Jun 292013

The best part of our Diani weekend probably includes our best meal in Kenya so far–yes, I said it!  Best meal in Kenya so far.  We went to Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant on Saturday night, which is a famous restaurant in Diani literally set inside a coral cave.  We were tipped off by our diving buddies earlier in the day that we should make reservations (they were also going that night for the second night in a row) so we did that as soon as we got back from diving.  The restaurant will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel which is really nice.

We had no idea what to expect when we arrived, but it was even more beautiful than I imagined.  When you think coral cave, you think dark and maybe a little…damp?  Well they have decorated the place amazingly, and it was very warmly lit with a huge opening at the top so you can see the stars.  Very very romantic.

Beautiful Coral Cave

Beautiful Coral Cave

We started with a great wine from Simonsig, one of our favorite South Africa wineries.  We had visited Simonsig during our 3 month stint in Cape Town during business school and it’s still just as fantastic.  Sometimes it’s hard to get really good wine in Nairobi, even at the nice restaurants.  Mike had prawns in this to-die-for sauce and I got the grilled lobster.  So so good.  I was thinking to myself maybe the trip to Diani is worth it just for this meal!



 June 29, 2013  Posted by at 3:35 pm Diani, Food, Kenya Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 232013

Last month, Mike and I decided to do a weekend getaway in Diani, a town on the Kenyan coast, just south of Mombasa.  We didn’t take any days off, just left on a Friday evening as it’s a 1 hr flight from Nairobi to Mombasa.  It was low season so we didn’t have any problems booking hotels or flights.

I think if we were to do it again, we would probably take at least a day off to make it a 3 day weekend.  Friday night – Sunday is just too short for the travel logistics that are involved.  Fridays are the worst for traffic in Nairobi and even though we left at 5pm for the airport, we didn’t get there until 7:30pm.  We almost missed our flight!  We got there 30 min before take off and they let us through.  Whew!  The flight is quick but then to get to Diani it’s an hour and a half taxi ride — mostly it takes this long because you have to wait for the ferry.  We don’t arrive at the hotel until around 11pm and we hadn’t eaten dinner.  Luckily, the hotel had dinner waiting for us.  We stayed at Southern Palms Resort.  It’s a huge complex and it must get really crowded during busy season, but it was a bit cavernous while we were there during low season.  The pools are huge and winding all around but the rooms probably need a bit of updating.

Swim Up Bar

Swim Up Bar

I was fascinated by these yellow weaver birds who had made their nests in the waterways in between the hotel lobby and restaurant.  They would loudly chirp all day and weave their little nests.  There were so many of them!  Mike and I watched one weaver for a long time as it took down an old nest and then started a brand new nest from one long blade of grass.  It’s pretty incredible that the birds know how to build those with just their beaks and feet.  In order to get to the bottom of the nest, they would hang upside down and beat their wings to keep themselves up while weaving the nest.  I feel like I notice the birds a lot more here–partially because there’s just so many more here (nature!) and also they’re usually brightly colored or unusually patterned.

Amazing Yellow Weaver

Amazing Yellow Weaver

The first morning we got up really early and went diving with Diani Marine.  The first dive was a wreck dive that was sunk for diving and the other one was a reef dive.  Diani Marine was a good shop but definitely expensive.  I think compared to the diving we experienced in Indonesia, we are really spoiled!  The diving was good, but not great.  Hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to wake up at the crack of dawn after getting in so late the night before!  But pretty much everything closes on Sundays in Kenya, so Saturday was our only option.  After we got back to the hotel, it started pouring…ahh, low season.  But we played a mean game of ping pong. =)  Mike always has very low expectations of my hand-eye coordination skills (rightly so), but I think I impressed him and surprised myself with the ping pong skills.

The next day was a beautiful sunny day and we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves at the beach and pool.  Diani is known for its beautiful white sands.  The sands were definitely super soft, powdery, and white but I think during low season there is more seaweed washed in from the rains.  It’s still beautiful, nevertheless.  The only reason we didn’t spend more time out on the beach is because you tend to get harassed by “beach boy” selling boat rides and crafts.

