQ & Grill (also called Car Wash 2) in Kacyiru are both known for it although I’ve yet to try it at either place. I’m a big fan of Sundowner‘s nyama choma. They always have a bunch of legs roasting so sometimes your order comes out really fast. But sometimes it takes over an hour too, so try not to be in too much of a rush. There’s some amazing dipping sauce on offer at Sundowner… some mayonnaise-y type thing which keeps me coming back.
…is gross. I said it. It tastes like glue. Not that I eat glue. Well, except when I was a kid maybe, I don’t remember. Possibly because my memory is damaged from eating glue. But I digress… back to the grossness of ugali. It’s known by many different names across Africa (fufu, posho) and is a staple in many countries around the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa. It’s made of maize flour or casava and water and cooked to a sort of dough or porridge-like thickness. It’s usually eaten by grabbing a lump of it, rolling it up into a ball and dipping it into sauce. Some people love it but I am not one of those people. But be sure to give it a try and decide for yourself. You can get it at the Africa Bite lunch buffet. Probably a safe bet since you can try as much or as little as you like and have other backup options if you hate it as much as I do.
This side dish of fried potatoes is usually offered up at local places with a plate of brochettes. They’re tasty potatoes cut in half, spiced, and deep fried. Be aware that ordering one ibirayi will mean one whole potato (two halves). Done right they’re crispy and golden and delicious. Add a bit of pili pili for some spice.
This is East Africa’s hot sauce of choice and you’ll find it in any local spot you want to eat at. Sometimes it comes in an eye dropper-like bottle (called ‘Akabanga’) where one or two drops is all you need. Other times it’ll be in a small metal pot and will have the chilies inside with the oil. In some places they give you the whole chili pepper and you squeeze it to get the spicy juices out from it. All of these are super spicy, so be careful! My strategy for pili pili is to mix some in with mayonnaise which is tricky since most local places don’t have it. But it’ll cut the spice if you’re wimpy like me. If you want your own baby bottle you can buy them at Nakumatt for Rwf 600.
Africa’s version of pico de gallo is made of tomatoes, onions and chillies and is delicious. I’m not sure if they add other goodness in there or what because when I chop up onions, tomatoes and chillies it doesn’t taste nearly as great as the stuff I get at Republika and Sundowner. I’ve never seen it at a local bar with brochettes… it seems to be more of a companion to nyama choma. Be careful though… the chillies used are pretty spicy so watch out for the green bits!
Rwandans love their buffet lunches! Almost every restaurant that’s open in the afternoon offers a buffet. Follow the lead of a local person in learning how to stack your plate high as, at most buffets, you only have one pass. For the grand daddy of all buffet lunches, try Fantastic Restaurant. I’m also a fun of Karibu and Mangaroca‘s buffet offerings. You can find buffet lunches for as cheap as Rwf 1,500 or up to Rwf 15,000 at fancy hotels like the Serena.