I was reading a book during lunch (as I often do) so I didn’t notice the fly land in my teacup. Nor did I see its last desperate struggle to free itself before succumbing to a sweet, milky demise. I did manage to notice it as I was lifting the cup to my lips, but before I had drunk of it, which I’ll count as a blessing. I skimmed the insect off the top with a spoon, closely inspected the surface for a missed wing or something equally unpleasant, and hesitantly took a sip. It tasted fine. I drained the cup.

I am adjacent to bustling little town, so I have a wide variety of dining options when I choose not to cook (cooking in Kenya is another entry entirely.) On one end of the spectrum, you can buy fried potatoes (not French fries, but like … soft potato hunks dipped in egg and fried) or small, spit-roasted fish from women on the side of the road for a few shillings. It’s not going to win any hygiene commendations, but I’ve never had a bad experience (knock on wood) and both items are shockingly delicious. Good option if you’re of a strong constitution and/or short on cash.

Next up in price, you have little open-air “Swahili cafes,” which all serve about the same things for about the same prices. These include such Kenyan standards as sekuma wiki (kale), maharagwe (beans), chapati (fried flatbread), mchicha (bitter local greens), samosas (little fried dough pouches of meat and onions), and ugali (maize flour formed into a solid mass). Often, the selection is complemented by local specialties, such as samaki (grilled whole fish) or pillau (rice prepared with spices and a sprinkling of meat – my favorite). Most of these can be altered by the addition of fresh coconut while cooking, which gives a milky appearance to the juices and a taste that’s vaguely reminiscent of sunblock. I’m kind of indifferent to the coconut thing, honestly, but it’s very popular. Some of these establishments have menus, but those are best employed in waving the flies off your table: they don’t cook every item every day, so your first statement when walking in, even before “Where can I sit,” is “What do you have?” Or, in the Kiswahili, ”Una vyakula gani leo mchana?” (You have foods which today afternoon?)

PCV/visitor sidenote: try the sekuma na wali at the Station View. Even better than the stuff in Loitokitok.

General sidenote: It’s called Station View because it’s across the street from the police station. Bonus points for skipping the creative bullshit, but is it really a view if there’s nothing exciting to look at?

Most of these cafes have a selection of tempting warm Fanta flavors to offer you, and those that don’t keep them on hand are generally happy to send a random small child off the street scurrying to a nearby duka (shack/store) to fetch some. If you feel like being a bit of a devil and enjoying a cold Tusker beer with your meal … you’re S.O.L. B.Y.O. or go to a bar.

This is usually where my dining-out habits hit their limit, since I mostly cook for myself and can’t afford to eat out at fancy places often. From here, however, there are indeed more options. A trip to the touristy Italian part of town will yield all sorts of little bistros serving espresso, crepes, and Dantean delicacies for a price that may be reasonable by European standards but makes me shriek and clutch my wallet (150 shillings for a cup of coffee? Really?) There’s also a pizza place somewhere in that area, but I haven’t found it yet. It’s good to know that if I’m ever on the verge of a nervous breakdown without something involving cheese, I can make that work.

In terms of upper-class dining, the sky is the limit. Or … so I’m told. I’m only a few kilometers from some major tourist resorts that are rumored to have a mind-boggling variety of fine ethnic dining options. Italian (duh), French, Indian, Greek, Ethiopian. I haven’t found a Chinese place, sadly, so my craving for lo mein may remain unsatiated for the next 23 months. This is also where most of the higher quality fish is sold, to feed the holidaying masses in their pricey hotels. It’s great for local fisherman, but does little to put meat – a pricey addition to meals most anywhere in Kenya – in the hands of people who could benefit from the heart-healthy protein choice.

If the number of choices is overwhelming to you and you find yourself going “Dammit, I just want a banana,” then you can be accommodated. Fruit is available year-round in this tropical little slice of paradise, but don’t expect to pay village prices. A medium-sized banana starts at 5 shillings a pop, and a medium-sized pineapple will set you back 40 shillings or more. If you’re craving mandafu, or unripe coconut, you’re in luck: a dude on a bicycle rides around selling them 7 days a week, and would happily machete the top off of one for you to enjoy on the spot. Mmmm … salty, fruity, vitamin C-infused fat-water.

(Stay tuned later this week for how I feed myself when I make the fiscally reasonable choice to eat in.)

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