“This ain’t Berkeley,” remarks Anthony Bourdain as he and comedian W. Kamau Bell travel to ‘the motherland’ of Kenya and discover the unique cultures and foods of the African nation. For long-time Bourdain fans, you already know that this episode is auspicious: it is the final episode that features Tony’s narration before his death in 2018.
Anthony Bourdain visited Kenya just once, to film season 12 (episode 1) of Parts Unknown; the episode was meant to kick off a unique season of traveling with meaningful companions to places Tony wanted us to see, but it was not his only visit to East Africa – or even Africa as a whole.
Unfortunately, despite Tony’s narration, the episode lacks much detail if you’re curious about the places visited by W. Kamau Bell and Anthony Bourdain in Kenya. If you’re able to fill in the gaps, please share in the comments below; otherwise, you can use this as a guide to some of the foods to seek out during your own adventures.
Unnamed Diner (Nairobi)
Beginning in the capital of Nairobi, Bourdain and Bell discuss culture shock over a few bottles of Tusker, the local beer in this part of the world.
There is also an introductory meal of grilled tilapia fish and ugali. Ugali is a staple of the African diet in one form or another and is a type of a type of corn meal made from maize or corn flour. This mixture is then boiled until it reaches a dough-like consistency and is served as a vital filling element of many meals on the African continent.
Unnamed Restaurant (Nairobi)
Following a few rounds of drinks with local business entrepreneurs, and meeting with members of the Kibera Creative Arts Collective, Tony and Bell visit Boxgirls, a local boxing organization helping young women with training and self defense.
Here they enjoy a traditional Swahili meal, which forms a deep part of Kenyan cuisine and is born of Indian, Arab, and Persian influences. There is mahamri bread made with cardamom, mchicha, a type of East African spinach which is sauteed until soft, as well as beans with onion in coconut milk, and a main dish of chicken biriyani with masala, ginger, turmeric, and eggs.
Traditionally a South Asian dish, biriyani consists of mixed rice spiced with cardamom and saffron, together with fried onions and marinated meat that provide warmth and subtle heat to the dish.
Streetside Food Shack (Nairobi)
For their next stop, Bourdain and Bell experience firsthand the rowdy culture of the matatu, a type of privately owned minibus known in Nairobi for its party atmosphere and bass-pumping sound systems.
Meeting with matatu blogger and photographer Brian Wanyama and legendary matatu conductor Lucia Alessandra Murotto, Bourdain takes great delight in introducing Bell to some of the more hands-on street food options that he is known for.
On offer at this particular roadside shack is goat head soup, though as Bell is quick to realize it’s less soup and more goat’s head. The animal’s head is first slow-cooked in a broth, before being split in half and served directly to the table. The meat, be it cheek or brain, is then pulled off by hand and eaten, all washed down with more Tusker beers.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
There is no better way to see the Africa of dreams and films than by taking a safari drive, and Bourdain and Bell experience the wildlife of this beautiful world under constant threat.
Following gin and tonics served at a spectacular vista overlooking the rolling savannah, they dine with Mike Watson, the CEO of the conservancy, with a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and black coffee on trestle tables amongst the grasslands.
Masai Village (Lewa Wildlife Conservancy)
For their final stop, Bourdain once again delights in introducing Bell to a more typical Bourdain-esque treat. This time, the Masai villagers living within the Lewa conservancy are happy to oblige with a treat of cow’s blood.
With blood being essential to the Masai as a food source, the somewhat unfortunate cow in question is not killed but merely ‘milked’ for its blood by way of a sharp incision in its neck. The fresh blood is collected via a warm jet of arterial blood into a gourd canteen, to which is added some thick clotting milk (also from the cow) to form a rudimentary and nutritionally dense milkshake.
Thankfully for Bell, there is also a more straightforward accompanying meal of grilled meat, served over hot coals, together with rice.
As the pair eat, the villagers around them rejoice as the rain begins to fall. It’s a poignant end to the last episode narrated by Bourdain during his career. Enjoying a meal in this beautiful world, feeling the cool rain on their shoulders.
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Kenya, or what he ate? Let me know in the comments below.