Soft Seaweed Drifting

Soft Seaweed Drifting

White Sands

White Sands

All weekend, we kept seeing this mysterious set of blonde twins, dressed exactly the same, walking around the resort.  They were very distinct, with blunt cut platinum blonde hair, super pale, and very tall and skinny.  It was so bizarre!  We felt like we were in the twilight zone and the other hotel guests seemed to think the same too, since everyone would stare at them.  Turns out they were German and were shooting some sort of TV program at the hotel.  Wild.

Strange Twins...

Strange Twins…

We didn’t want to leave when the time came–just needed one more day!  Next time, when our parents come visit us in August, we will check out Watamu which is 2 hours north of Mombasa.  It will be closer to high season then, so we will see how it is up there.

Hypercolor Lizard

Hypercolor Lizard

 June 23, 2013  Posted by at 2:49 pm Attractions, Diani, Kenya Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Apr 212013

Last night Mike and I met two other couples at Little Sheep Hot Pot on Ngong Rd.  It’s just west of Adams Arcade, Green House.  Little Sheep is a restaurant chain in China and has quite a few locations in the US too.  My mom and I went to the one in Beijing in 2008.  It’s debatable whether or not the one in Nairobi is an official chain or if they just took the logo and name. 😉  The restaurant is literally in someone’s house that was converted, so the dining tables are in 3 different rooms, complete with floral wallpaper and paper lanterns and decorative fans hanging.

There were the classic two broths, chicken herbal and spicy.  Sometimes the spicy broth is way too hot for me with the Sichuan peppercorns, but last night it wasn’t too bad–just right!  I ended up using the spicy broth the most.

Our Meat and Vegetables Cooking in the Herbal Broth and Hot and Spicy Broth

Our Meat and Vegetables Cooking in the Herbal Broth and Hot and Spicy Broth

With 6 people, we got to order a bunch of different plates: thinly sliced lamb and beef, lotus root, two different types of noodles, seaweed, dong tofu, shitake, tofu skin and sheets, dumplings, and fish balls.  And believe me, we ate it all!  Our heat plate wasn’t working and then we blew a fuse, so they had to replace it.  There was a lot of fiddling with the outlet and the extension cord under Mike’s seat.  So it took a while to get it boiling so we were hungry by the time we could eat the food.  The good was great–I’ve really missed hot pot!  Reminds me of when we were in China and we had it all the time there.  I think that’s where Mike got sick of hot pot. 😉

The owners of the restaurant are really nice.  They’re from China (we think Jiangsu province?) and apparently they’ve been in Africa for 10-15 years.  She was really cute, coming over and speaking Chinese to us and saying “I like to listen in on your table since you speak such good English!” (there were 3 Chinese speakers are our table).  There’s quite a large Chinese population here; I think someone told me 30,000 Chinese in Nairobi?!  So quite cool that you get the “real” Chinese food in Nairobi, not American Chinese food.  Funny, huh?

For dessert, we topped it off with sweet sesame soup dumplings (tang yuan).  Yum!  Hope we go back soon.

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot - Thumbs Up!

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot – Thumbs Up!

 April 21, 2013  Posted by at 4:11 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Feb 172013

Last weekend, one of my coworkers took me out on Saturday night to a local restaurant called Pots and Palms.  It’s on Riverside Drive in the Office Park (yes, an office park called Office Park).  I got there first and sat at the bar to wait for my friend and I’m pretty sure I was the only non-African there and looking conspicuous.  Then my phone was running out of juice and I needed to save the battery to call a driver to pick me up afterwards, so I just sat at the bar drinking my Coke looking around.  Really hard to sit still by yourself at a bar while waiting for someone!

