A night out on the roadside eateries

It is past midnight and as I jump out of a taxi on reaching Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali. My nose is treated to a very appetizing aroma of bacon and fried eggs mixed with chapatti.
The writer tries out his cooking skills at Mama Uwera’s roadside eatery
The writer tries out his cooking skills at Mama Uwera’s roadside eatery

It is past midnight and as I jump out of a taxi on reaching Nyamirambo, a suburb of Kigali. My nose is treated to a very appetizing aroma of bacon and fried eggs mixed with chapatti.

Am beginning to thank God that at last I have found a 24/7 restaurant, but I am mistaken, there is no such a thing. In sight are a long line of street vendors engrossed in making chapatti for a line of hungry customers fighting to be served first.

Though there are many places where you can find a decent meal in Kigali; you can also pick up food from vendors on the street, or enjoy dinner at a 5 star restaurant.  You can spend Rwf300 or $100, all depending on your taste and budget and of course, the occasion.  But it all depends on where you go.

For many low-income earners, there is only one choice and so they are the major customers for these chapatti makers on California Street in Nyamirambo.

As I order for a big one of three eggs and two chapattis, remember that goes for Rwf500, I engage Mama Uwera, the entrepreneur of the lucrative chapatti business that she runs along side her small eating place. 

She says to most, it’s convenient and requires no additional preparation like setting a table or serving on a plate, they just take it away.

“Most of our customers choose to buy food here because of one primary reason, the taste of the chapattis and the convenience and availability during the wee hours of the morning” says Mama Uwera.

In the current economy, many are trying to save money any way we can. As living on a budget becomes more important, it can be extremely helpful to look at how to stretch your food francs and still eat a healthy diet. Fortunately, there are many creative ways to do this.

As the line shortens, one Alicia, a customer who over hears our conversations chips in; “Unless you’re living on a limitless budget while staying in Kigali City, you’ll find it helpful to plan to have a few cheap meals.”

 But she also adds that they are not attracted by cheap prices only. “These chapattis are not only cheap; they are kind of addictive when it comes to taste and my kids wont have anything else for supper” she says.

She however adds that the time to prepare meals after work is also a problem. “I work up to very late when our pub closes, mostly after mid night; so one idea when you don’t feel like cooking is to help yourself to these chapattis which makes a nutritious but inexpensive lunch or dinner anytime.”

Another buyer, a man who declines to give his name says they eat this meal everyday only because of their low income. Given chance, he says he would prefer to eat a better meal.

 “Just because you’re trying to eat on the cheap, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to savour some of Kigali’s best food and restaurants! We just can’t afford the luxury.”

Mama Uwera is a mother of ten and employee two chapatti makers who work up to early morning, depending on the demand of a particular day.

Jean Munyurwa, 28, goes by the street name Tough Gang. His specialty is making “Rolex”; a made out of rolling Chapatti and fried eggs together. He makes and sells them to customers who range from bachelors to married couples and full house holds.

His gear consists of a wooden low table that works as the cooking, baking and wrapping table for the Rolexe, a stool, a big heated charcoal stove and a basin for washing utensils. 

Most of Tough Gang’s cooking, frying, grilling or baking is carried out in the open next to the side walk.

Personal hygiene

Though Tough Gang takes pride in his high level of hygiene, during such a process, sometimes raw materials and food may come into contact with cooked food, which is then consumed without further heating.

It is obvious that these chapatti makers may need to maintain attention not only on the food they offer, but the cleanliness of their small business.

Whether providing food on-the-go or a sit-down meal, many believe that the cleanliness of a restaurant, including the restroom, is part of a customer’s dining experience and will determine whether they come back the next day or later.

There are many chapatti vendors along the street in the same trade with Tough Gang. Their personal hygiene as well as food hygiene and sanitation are very limited.

Tough Gang like most of his colleagues has no education. The result is that he may not understand the necessity of maintaining hygiene to the highest standards, though he claims otherwise.

So as Tough Gang takes me through the process of making a giant Rolex, I cannot help noticing that the water used for drinking, washing, cleaning and other operations is some how below acceptable quality and is insufficient.

Stationary food stalls often do not have direct access to water supply. Many vendors wash their utensils in water that has been used previously, perhaps several times.

Because most of the trade in Nyamirambo is done at night, one may not be keen to notice that most of them are wearing dirty clothes not to mention the dirt around the cooking table. The result, I can only guess is an upset stomach if not worse.


But the clients keep coming

According to Mama Uwera, the number of customers catered for by each vendor varies from place to place in Nyamirambo.

 “I am not very sure but sometimes, I cater for 250-300 people a day and that goes for the other vendors.”

The numbers of customers I realize, vary depending on the time of the day, reaching a peak during the evening hours and well past midnight.

 As, the clock ticks towards 4am, I think of heading home , having witnessed all manner of people carry away food from California street. I leave wondering if all those people have the ability to withstand the consequences in case the food causes an upset stomach.

I always pride myself of being a ‘hardbody’ who can eat most food however ill prepared and get away with it. So I have no worries, but is everyone who consumes this food as hard as me! 

With this experience, I realize that one needs not consume such food if there are options. All it takes is some little knowledge, time, and planning. It is possible to enjoy healthy food on the cheap.