Ramadhan Food Vendors of Mombasa

Ramadhan Food Vendors of Mombasa

Most of my non-Muslim friends wonder how I’m able to go whole day without food or drink in observance of fasting in Ramadhan. They think it is tough. What is more fascinating to them is finding out fasting is something we are introduced to at a very tender age. I remember my first full day of dry fast, I was about eight years old.

Before you imagine getting an eight year old to fast is torture, let me tell you it is quite the contrary. An exciting challenge to be precise. A chance to prove to everyone in your world that you too can do it. An opportunity to send a hidden message that you are not a kid any more. Even your friends in the hood are fasting, you want to fit in. People have teasingly been referring to you as Kobe, a nickname for people who eat at day time in Ramadhan. At that age you have no grasp over the religious implications of fasting. You can’t connect to its health benefits yet. But it is your one way out of people calling you Kobe.

I am yet to meet a person who doesn’t remember their first time to fast story. I’m also yet to understand why people that do not fast are called Kobe, which means tortoise!

A full day of no food or drinks is an achievement that gets your entire family bragging over how big you have become. One that warrants you receiving presents or money. You fast a day or two on your first attempt. Then wait for next year to fast more days because the challenge is now breaking your previous record. Before you know it, you are fasting an entire month just as you are able to understand fasting is a spiritual obligation. Call it a gradual initiation into adulthood.

I would fast until midday then ask for food. This is how you start actually, skip breakfast then claim fasting half a day! But on the 27th day of this Ramadhan, I was way after 5pm and my mind was set on completing it. I could sense everyone making a big deal out of it checking up on me every couple of seconds like I was dying or something. I was doing it, this was to be my first time to fast a full day. My throat was completely parched. It felt drier than a crocodile’s back basking in the tropical sun. I was not relenting. Dad gave me some money to go buy Madafu.

“Then make sure you put them in the fridge!”


“They will be cold and nice!”

“Okay! How many do I buy?”

“As much as you want!”

I procured enough coconut juice to quench a camel that had transverse across the Kalahari.

Came the Adhan and gallons of cold fluids were gushing down my tiny esophagus. Mum made pineapple juice that day. The best juice I have ever had to this day. I took lots of it. I don’t recall the foods that day but I remember the drinks. Then it was time for the cold coconut juice. I kept saying ‘dad you’re my hero’ at every sip. To top it off, he got me a can of cold passion soda. I wasn’t leaving it behind no way no how! I took it down too followed by running to the bathroom to throw up everything I had taken that evening.

Pure bliss!

* * *

Walk around Old Town, Mombasa, during Ramadhan and you might get a picture as to why some people mistake Ramadhan as a month of feasting. Food vendors are widespread selling all sorts of snacks to be eaten at dusk at break of fast. Food enticing to look at, delicious to eat and cheap too! Two hundred shillings (roughly $2) is enough to satiate a full grown person.

According to Islam, fasting aims at building a person’s spirituality by not eating and drinking during day time. But Abraham Maslow got it spot on, food is the mother of all needs. This becomes clear as a bell throughout Ramadhan. The lack of food overshadows every intent and purpose of Ramadhan. It spirals people into feasting mode. Nights become all about the best foods and drinks money can buy.

Despite its shortcomings like not being the tidiest of towns on earth, Mombasa is still a spectacular destination for travelers; rich history, sandy beaches and impeccable Swahili cuisine make it a preferred destination. Ramadhan however, adds food vendors as an attraction to enjoy. At least one that I recommend. They offer an opportunity to sample a wide range of Swahili cuisine in one spot. They are all over Mombasa but one place they have formed a food market is along Abdel Nasser Road. This seasonal market stretches out along the road for about four hundred meters.

No one really knows how this seasonal food market came to be but I have seen it there every Ramadhan as far back as my memory can push. It must have started with one entrepreneur thinking they could sell food to hungry Muslims in Mombasa. Business must have been good and the next person thought they might as well try it too. Sooner or later, the place is a fully fledged seasonal food market. I came across a video on social media of a similar market somewhere in Yemen. The idea could have come from there perhaps considering it is where a good number of Mombasa residents draw their ancestry from.

The hygiene is certainly not five star. The market is on a busy street to begin with. Vehicles pass literally not more than three meters away leaving dust and smoke flying over the food. Even tuk-tuks make way through some parts of the place. The vendors cover their wrists with small plastic bags as gloves to avoid contamination. They swing folded newspapers in every direction to swat away flies on the open food. There is no control over the preparation since it is done in the proprietors’ kitchens. I can guarantee they have no clearance for a clean bill of health from the relevant authorities. The vendors are the only ones that can attest to the standards in play. But, do not let these hitches deter you from the food though, seriously. I still recommend it. I’ve been consuming it from this place for years now and I’m yet to get sick.

The food is undeniably delicious. Try it if you ever get the chance!

The Madafu still tastes epic when cold! You’re my hero, dad!

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