Caramelized chicken and masala fries
Tucked in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, Jukwaa Lounge sits right beside the park’s dais, and you could easily drive past it if you are not too keen. A parking lot that is sparsely populated is on its other side. From the restaurant, you get a front row seat of revellers as they go about their boat rides. This hidden gem boasts of tastefully whipped up meals thanks to the chef and at lunchtime and on Sundays, you are likely to miss a seat.
We were welcomed by the operations manager, Paul Aol, who told us that even though they do not have a fancy menu, their ugali, beef, chicken, fries and the usual refreshments are what sell. “At lunch time, our clientele, that is largely corporate staffers, dash here for our staples ugali and beef or fish or chicken, and sometimes fries, and those are what we focus on,” he says. Jukwaa Lounge, as we soon found out, is ideal for meetings, and it’s a field day daily serving drinks and bitings such as mandazi, that are also popular.
We popped into the kitchen to see where all the magic happens after the rush hour dies down. Chef Diana Magari invited us to prep caramel chicken with chips masala. “This is also a hit, and when we have new faces, I enjoy making it. It takes around 20 or less minutes,” says the former house manager. Diana grew up in the Coast, in Mariakani, and learnt how to find her way around the kitchen from her grandmother, who was the best cook in the family. “My grandma is a great cook and you could say I learnt how to cook thanks to her,” she tells us while setting the ingredients.
She slices the chicken breasts into strips then pounds the garlic cloves before boiling them all together. “Back then, at least in our home, you couldn’t say you wanted to learn culinary arts because it was obvious that girls cooked at home for their families. Nonetheless, I came to Nairobi and worked as a house manager,” she adds.
Diana then prepares the gravy for masala fries. “Fry onions and when they are ready, add salt, tomato paste and garam masala. Later, add blended tomatoes, soy sauce and chili to taste. You could then add your already well done chips after it comes to a boil and let it cook for 15 minutes,” she offers. She made her blended tomatoes from the inside part.
She does it all with such ease and precision, yet she did not attend a culinary school. “My former employer was kind enough to let me learn how to prepare different foods. We would visit places as a family and afterwards, at home, I would attempt to replicate the meal. It came naturally to me because I have a knack for great food. I then got my job here two and half years later. Apprenticeship was my school,” Diana laughs adding, “that and Food Network.”
The now cooked chicken strips were set aside as she caramelized onions. She later added the chicken to it and it was ready in under 10 minutes. We then made salsa using tomatoes and onions, which she diced into strips and served alongside the meal.
Need I say how great it was? Yet again, I sampled a differently cooked chicken and my usual fave, potatoes, and I know I will be visiting again; not to mention, the pocket-friendly prices. You could pop in and try for yourself when the traffic doesn’t let up, which is often.