Chapati & Curry: Indian & Kenyan Cuisines Have More In Common Than You Thought - Homegrown

Chapati & Curry: Indian & Kenyan Cuisines Have More In Common Than You Thought

Many instances and repercussions of the British rule not just in India, but various parts of the world go unnoticed. The light shines on the main events and atrocities, and while they deserve their own attention, many other consequences, or by-products, if you will, took place that shaped how the world works today.

In a rather less talked about subject, we explore how the cuisines and food of India and Kenya show shades of similarities. One country in the South of Asia and another on the East coast of Africa, in fact, have more in common through food than one would imagine.

The similarities root from the Indian influence on the African subcontinent under the British rule. As Indians were made to travel to Kenya, they took with them their knowledge of the Indian cuisine — traders from Gujarat were followed by labourers from Punjab. The former set up shops throughout the country whereas the latter were key in building the Kenya-Uganda railway line.

The humble chapati plays a pivotal role in this tale. At the time, Kenya did not spend much of their space and energy on cultivating wheat — they would instead grow millet or sorghum. The Britishers demanded to eat wheat, and as one knows, in the 19th Century, what the Britisher demanded, the Britisher received. To cater to their specific asks, the Punjabi labourers began to grow wheat for the Britishers and consumed it themselves, too. From the wheat, chapatis were made, which then travelled all through Kenya (thanks to the railways built by the Indians). The Gujarati traders played a role, too, by setting up mills and selling wheat flour to make chapatis. With the popularisation of wheat and its chapati, many cafeterias came to be set up.

This was not it — there was also an influence of Goans on the Kenyans. According to The Economic Times, Indian-Kenyan historian Clifford Pereira clarifies that this happened because “the trading and political links between East Africa and British India were based in the Bombay Presidency.” This essentially pointed to the fact that whatever was a fad in Bombay, worked as one in East Africa, too. At the time, every British officer had a Goan cook — and so, they, too, travelled to Africa along with all their Indian culinary expertise.

So, now, there was a combination of Gujaratis, Punjabis and Goans in Africa. The use of fresh chillies, coriander and the like quickly caught on in parts of Kenya and the influence can be seen even today. Dishes that resemble curries, accompanied by chapatis came to be considered as whole meals and quickly spread across the country. In fact, if you were to look at Maharagwe ya Nazi, a Swahili dish, you would have to look twice to differentiate it from regular Indian Rajma — the difference being that the Swahili version uses coconut milk.

While the similarities in Indian and Kenyan cuisines are a direct effect of British colonisation, the food does not disappoint. Made with fresh ingredients and sometimes accompanied by soft chapatis, it is hard to turn away.

The two countries may not have too much in common, but knowing that we have food that is similar definitely introduces a soft spot.

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