Time moves fast when you start picking stuff to buy. Wednesday is considered the market day here. Men and women in their numbers, shoulders rubbing against each other, other times chests bumping into each other. If you are not careful to check where you are stepping, your feet are bound to get into potholes. The chaos in Gikomba market is like that of Mathare mental hospital where patients scream their heads off except in Gikomba, it is people in their right minds going gaga.
There is no time to even blink because a luggage carrier passing through the tiny footpaths will hit your head if you do. The market is segmented into sections depending on what you want to buy: food, clothes, shoes, beddings, bags and whatnot. Let’s focus on the food section of the market. Here, you will be welcomed by a melody of birds that can’t fly, chickens. Chickens on the leash, others roaming free, some breathing their last as the knife in the hand of chicken ‘killer’ slits their throats and prepares them for buyers. Koo! Koo! Koo! The melody goes. The smell of blood hits your nose and leaves you nauseated, literally.
It is my first time at the food section. I need to master the shortcuts to get there for my next time. This is also my first time to see so much food in one place. This market is different from the one I know back in my village.
I stand at the mouth of the market my hands on my waist wondering where to start. I walk towards the women selling vegetables. I inspect some before putting them in the bag in my hand. I suddenly develop a taste for fish and decide to go to the vendors selling them. Tilapia and fillets seem to be preferred by the vendors but there is also another kind of fish, the Silver Cyprinid or omena if you will. I wonder if they taste as good as they look. I buy a kilo of the Silver Cyprinid and a kilo of some fillets. This would be the first time I cook and eat omena.
As I turn to leave, I stop and ask the seller if she knows how to prepare omena. The plump woman looks at me in utmost disbelief then ask, “which part of Kenya do you come from?” I smile and start walking away. As I keep walking, the woman yells and asks me to go back.
“I am sorry customer. It’s just that no one has ever asked me how the Kisumu boys are prepared” “Kisumu boys?” I ask. “Yes, son. In some quarters, that’s how they are referred to. Preparing omena is so simple especially if you do it the traditional way. Forget the folk who pretend to be chefs and tell people to prepare with lots of spices. All you need is hot water to wash them, rinse in cold water then fry with onions if you prefer the crispy kind. If not, you can fry with tomatoes and some coriander then add salt to taste. Simple. No need to be too dramatic with spices.”
“Thank you, mama. I will go prepare them as you’ve instructed.”
“You are welcome. Seriously though, which part of Kenya do you come from?” she chuckles.
“I come from Kiambu County.”
“Please eehh, don’t drown the omena in soup like you Central people do to all your dishes. All the calcium and vitamin will drown in that soup.”
“Hahahahahaha”, we both laugh.
Later that evening, I roll up my sleeves ready to embark on the test of my life. My friends Onyi and Wafula are coming over to put my test to the taste. Today would be the day I’d prove that Central Kenya people are made for so much more than just githeri. I start preparing the omena as instructed by the vendor. I am too careful not to miss any of the steps. The result, mouthwatering omena. But my friends would be the judge of that.
They arrive and find me finishing up the ugali. It is going to be an omena fiesta tonight. They wash their hands and eagerly wait to sample my dish. I place the ugali and omena on the table mat together with the side plates.
“Gentlemen, there is a password required to eat the meal before you this evening, just tell me the English name for omena. If not, I am afraid, I will have this gigantic ugali to myself.” Wafula and Onyi scratch their heads. But Onyi quickly jumps in, “come on Kamaa, it has been a long day. Let’s not do this. Who cares what the English name for omena is. All I know is they are called omena or dagaa in Swahili or Kisumu boys in other quarters.”
“Well, at least you know the Swahili name. I am just messing with you boys. Anyway boys, let’s devour these boys, shall we?” we all laugh as we took off our shirts ready to get down to eating. The boys enjoy the meal and Onyi from Nyanza Kenya admitted that I beat him to cooking omena. But Onyi is really good at making githeri so we are even.
I couldn’t wait to go back to Gikomba and tell mama how the meal was.
Narrated by Kamaa, formerly githeri man but now Kisumu boys man with no apologies.