Taste of the newest Swahili eat out in town
By Nailantei Norari
“Every Saturday and Sunday, they have the perfect coastarian breakfast, mbaazi na mahamri. I cannot believe you have not been to this place,” my friend castigated me over lunch last week. She was referring to Manara Restaurant, located off Gitanga Road at Westfield Mall, that mall that houses Quickmart Lavington. She has always ordered biryani online from them and was glad that Khados Cooking, an online cooking page had at last found a physical location as Manara Restaurant. And like the perfect millennial who suffers from FOMO, I showed up at Manara on a lazy Sunday afternoon ready to go on a whirlwind of eating all the Swahili food I could master.
Middle Eastern dishes
Manara walls are a muted cream with beautiful white scaffolding that is reminiscent of Arabic architecture and the Coast. There are carefully placed Arabic lanterns, which glow gold even during the day. There is an Arabic art piece on sale near the counter where golden tea urns and multi-coloured baskets that I will later learn are used to bring the bill, are placed. The service is quite quick and unintrusive with all meals being made fresh on order. Soon, my mbaazi and mahamri arrive. It looks exactly as depicted on the glossy menu. I wolf all the mbaazis down with one mahamri as I save up space for other things on the menu.
Ever since I stopped spending two hours in the gym like the CrossFit athlete I was, I try to eat healthy. So I reflexively checked out the salad options, which at about Sh500 a bowl, are quite affordable. I instead crossed over to the Middle Eastern dishes, which are split into either hot or cold mezze dishes.
Mezze dishes are a collection of small dishes that can either serve as appetisers or full meals. One can order a full platter of either the hot mezze dishes or the cold ones at only Sh1,000. Since I was out dining alone, I chose baba ganoush and warm pita bread, a dish made from fresh onions, dhania, chilli, olive oil and eggplant.
I enjoyed the taste of the freshly made pita bread against the cold textures of the baba ganoush. After I had polished off my mezze dish, I ordered mutton mandi, a dish that was brought with freshly made tomato sauce and lamb sauce on the side.
The mutton was so tender that it tore off the bone with the slightest touch of the fork while the accompanying rice was very tasty as it had cashew nuts, caramelized onions and mild spicing.
The food was quite a lot and I battled through it though there was no chance I could have finished it all in one sitting. I asked for the remaining to be packed in a take away bag as I sat in a food coma pretending to read a novel as I eavesdropped on the families seated across the room eating good food and telling a few not so good stories about their neighbours and colleagues.
I slowly took my lemon mint juice that had remained forgotten till now. After a few long hours, I decided it was time to waddle home.
Irene, my host for the day was very solicitous and helpful. She informed me that there was mint tea in the house and I was more than glad to oblige and quickly sat back down. I then remembered I had not capped my meal with dessert and ordered some basbousa to take with the mint mea. Basbousa is made from semolina flour and is brought freshly soaked in syrup with fresh coconut dust and almond pieces.
I managed to wolf down one of the three pieces and then promptly asked for the bill. The bill came to Sh2,500, which is quite affordable considering the number of dishes I had, the large portions and the quality of service. I promptly called my friend to tell her I had tried out her restaurant recommendation. “Did you try out their pilau though?” She enquired. Guess I will be coming back to try out the pilau and have some more of the basbousa.