Friday, December 26, 2014

French 124

The last week of class was on French cuisine. As has been the tradition for the semester we cooked a meal in relation with the topic. The end result was quite incredible, we had a complete five course meal. From a starter to desert not to forget the background music. I think its safe to say that was my favourite and saddest session ever. Favourite because we all came up with such nice dishes and having done it before we had corrected on what we seem to have forgotten or gotten wrong the other two times. Everything came into place well. The saddest was it was my last class. Who would have ever thought that a class in French culture could be so informative, entertaining, i kid you not, there was never a dull moment where I regretted on picking the class.

You know those things you always know but when asked how you know or if what you are actually saying is a fact? I had those those moment so many times during these class. Marie Antoinette for example I've read and watched movies that have impersonated or mentioned her love for cakes and sadly that is as far as my knowledge of her went. Why France is known as the city of lights? Other sketchy information I had heard of but had no idea were related to France. In short, nothing could have prepared me for what we learnt during this Fre 124. 

For those having doubts about picking this class there is absolutely nothing to be unsure about. It was a breath of fresh air during the semester. Do not get me wrong, it is as important as any other unit. Am just saying that I personally could not wait for Friday. Am sure am not the only one. Happy holidays and thank you Dr. Wandia for the unforgettable experience. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Does it  sometimes ever bother ,  feel bored  here in Daystar when you have to attend lectures of the so called Professors and Doctors? Don’t you get stressed up when you have to turn pages of your note book, spending sleepless nights writing term papers in readiness for the CATS, Quizzes and the final semester exams? I do and am not alone.

It’s  equally important attending these lectures. However, being in the same environment-Daystar doing things the same way, the same style year come year go, I consider it what the French French would say ‘ Tres ennuyeux!!’( very boring). Therefore doing things differently in the same , surrounding also builds one confidence and, enhances better learning in campus
Voila!!! You just got it right when you enter in her French lectures-Dr. Wandia Njoya’s . No written monitored  EXAMINATION. Lot’s of interesting activities: Shopping and cooking different cuisines and eating, watching films and listening to music thus discussing about them . Who doesn’t like stories? I am pretty sure you would. Her stories would leave you so! So! So! so! Jealous and having the need to listen to more. Dr. just comes down to your age group- talking and laughing. C’est cool ‘ it’s cool’  That was the lecture to be in, for that was the place, for anywhere around the place was not the place. All complete with my outgoing classmates that Dr. Wandia would call them “ Les belles/ jolies dames” meaning the beautiful ladies. Nina who asks for sweets in every lecture Ahaaaaaa!!! Very sorrowful and sympathetic in heart  as I would describe her  And Maya – the biblical Peter, who could curiously ask questions, fascinated with fashion and wanting to learn some French words.

I wouldn’t miss such opportunity when it’s there again and so do you. Please, please ,please you should not miss registering for the French class. Such a great semester Indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Bon appetit!

The final class of FRE 124 ended on a good note as we chose to sample French food to end the semester. I was more nervous than excited when I began searching for recipes of French cuisine. Unlike the recipes of dishes from Haiti and West Africa, French recipes had hundreds of variations which made it difficult for me to choose the most authentic French dish. It took me a while to go through the thousands of online recipes, I even watched You Tube videos on how to prepare the dishes. However, I finally settled on two main dishes and an appetizer which I submitted to a class guest to make for the class.

Pork Roast

I love eating pork and so when I discovered it is part of French cuisine, I did not hesitate in choosing this for the main course. In France, stews are more commonly used when cooking pork than roasts. However, French-style pork stew would take me about three hours to prepare and since I knew I would be short of time in the morning, I decided to make the pork roast.
The first step (done the night before) was to debone the pork ribs and insert garlic slivers into the flesh for added flavor. This was followed by tying up the pork to give it a good shape. I then began making a marinade for the pork which consisted of ketchup, mustard, thyme, marjoram, balsamic vinegar and honey. I coated the pork in the marinade and placed it in a plastic container where it would marinade overnight.

Pork in the marinade

The next morning, I was up early and I started out by heating a baking tin on the stove with juice from the marinade along with added herbs like rosemary and basil. I also threw in some diced carrots. This was to prepare the tin for baking the pork and ensure maximum flavor is achieved. Herbs de Provence was a term that frequently popped up when I was searching for recipes. It is a combination of dried herbs used to add flavor in several French dishes. The main herbs being savory, marjoram, thyme and oregano. Unfortunately this exotic blend is not available in Nairobi and so I used the individual herbs that were available locally. Finally it was time to put the pork in the oven to cook for the next forty five minutes. This dish was a combination of several different recipes found online (recipes are at the end of this post) and most of all the making of a professional chef who I helped me make this dish.