Anyway, she arrived and I had some roast chicken and chips masala (spicy fries).  Food was regular pub-type food but the real reason people go to Pots and Palms is the live band.  I guess it’s Congo style and they played music from all different African countries.  The band was awesome and played non-stop, no breaks for at least 2 hours.   A lot of people are regulars (like my coworker Beatrice) and the band knows your favorite song.  No one was dancing at first but then they started to play her favorite song so she dragged me on the dance floor and pretty soon lots of people joined in.  Then the dancing just kept going all night.  It was a ton of fun and the music was fantastic.  I’ll have to get the songs from her so I can share here.  Beatrice told the lead singer my name, so then of course every song he was calling me up to dance and chanting “Christina!” randomly throughout the songs.  Hilarious!  The band was definitely a funny mix – the lead singer who was from Congo but wearing a traditional Nigerian costume, the blind keyboard player wearing a bow tie, and the drummer in a baseball cap, and a saxophone player.

Great Live Music at Pots and Palms

Great Live Music at Pots and Palms

This was when Mike was still in Mozambique for work so it was ladies night for me and Beatrice.  I’ll have to bring him back another time.

 February 17, 2013  Posted by at 4:26 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
Feb 042013

One of the first trips I did when I got back in January was to Accra, Ghana.  The flight is about 5.5-6 hours from Nairobi—quite a distance!  I had a 3 day business trip where I was going to run a digital workshop there.  I didn’t have much of a chance to sightsee since I was rushing home to make it back to celebrate my birthday with my hubby.  Accra is like a more developed version of Dar I would say.  What was hilarious was I found out One Direction was in Accra the same days as me because in the digital workshop I decided to see what was trending on #ghana.  Ha!

Sunrise from My Hotel Window

Sunrise from My Hotel Window

I did get to see a little bit of Accra one night when a coworker was nice enough to take me out.  Accra is much more like Dar, with its hot humid weather and its along the coast.  I didn’t get to see the beach during the day, but I heard it’s pretty nice.  My coworker took me to a Chinese restaurant (because I’m Chinese?) on Oxford Street which is a busy, happening street downtown.  The food was okay but I suspect we didn’t order what the Chinese people order when they eat there. =)  Then we went to Tawale, which is a reggae beach bar right on the sand.  The reggae was LOUD.  Wow, I could not hear a thing.  But for a Wednesday night, there were a decent number of people out.

The thing I loved most about Ghana was the food!!!  Wow, it was so good and this is just me having the food that was provided at lunch at our workshop.  It was spicy and had so much flavor.  One day we had spicy goat light soup.  They call their clear broth soups “light” versus the thicker groundnut soups.  I actually thought it was beef at first, the goat didn’t taste gamey at all and was really tender.    A lot of dishes are accompanied by banku, which is fermented corn and cassava dough and tastes like sourdough.  The maize version here in Nairobi is called ugali but doesn’t really have much of a flavor.  I really loved the banku.  A great combination with the spicy dishes.  Then there was spicy mushrooms and yam leaves.  I must get the recipes from my coworkers there and I’ll be sure to share them here!

Spicy Chicken Stew with Rice

Spicy Chicken Stew with Rice

All in all, I really loved Accra and hopefully next time Mike and I can go visit together and for longer.

 February 4, 2013  Posted by at 5:33 pm Accra, Food, Ghana Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Nov 052012

Probably the food I might miss the most over here is good sushi.  We had heard that there was decent sushi at Osaka here on the Peninsula.  While we were viewing apartments with our broker, he mentioned it was going to be torn down and relocated (to build an apartment complex) so we had better go eat there soon.  Osaka is one the pricier side, but we had decided that we should do one nice date dinner a month, so this was our date night. =)  It’s located further down on the Peninsula closer to Oyster Bay near Toure Drive.  There’s a yellow Savannah Cider ad on the street you have to turn on off of Toure Drive with “Osaka” on it.  It’s hard to find if it’s dark and looks like you’re pulling up to someone’s gated house.

Inside, it’s a big thatch roof covered outdoor area with red and white Japanese lanterns hanging.  Very nice ambiance.  They actually had 4-5 teppanyaki stations in there so I felt like I was at Benihana!  I love Benihana growing up and we used to go every year for my birthday.  Good memories.  We didn’t sit at a teppanyaki station since it’s better for a big group or you have to wait for other people to show up to share the station.  There were several big tables having teppanyaki though and they put on a show just like at Benihana!

