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Shark meat not for the faint-hearted

The plan was to visit a cultural village at the Coast to experience a traditional African hamlet setting with all its authenticity.

Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) officials, the organisers of the media familiarisation trip, had chosen Kaya Kinondo village in Kwale county. We were to spend time with the villagers and engage in as many everyday village life activities as possible. This included beadwork, harvesting coconuts, and a walk through the farms. And for me, to enjoy Mijikenda dishes.

So, one afternoon, we cycled to the village, which was approximately 10km from Diani Bikers offices. We arrived at the village about an hour later, sweaty, tired and sun-scorched. Oh, this Coast weather!

The village reception team welcomed us to sit outside one of the homes.  We were then introduced to the villagers present, who were already preparing the ingredients for a sumptuous, local delicacy — papa (shark meat).  Surprise! Shark meat is a Mijikenda delicacy.  And in this village, dried papa meat is a low-budget meal and not usually served for guests.

Juma, the master of the household, said they eat shark meat with bites of ugali, lime juice and a pinch of salt. “You mean ndimu (lemon juice) with salt as a chaser?” I asked him. Yes, he said, and that was exactly what he was fixing for our lunch.

I could not wait to dig in.  My curiosity to try the meal came to a sudden halt after a near head-on-collision with culture shock. Luckily, I had said my usual grace in the morning and, somehow, I managed the day with a fake smile.

Smile and wave I did despite the culture shock.  Juma’s wife had prepared ugali and after juicing the lime and ‘garnishing’ (ahem) with salt…drum rolls…the moment we had all been waiting for, lunch was served!

I had to taste this, however unfriendly it looked. I tried the salty and sour papa ‘curry’ first. Dried papa has a beefy, jerky texture, with a much stronger-than-anchovy (don’t bother looking it up on Google, it’s plain omena) flavour.

I now can recommend trying it with the accompanying ugali because when I first tasted the shark meat without ugali;  the flavour simply wasn’t for me. A first, then second bite…and thanks for lunch.

Apparently, shark is meaty and mild — but has to be soaked well before it’s eaten because sharks urinate through their skin. The ugali was tasty though.

As we sat there slaying, these men (the locals) were not playing with their food. No, that would be rude. The way they ate so much ugali with so little mboga haunts me to date. Too much injustice for the poor ugali dish. Within no time, neither ugali nor papa was available for rollcall.

Earlier, Juma had sent for some madafus (coconut juice) and mnazis (alcoholic drink). The mnazi jar was passed around for the men while the madafus were freely given to the ladies — hmm, these chauvinists! 

Upon enquiring, I was told: ‘Eeh, wamama hawanywi hiyo’ (this stuff is not for women).  Sensing the women’s disappointment, one of hosts shrugged and said we could taste the wine if we were up to the task. Clearly, he didn’t know people.

So I sipped the mnazi wine. To be honest, I did not like the taste, but since I had insisted on sitting at the Table of  Men, I had to man-up and finish my drink. Later, I took even more mnazi, chest-thumping maybe, just trying to prove the ‘what men can do…’cliché.  Yes, what men can drink, women can drink twice as much. Nipee mbili mbili (double serving). I wobbled to our van, which had followed us to Kinondo.

I can tell you for a fact that the aftermath of mnazi wine was a tatu-tatu (triple) hangover for the girls.  The men were still standing, with no hangover reported.

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