The finished pork roast sprinkled with coriander leaves

Vegetable Ratatouille

I enjoyed watching the 2007 animation, Ratatouille, which featured a rat, Remy, that also happened to be a culinary master. In one of the clips in the movie he made this dish which won the heart of a tough food critic. I resolved to make this dish and see if my cooking skills could match Remy's.
I was able to get most of the ingredients required in making this dish except summer squash, which is not available locally however one can substitute it with pumpkin.

I began by preparing the vegetables the night before to make things easier in the morning. This involves dicing up red onions, yellow capsicum, tomatoes and garlic which were put in a plastic bowl and sealed with cling foil then placed in the fridge to maintain freshness. The same was done separately for courgettes or zuchinni with some olive oil and thyme drizzled and sprinkled on them.

From left: Sliced courgettes and diced assorted vegetables in a separate bowl

After, finishing up the pork I began on the ratatouille. First, I fried diced white onion in a pan with oil and added the assorted vegetables after the onions were golden. Chopped herbs were then added. The vegetables for about ten to fifteen minutes and they were ready to be taken out the heat.

Frying the vegetables

Next was to cook the courgettes in low heat for them to be relatively cooked through. I would warm the dish before class and thus I did not want to overcook them.

Cooking the courgettes

My favorite part in making the dish was placing it in the casserole dish in a pattern that gave the ratatouille a layered look. I began with tomatoes at the bottom, followed by the cooked vegetables and lastly the courgettes at the top.

Layering the ratatouille

I chose not to bake the dish as all the ingredients were well cooked. However, if you want your ratatouille to be cooked further you can place it in the oven for about 30 minutes and you can add shaved or sliced cheese on top, prior to baking.

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup is a popular entrĂ©e dish among the French and goes well with sliced baguette bread spread with butter on top. We used butternut pumpkin which is widely available in Nairobi. The process began by dicing an onion and frying it in a sauce pan. Freshly made chicken stock was then added followed by large chopped chunks of the butternut and mixed herbs.  This boiled for about half an hour as I attended to the ratatouille. I then turned off the heat and placed the cooked ingredients into a blender to blend into a smooth sauce. After blending I put the soup back into the sauce pan to cook further and added black pepper and salt to taste. Another twenty minutes and voila!, the soup was ready.

The pumpkin soup served up

It had an amazing time cooking the dishes and unfolding French cuisine practically at home. I would like to acknowledge Greta Hakim, a professional chef and family friend, and Claire Kariuki, my class guest and aunt, for being of invaluable help when making these three dishes. I am eternally grateful!

The three dishes were also eaten along with other appetizing French dishes from Nina and Dr. Wandia. We had Piperade (made by Nina), Aligot and Beef burginion in the main course and also mouth-watering Fruit tarts and Madelines brought by Dr.Wandia and Crepes made by Nina for dessert.


Pork roast:

Vegetable Ratatouille:

Pumpkin soup:

Saturday, December 6, 2014


"Tigadeguena" is a popular dish in Mali which is chicken in peanut sauce. It was definitely my first pick when I was searching for a dish to make for class the next week. My undying love for chicken was also a great motivator to creating this dish and so I immediately set out to find the ingredients in good time.

Chicken in peanut sauce
I was up early that Friday morning and prepared the kitchen with all the essentials I needed to cook. I had bought a whole chicken a day before and had it cut into pieces by the butcher (my knifing skills are not that impressive). I fried the chicken in a little oil till it was brown on both sides and removed it from the pan to set it aside. I then fried onion and garlic in the same pan and put in some tomato paste for added flavor. I then returned the chicken back into pan and added the peanut sauce which gave off a tantalizing aroma. Finally, I added some water and spices to taste and let the chicken simmer for a while until it was ready. The chicken is traditionally served with plantains or a plate of rice. A more detailed recipe can be found here along with other dishes widely enjoyed in Mali.

I discovered other great dishes from Mali worth trying out:

Maasa- these are sweet millet fritters served as a snack or as an accompaniment to soup.

Akara- this is a dish of fried bean balls.

Couscous de Timbuktu- these are granules of wheat cooked by steaming.

Meni-Meniyong- this is a sesame honey sweet.

Kulikuli- these are deep fried peanut biscuits

Djablani- it is a popular West African beverage made of hibiscus juice and ginger. Perfect for quenching one's thirst under the scorching Sahara sun!

From Left: Maasa, Akara, Couscous de Timbuktu, Meni Meniyong, Kulikuli and Djablani

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Republique du Mali

"One people, one goal, one faith." This is the national motto of the Republic of Mali, a land-locked country in West Africa. When I was informed that I will be presenting on Mali during one of our classes I was very excited. When I think of Mali ancient towns rich in history and desert tribes with an enduring culture comes into mind. Being the self-proclaimed "culturalist" (if such a word ever exists) that I am, I set to researching as soon as possible.

Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled the Trans-Saharan trade. In the Mali empire, the ancient cities of Djenne and Timbuktu were centers of trade and Islamic learning. Disciplines like Mathematics, Astronomy, Literature and Art were taught.
In 1960, Mali achieved independence from the French and established itself as a democratic and multi-party state in 1991. The country has a majority of Muslims with 55% of the population practicing Islam. Malians speak Bambara as their national language and the state's capital city is located in Bamako.