Inside Osaka Restaurant

Once a Month Date Night

We started with a shrimp and avocado salad, which was good and fresh and had a miso-like dressing on it.  The avocados are good here and remind me of home in California.

Yummy Shrimp and Avocado Salad

We ordered a sushi combo with nigiri and one roll.  The fish was actually really fresh and tender, didn’t taste fishy at all!  Very impressed.  The only thing was these were definitely pre-made and put in the fridge—you can tell since the rice was cold and stuck together stiffly.  You know, I can’t complain, the fish tasted good, so maybe sashimi next time versus nigiri?

Sushi Combo – Nice Presentation Right?

For our other entrée, we got a teppanyaki grilled steak with garlic sauce that they cook in the kitchen.  The meat was really tender and had great flavors.  It came with a side of sautéed vegetables too.  Overall, we enjoyed the dinner and will definitely check out the new location when it opens up.  It is pricier than the other restaurants here though.  Our bill with two drinks came out to about $60 USD, which I guess is nothing compared to what we used to spend in NYC, but a lot with our new adjusted budget for living here.  Glad we tried it though and I got my sushi fix in.

Nov 042012

One of our last nights in Nairobi, we went out to dinner at a restaurant nearby.  We didn’t have many dinners to eat out together since Mike had dinners for his conference.  Our friend Mbwana recommended Habeesha for Ethiopian food, so we went there.  There was a ton of traffic even at night to get there, so we took some back roads.  It’s a really nice place with a huge outdoor seating area.  There is good space between the tables so you feel pretty spread out with trees growing everywhere.  Thursday night there was really popular and most of the tables were full.

For dinner, we ordered the vegetarian sampler along with the waiter’s recommendation: fried goat meat.  The fried goat meat came out and was seasoned with fresh rosemary.  It was actually quite good!  Great flavor but a little on the tougher side.  All the vegetarian dishes were awesome as usual.  I’m obsessed with Ethiopian food here, it’s so good!

Fried Goat Meat

Our Spread at Habeesha

 November 4, 2012  Posted by at 8:18 am Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Oct 312012

My first week in Dar, I met one of Mike’s coworkers Drew at lunch.  When it came up that I liked to dance, he said that one of his friends, Karen, teaches hip hop here. (!) So I got really excited and we were introduced over email.  I went to her class at Nanasi (in Oysterbay Shopping Center) and we found out we had so much in common…almost too much in common!  Both Chinese and from LA, both went to Berkeley, both were president of Danceworx at Berkeley…she was just 3 years after me.  Craziness!  And to meet in Dar, of all places.  She’s currently in the middle of her two year fellowship here with the CDC.  Anyway, class was a lot of fun but I did take it with probably an 11 year old and a 14 year old. Hehe.  So maybe I will try teaching once I get settled here.

Anyway, Karen and I bonded and we decided to go get Chinese food.  She mentioned that there was a good one downtown since I asked her if there were any good Chinese restaurants here.  She lives in Upanga, which is a neighborhood closer to town and popular with younger people.  Her apartment building complex is huge and really really nice.  We would definitely consider this if we were working downtown, but it’ll probably be easiest to stay on the Peninsula.

We went to the restaurant downtown with her coworker Lindsay.  It’s called Tai Huo San Zhuang Restaurant, which roughly translates into Sun and Mountain Seafood Restaurant.  The restaurant is on Jamhuri St. right next to the police post (it’s actually on Google Maps!).  When we went in, it was a smoke filled place—ahh…feels like I’m back in China.  But the restaurant was definitely filled with Chinese people!  There is actually a large Chinese population here.  They are all here building the roads and buildings since China is investing heavily in Africa.  The menu seemed pretty Americanized, but Karen and I could make out some of the Chinese to order some “usuals.” We got Sichuan beef, hong shao tofu, vegetable in bird’s nest, and a chicken mi fun (rice noodles).  It was all really good!  I was impressed.  Good Chinese food in Dar.  Sichuan beef and the tofu were my favorites.  Hong shao just means “red-cooked” which means you have soy sauce, sugar, star anise, and rice wine.

