For three years now, Ignace Pokeya has been the cook behind a pork delicacy at one of the many pork joints in Butare town, Huye District.
Being one of the most popular pubs in the town, Pokeya knows he has to satisfy orders from dozens of patrons who he receives daily. So every morning when he wakes up, he knows a lot of work awaits him and he goes to his workplace well prepared for the orders that mainly come later in the day.
This involves mainly a pre-cooking session as he seeks to minimise cooking time later in the evening.
“Pork is much loved here. Lots of people order for it as they share drinks,” he says
Pokeya, who trained in culinary art, attributes the love for pork to its deliciousness and unique taste.”
“You can’t compare it to anything else,” he says.
Indeed, pork remains undoubtedly one of the most commonly consumed and loved delicacies in the country.
The past few years have seen lots of pubs and bars offering pork ‘speciality’ mushrooming throughout the country.
Also locally known as Akabenzi (small Mercedes Benz), perhaps to differentiate it from other meat, pork has attracted huge clientele to owners of pork joints.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), pork is the most commonly consumed meat and accounts for over 36 per cent of the world’s meat intake.
Mainly served roasted or fried, a kilogramme of pork goes for an average of between Rwf3,000 and Rwf4,000 in urban areas. Patrons can decide to either accompany it with banana, potatoes, or tomatoes among others .
Pork is credited, among others, to be a natural source of more B-vitamins including thiamine (a vitamin that prevents beriberi, maintains appetite and growth), niacin (a B-vitamin essential for the normal function of the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract).
These vitamins play a significant role in a variety of body functions, including metabolism and energy production.
Pork is also rich in protein and antioxidant nutrients and is said to promote muscle maintenance and growth.
But the delicacy has to be consumed moderately and, above all, it has to be prepared well. Otherwise it might be a source of severe health risks that can even lead to death.
Risks of undercooking
Experts have warned that consuming pork–and meat generally–in excess has negative effects on one’s health. Consuming contaminated meat is also dangerous.
But it becomes extremely risky when it is undercooked, experts say.
According to food and health experts, pork is known to carry parasites such as tapeworms and trichinosis, thus uncooked or undercooked pork can be dangerous to one’s health.
Trichinosis carries symptoms like flu, vomiting, muscle pains and heart problems, and can lead to death.
Grace Mutamuliza, a Culinary Arts instructor at the Huye-based Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre (IPRC-South), says pork, like several other meat, is known to be vulnerable to bacteria and requires thorough cooking before it is served.
“Eating undercooked pork carries dangerous risks on the health of consumers,” Mutamuliza warns.
Mutamuliza says pork should always be well-cooked to avoid risks of contamination on the part of consumers.
She says to make sure that pork is well cooked involves cooking it “on high temperature and taking enough time” before serving it.
The time and temperature depends on the size of the meat, she says. But she says cooking a big part, like a full limb, altogether might require up to 250 degree Celsius and above.
However, a mini-survey carried out by The New Times in a number of joints in the Southern Province reveals a worrying image.
In some places, mainly in the rural areas, pork roasters are fond of serving undercooked meat to clients.
In most places, pork is literary thrown in boiling cooking oil and usually cooked for less than ten minutes before it is served.
When the meat is served, it is clearly still red or pink, a sign that meat was undercooked.
“When white meat is still visible, it is a sign that the meat is undercooked,” Mutamuliza says.
She says in such a condition, consumers might later develop stomach pain, headache, vomiting and other signs characteristic to food poisoning.
Mutamuliza recommends that pork should be cooked until there is no pink visible.
Pokeya, the cook, says it usually takes him “up to 45 minutes or more” to get pork ready to be served to clients.
Jean Baptiste Nsengimana, the owner of one of the most popular pork joints in Huye town, says guaranteeing quality has enabled him beat off competitors for almost 14 years.
The businessman, better known among his clients as Gicumba, is among the first to have introduced a pork menu in the southern Butare town, having first ventured into it back in 2000.
“We have made health safety a priority and before serving clients, we ensure that the meat is sufficiently cooked,” Gicumba says.
However, residents in most rural areas seem the most vulnerable to such contamination as most of them remain ignorant of the risks of eating undercooked meat.
Alexis, one of the individuals we found ordering roasted pork around a market in the rural Gisagara District, told The New Times that he doesn’t verify whether what he eats is well cooked.
For him, he says, what matters is that the meat comes from boiling oil.
“I like pork because it is delicious. Whether it is sufficiently or insufficiently cooked is not my responsibility,” he says.