Dubai restaurant brings taste of Africa to the UAE

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Serving lunch consisting of beans, spinach and cabbage, goat and dried talapia in a ground peanut sauce in the Pacifi Hotel restaurant in Deira, Dubai June 20, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)
Serving lunch consisting of beans, spinach and cabbage, goat and dried talapia in a ground peanut sauce in the Pacifi Hotel restaurant in Deira, Dubai June 20, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)

By Yasin Kakande  www.thenational.ae

DUBAI // Along the busy streets of Deira, several restaurants cater to the tastes of African traders.

  Serving lunch consisting of beans, spinach and cabbage, goat and dried talapia in a ground peanut sauce in the Pacifi Hotel restaurant in Deira, Dubai June 20, 2011.  (Jeff Topping/The National)
Serving lunch consisting of beans, spinach and cabbage, goat and dried talapia in a ground peanut sauce in the Pacifi Hotel restaurant in Deira, Dubai June 20, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)

Among the most popular is the literally named African Restaurant at Pacific Hotel.

It serves up popular East African dishes such as matooke (a staple dish of Uganda, made from mashed bananas), ugali (maize meal), millet, cassava and sweet potatoes, alongside goat, chicken and beef stews or freshwater tilapia.

Mukyala Jamilla, friendly with the customers and serious with the staff, opened the restaurant in 2000. “It was my first business and I am grateful it was a success,” she said.

“I still take some time to supervise it when I’m in Dubai and co-ordinate its supplies while in Kampala.”

The African Restaurant gets all its food from Uganda, thanks to the five daily flights connecting Dubai to Kampala.

“It’s only a six- to seven-hour flight,” said Mohammed Salim, manager of the restaurant.

“That’s enough to collect all the food supplies when they are still fresh.”

The restaurant has a large refrigerator where it stores a few supplies, but fresh shipments are collected every day from Dubai International Airport.

“Our restaurant is best known for serving fresh matooke,” said Immy Kemihingo, 32, from Kenya, who works as the receptionist. “Visiting traders and expatriates from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi all come here for matooke.”

In East Africa, there are hundreds of different varieties of bananas and related dishes and each region has its own recipes. Matooke is the most popular variety in Uganda.

“Some Ugandan tribes believe the ownership of a matooke plantation is symbolic of a man’s passage to manhood and thus his capacity to marry,” Ms Kemihingo said.

Joseph Ssegendo, the head chef, does most of the matooke preparation.

He peels a bunch of bananas, still on the stalk, then ties up the peeled fingers in a bundle of banana leaves. The entire parcel is put in a cooking pan with just enough water to steam the leaves.

Strips and chunks cut from the banana tree stem are used to build a platform at the bottom of the cooking pan so the boiling water does not touch the matooke bundle. More info

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