Meze Fresh is local street slang that can loosely translate to “I’m cool,” or “I’m chilling.” It’s a sexed up version of the common response, ‘meze neza’ (“I‘m well.”) The name not only captures the laid back and informal feel about this restaurant, it also points to its concept of “fresh harvest.”
Griffin Richards (pictured above), the American lad who runs this Mexican Burrito Bar says “meze fresh” was the response he received from neighbourhood kids every morning of his first year in Rwanda as he walked to work. The name kind of struck a chord with him, and no sooner had his contract with Bridge2Rwanda, a local NGO, expired than he set up shop. Burrito shop. That was sometime in June this year.
Meze Fresh sits on a prime location in a big, single storey lime green building on the lower road that leads from The New Times offices to Shokola Lite. The building is so bright, Stevie Wonder would find it with ease!
As you walk in, straight ahead of you is the elaborate food counter with a colourful display of whatever is on offer. The counter is equipped with hot and cold steam machines to keep the food and vegetables hot and cold respectively. Behind the counter are a few beer-branded fridges displaying local and imported brands. There is at least a beer brand from each of the East African Community member states – Amstel Boc (Burundi), Nile Special (Uganda), Tusker (Kenya), and Kilimanjaro (Tanzania).
To your left is a stairway that leads to the upper terrace, while to your extreme right is the see-through kitchen. In the space between, there is a long wooden counter dotted with high and bulky and not-so-comfortable bar stools (some of the highest I’ve seen in Kigali), and about six tables with collapsible lime green plastic chairs.
There is more sitting upstairs, and while the lower seating is more upbeat and conversational, the upper floor is more intimate and commands a great view of the city’s sights and landscapes.
The art décor and colour theme (blue, yellow and red) combine both elements of Rwandan cultural art and a modern Kigali feel. After a meal or drink, one can walk away with a traditional imigongo art piece from the Ivuka Arts studio at anything between $200 and $1000.
Meze Fresh maintains a fast-casual air about it, bringing high quality ingredients and serving them in a fast-food style.
It is one of those places that have come to be known fondly as a “mzungu hangout”. Mzungu hangout in the sense that it is owned and predominantly patronized by whites. Since its opening in June this year, Meze Fresh has been locked in that soft opening phase that all new establishments go through.
Management simply sat back, unwound and awaited its good fortune, and sure enough, the ex-pat community resident in Kigali was going to come around, if only because of their familiarity with Mexican food.
How Griffin, the proprietor is going to shake off this “mzungu hangout” tag, we still don’t know. What we do know is that, ultimately, he will want to look at tapping into the alternative market of Rwandans with a basic curiosity for Mexican cuisine (and money to spend.)
What pulls crowds to Meze Fresh is, without a doubt, the traditional northern Mexican delicacy, Burrito. It is made up of a flour tortilla filled with beef, chicken, or pork. Look at it this way; a king-size chapatti into which chicken, pork slices, beef or vegetables are stuffed. This combo is then wrapped in paper foil, ready to be munched, bit by bit, by pulling back the foil.
I came in early, at 11:20 am, not wanting to walk into the notorious lunch hour rush. The array of “proteins” from which to choose was overwhelming, but the waiters were on hand to make suggestions here and there. Once I was satisfied with the portions of pork in my “giant chapatti,” I needed just a morsel each of mushroom and steamed rice, and I was good to go.
So tender was the pork, it simply melted on the tongue, almost like chocolate. The red and green cabbage salad complimented the pork well, giving it some groove.