Kenya Curry – Curious Case

When planning our 2013 New Year’s Eve break I blithely thought a “Fireside Supper” sounded like fun for the day before the day before the end of the year, followed by a more formal dinner on The Eve itself. As always I leaped in without considering the consequences and it was only as the auspicious date loomed that I started wondering what exactly it was – something cosy and comforting, perhaps a one-pot meal, a laptop sort of feast. A Moroccan spread sprang to mind, or maybe paella, or ………. what? It caused me several sleepless nights trying to imagine the fireside supper and regretting my tendency to embrace my brainwaves so irrevocably.

It was my younger daughter who reminded me of the Kenya curry with taka taka that I used to prepare when she was small. Eureka, I thought, and started a list.

I learned to cook this dish years ago during a sojourn in just post colonial East Africa. On my first Sunday in Uganda new friends enthusiastically introduced me to “the Kenya curry” at the Lake Vic Hotel in Entebbe. They showed me how to heap up my plate with a volcano of rice, several meaty curries, dahl and then the taka-taka – dozens of small dishes of sweet and sour, crunchy and succulent tastes – such as peanuts, pineapple, banana, tomato and onion and all manner of chutneys. Each subsequent dip into the volcano is a unique eruption of taste.

taka takaAs many years had passed since preparing it, I scanned the internet for ideas on taka-taka.  I am no mean researcher but could find no mention. Hard to believe – everything is on the net. Whatever you want to know is there. Why no taka-taka? I sent a message to a Facebook “friend” who lives in Mombasa and was puzzled when she replied that she had never heard of taka-taka (which means rubbish in Swahili and her comment was what a strange word to use for food). Curiouser and curiouser.

But then it came to me. This was not an African concept but a colonial one. Pile it up, take it all, wallow in the plenty. And all the colonials who might have written about it have either gone to the great empire in the sky or are too ancient to care. But now it is recorded for all time and you read it first here!

P.S. A friend who lived in similar times in East Africa knew immediately what I meant but said her mother referred to this fabulous feast as a “21 Boy Curry” – the more “boys” you had to carry in and pass around the dishes, the better off you were. The boys incidentally were men, not boys which just another little imperial putdown.