I’m mad at myself because I was so distracted by the food that I forgot to take pictures until it was all gone.  Oops!  Next time.  But I did manage to take a photo as we were leaving the restaurant. =)

Tai Huo San Zhuang Chinese Restaurant

Pretty Good Chinese Food in Dar!

Oct 292012

Currently we’re staying at one of Mike’s coworkers apartment while she’s on holiday for 3 weeks.  I can’t tell you how nice it is to get out of the hotel and into an actual apartment with a kitchen!  I was getting really tired of eating every single meal out.  We’re staying in Oysterbay and walking distance to Oysterbay Shopping Center.  People don’t really walk here since most places are not within walking distance, but the shopping center is close enough for me to walk to yoga class or for us to grab brunch on the weekend.

When you first get to the plaza, you have no idea that you’ve arrived because you can’t see any shops from the outside, just a parking lot and sides of buildings.  I was so confused.  But once you get inside, there’s a little courtyard with a bunch of little shops around.  I don’t know what I expecting, maybe a strip mall?  But I’m finding that most shopping centers don’t look like much from the outside and once you go in you’re in a courtyard usually.

Black Tomato is the restaurant we usually default to for weekend breakfast.  They have good breakfast wraps, that’s always what I order.  Cappuccinos are good but the iced coffees are super milky and sugary.  Mike got the omelette and that was tasty as well.

My usual – breakfast wrap with egg, avocado, and cheese

Black Tomato Courtyard

There’s a vegetable market on the outside corner of the plaza where I’ve gotten eggs from.  6 loose eggs for about a dollar.  I haven’t gotten much else but the bell peppers and green beans look good.  They even have fennel and two different types of avocados.

Small Vegetable Stall at Oysterbay Shopping Center

You buy however many eggs you want and take them away in a plastic bag

Pili Pili hot peppers, garlic, ginger, and cucumbers

Cabbage, green beans, bell peppers, and carrots

I can’t wait to cook more and play around with the vegetables some more.  I went to another vegetable shop called the Green Market which has some nice things but when I was cutting the broccoli, I found a live bug and multiple egg sacs!  Definitely traumatized.  The woman whose apartment we’re staying at says she usually soaks her vegetables in diluted bleach before she cooks them so we tried that.  I had never heard of this but Mike says in Peace Corps everyone soaks vegetables in bleach.  I guess on the bottle it says to use it to disinfect baby bottles, so hopefully it’s not that bad?  Not sure, maybe I will try baking soda instead.  Needless to say, the broccoli went in the trash and I will be carefully inspecting my vegetables from now on!

Oct 282012

Our friend Sunil from business school introduced us via Facebook to some friends of his who have been living in Dar for 10 years, Nisha and Alpesh.  They are both originally from here and after living in the US for a long time and going to undergrad, they came back here.  So they took us to a popular restaurant called in Addis in Dar to eat Ethiopian food.  I really like Ethiopian food, but I’m guessing Ethiopian food in the States doesn’t even compare to what you would get here.  And I was right!  It was so delicious.  Usually I like all the vegetarian dishes and not the meat dishes like doro wot, but at Addis in Dar they were all really good.  The spices and sauces were just spot on and I couldn’t stop eating.  Our favorites were the chickpea and lentil dishes.  Mike says my problem is I have too much injera to sauce ratio so I always fill up on injera.  For those of you who haven’t tried it, injera is like a sponge-like tortilla that covers the bottom of the dish and you have rolls of it that you tear off little pieces and eat with.  You tear off a bite size piece and you scoop up the food with the injera.  The injera has a mild sour taste like sourdough.  All of this you usually wash down with sweet Ethiopian tej, or honey wine.

I know this photo doesn’t make it look appetizing but trust me, it’s amazing!  Clockwise from top it’s lentils, egg curry, shrimp, chicken doro wot, and chickpeas.

Delicious Ethiopian Spread

Addis in Dar has great ambience; there is all this outdoor seating and it was definitely packed on a Friday night.  I think this will be one of my favorite restaurants here!  In fact, we are going again tonight. =)