Rwanda – Food and Drink for the Tourist

Part of the travel experience for me is eating and drinking. Food is such an intimate part of a region’s culture that I’m happy to try just about anything (I do have some limits).

Most traditional Rwandan food is simple: rice, stews of vegetables, meats are typically goat or beef meat, starches like cassava, potatoes and cooked bananas (similar to plantains). I had a lively discussion with one guide about “bananas”. The fruit banana, the sweeter one, is about half the length of what we call a banana in the US and much more flavorful. But also called bananas are the bigger, green ones only used for cooking. The best I could match this to is the plantain.

Shokola

The view at Shokola

One of the best places I ate was Shokola. It was one of our first places visited and it set the bar pretty high. I went out on a limb and tried the goat kabobs (brochettes) – and they were yum. There is a thing here in Rwanda were everything is cooked well done – some of the women I traveled with noted this is actually common in Africa as a whole.  While this is great from a bacteria standpoint, it also means many meats are cooked to the point of toughness. At Shokola the kabobs were well done but still tender – that takes some talent! There was avocado salad, couscous, all sorts of side dishes, great coffee and juices.

Tamarillos

Tamarillo or tree-tomato

And that brings me to the Tamarillo or the tree-tomato. We first tried it juiced at Shokola. It was a huge hit with the delegation in both juice and whole fruit form. It has the acidic nature of a tomato but has a berry taste, a bit like strawberry. I am probably not making it sound delicious, but it was. I drank so much of the juice and at the fruit whenever I could it, that I am surprised I didn’t turn a nice shade of dark red from consuming so much. Rumor has it that the fruit is also a “super food” so I didn’t bother limiting myself.

The food at the Hotel des Milles Collines pool bar was average. Pasta and pesto, fried fish sticks (also cooked well done), french fries, etc. I really wouldn’t recommend it except for those times when you just need to eat something and you are staying at that hotel. I also tried the high-end restaurant at the top of the hotel, Le Panorama. Very French in style, the food was creative and everything was good. Amuse-bouches were served on slabs of marble, the three course menu included a glass of white wine after you are seated, and the view out over Kigali was phenomenal. The service was very spot on and attentive.

Heaven Restaurant was a top winner of the week. Their menu is kept limited by using what is currently available at the markets and is ran by two ex-pats from the US. They focus on good cooking standards and excellent customer service. Oervice in Rwanda can be a bit slow and distracted – but not at Heaven. As with every restaurant I visited, the seating is in a covered outdoor area so always, always bug-spray yourself if the bugs find you tasty. Heaven has an interesting story, but their food and cocktails were top-notch. And yes, there was a cocktail with Tamarillo and vodka. And yes, I had one. Maybe two. The food is a mix of traditional East African food, French influences and Californian flair. The pricing is average – not cheap but not too high either. And you should really check out their book – it’s a great story about how they came to Rwanda and how it all happened. This video is also a great snapshot about the restaurant.

A surprise find was Meze Fresh – a burrito bar in Kigali off a small street out away from the ex-pat areas. The food was good, inexpensive and the hot sauce was actually very hot. All good things. We met one of the owners while we were walking out – turns out he is originally from California. Now the burrito concept begins to make some sense….

Meze Fresh

Meze Fresh

One place that came highly recommended was Pasha, another Mediterranean influenced restaurant. I was a bit dehydrated that night so I may not be able to give the best report, but I found it to be “okay”. The service was top-notch and the wine selection was good. A dinner for three ran about $75 USD with a bottle of wine – a great value. The layout is very lovely but I was a bit distracted by the TV running in an otherwise tranquil Turkish-feeling outdoor setting. The TV in every bar and restaurant is one US trend I hate to see coming to other places.

As I mentioned, the cocktails at Heaven were superb. Otherwise, in country, I stayed mostly with wine – they have many from Spain, Italy and South Africa. There is a local alcohol that is a beer brewed from bananas – one member of the delegation reported it as “yuck”. (That is an official culinary term!)

Most of this blog was written at Bourbon Coffee at the Kigali airport – my final food stop. They have decent food – mostly along the lines of what you would consider pub food. The tea and coffee are fantastic and the service is phenomenal. Best of all – they have free – and solid – wifi access. In fact, it is one of their marketing points! I brought home a bag of the Akagera region coffee and was sad I only brought back one. However, as it turns out, they are in the US and ship!

Bourbon Coffee

Bourbon Coffee

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