Affordable Swahili cuisine at Mama Nilishe Restaurant
What you need to know:
Mama Nilishe Restaurant, Adlife Plaza, near Yaya Center, Kilimani
I have tried several restaurants in Nairobi in my quest for authentic Coastal/Swahili food; from restaurants, and vibandaskis to upscale hotels. I have experienced proper Swahili meals, though expensive, and I've seen other establishments struggle to make these popular dishes. I have also consumed a good amount of "Pilau Njeri" from cafes that market themselves as Swahili eateries.
This time, my quest took me to Mall 66 in Nairobi, which is across Adlife Plaza and close to Yaya Center. This was inspired by an Instagram video I had seen that had me drooling and willing to take a risk in finding an authentic Swahili restaurant. Dim lighting, slow jazz music, or spectacular décor were not what I expected, but what I discovered was more than that. The restaurant features an outside space with wooden pallet seats surrounded by the alley and is made up of several stalls that serve as private indoor dining spaces.
We were lucky to get seats in the white-themed outdoor area even though it was a busy Friday afternoon. It is well-lit, and airy, with artificial plants hanging from the see-through ceiling, making it look stunning. I suppose this is the latest craze in Nairobi restaurants.
We used the table card to get the menu and place our orders. The six-page menu includes the main courses, side dishes, breakfast dishes, and non-alcoholic beverages. Our main courses were chicken biryani, coconut fish (samaki wa kupika), and pilau, with tamarind and passion juice for drinks. All we had to do was ring a small bell, and a waitress would come over to take our orders. We could smell the aroma as we eagerly waited for our food. Our food was ready in about 20 minutes thanks to the fast service. It was served in large wooden bowls, with sauces separated in smaller calabash-style flatware. The presentation was simple but elegant, with everything fitting perfectly in the bowl.
I was sold after one bite of the pilau! It was the best pilau I'd had in a long time. The biryani chicken was tender, flavourful, juicy, and fluffy, with coriander garnishing. The coconut fish was also delicious, especially when dipped in the special sauce. We were 30 minutes into our lunch and there was still food in our bowls. That demonstrates how large their portions are. At Sh550 for chicken biryani, Sh900 for coconut fish with pilau, and Sh200 for juices, it is one of the most affordable Swahili Cuisine restaurants I have visited.