Ancient Sankore University in Timbuktu

People of Mali

Mali has a wide variety of ethnic groups. The major ethnic group is the Mande which is made up of the Bambara, Maninke and Soninke sub-groups. The Mande people make up 50% of the population. The other half of the population is made up of Fula, Gur-speakers, Songhai people, Tuaregs and Moors and lastly Europeans.

I found the Tuareg ethnic group most interesting as they dwell in the remote regions of the Sahara desert. They have an Afro-Arabic ancestry and live a nomadic lifestyle by traversing the desert on camel back. The Tuareg men traditionally wear a Tagelmust which is a cloth that serves as both a turban and a veil. The cloth is practical for the desert as it provides protection from the harsh desert conditions. It is usually dyed using indigo and this is known to stain the skin of the Tagelmust wearer permanently. As such the Tuareg are often reffered to as the "Blue men of the desert."

From left: Fulani man, Tuareg man and Maninke woman

"Dama Dance" of the Dogon people

In the south of Mali is the Dogon Village of Songha. The Dogon people practice a traditional religion that involves the beliefs of spirits. The people hold a traditional dance known as the "Dama Dance" every sixty years! The dance is carried out to create a bridge to the supernatural world.

Dama Dance

The Dogon community is popular among stargazers due to their advanced astronomical knowledge. French anthropologist, Marcel Griaule, studied and interacted with the Dogon people. Marcel reported that the Dogon people have knowledge about Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. I found it amazing how the Dogon people possess such information yet they do not have access to star-gazing instruments. This shows the great power of oral tradition as this information is believed to have been passed down from generation to generation over the years. You can read more on the Dogon people here.


A griot or jeli is a West African story teller, historian, praise singer, poet or musician. The griot uses oral tradition to pass down information to his tribes people and he passes this down to his descendants to continue passing on the community's history to other generations. They tell tales of the community's past, sing songs of praise about certain individuals while playing a xhalam and even make political commentaries. Griots are celebrated in Mali and thus the Association of Bamako Griots was established in Mali.
 I think this is such a beautiful way of preserving culture and a community's history for years to come.  

A griot holding a xhalam

Fashion in Mali

Malian fashion is strongly influenced by traditional fashion and style. Traditional textiles include:


This means "made from mud" in Bambara. It is a West African textile that is dyed red or yellow. Mud from the River Niger is applied on the fabric and a rich black color is produced once the fabric is dry and washed off.

Bogolan textile

Indigo Clothing

This is a fabric that is dyed using the indigo-dyeing method which involves obtaining dye from local plant sources e.g. dried balls of crushed leaves of indigo bearing plants, and dipping the cloth in fermented dye, drying the fabric and then beating it to impart a shiny glaze.

Indigo cloths

 During my research on major players in the Mali fashion industry, I came across Aboubakar Fofana, a famous Malian designer well known for his expertise in indigo-dyeing. He resides in both Paris and Bamako, with his workshop based in Bamako. Aboubakar uses an environmentally-friendly process of producing organically dyed indigo cloths. More information about Aboubakar's unique fashion technique can be found here.

Aboubakar Fofana

Hawa Diawara, is the other personality that I came across in my research of Malian fashion. At the age of 17 she started modeling and she is now a popular fashion model in the United States.

Hawa Diawara

 Malian Music

Malian music is ethnically diverse with the Mandinka community having the greatest influence over the country's music.
The music's diversity depends on which ethnic group it hails from. Mande music, Tuareg music, Fula Music and Songhay music make up Malian music.

Popular Malian Musicians

Salif Keita

He is an afro-pop singer and song-writer from Mali. He descends from Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali empire. His music combines traditional West African styles with influences from both Europe and America. Salif suffers from albinism and one of his albums, "La Difference" is dedicated to the struggle of the world's albino community.

Salif Keita

Habib Koite

He is a solo singer, songwriter and guitarist based in Mali. Habib's vocal style is intimate and relaxed, emphasizing calm, moody singing. His first album, "Muso Ko" rose to number 3 on the European World Music charts.

Habib Koite



This Malian band has got to be my greatest new obsession in the African music scene. Tinariwen, meaning deserts in Tamasheq (Tuareg language) is a group of musicians from the Sahara desert. The band members are all of Tuareg descent and the band has received world wide acknowledgement for their unique rhythm influenced by Rai music. The band currently has nine active members with their lead singer being Ibrahim Ag Alhabib. In 2012, the band won the Grammy Award for Best World Music album for their album Tassili.

Tinariwen's album cover for Tassili

I gained so much knowledge as I learnt more and more about Mali's culture. Every day my eyes are opened and made more aware on how rich Africa's culture is and how we should take necessary measures to preserve it. In my opinion, establishing a griot school in Kenya would be a great start:)