The first type of girl loves flesh.
She’s not squeamish around blood. She understands her knives and relishes their weight in her hands. She didn’t grow up on a farm, nor did she grow up around bovines. Or sheep. To mean, she can’t milk a cow. But then who can, really? Also her nails are “did”, not done, because once you cross a certain threshold, grammar is merely a suggestion. She has never seen a chicken get slaughtered. She doesn’t know that to milk a cow you tie its hind legs together but leave the tail to swish about. That flies are not lactose intolerant. She doesn’t go back to the village often because to get to her village you have to take a plane and land in a much smaller country with a much smaller GDP and a lot of farmlands that roll and tumble like disturbed sleep.
But she loves her meat.
And now she looks around The Local Grill at the Village Market and says, “it reminds me of this astonishing steak house I once ate in when I went to visit my boss in San Jose, California. It’s called Rok Steakhouse and Grill. They serve these premium steaks on sizzling hot volcanic rocks. It just blows your mind what they can do with meat! What’s the best steakhouse you have been to?”
You don’t quite know how to tell her that you are actually not big on red meat. Thankfully, a waitress rescues you before you can say Coco Jambo Restaurant. They engage in the kind of raw conversation that people who love flesh engage in while you switch off and read an email. “And you sir, would you also like a cocktail?” You say no, you would like red wine because you have been made to believe by meat-mongers that red meat has to be had with red wine, a rule that if broken will have you tied to a stake and flogged with a wet whip.
“This is nice,” she looks around the restaurant. You are seated upstairs. Wooden floors, matty colours, small, intimate and beefy on the flanks. At the end of the room is a private room with sliding doors where when the door opens you hear the hubbub of people laughing and forks hitting plates. In that room, you will learn later, those people have two chefs to tend to their carnivorous whims, a private kitchen adjourning it and all around them thousands of wines they can choose from. They paid Ksh.6,500 per person, in a room that can take 10 persons. That allows you to watch the chef do whatever you want him to do and a branded apron.
The head butcher at the Local Grill is an irony. He’s a trained biochemist turned butcher. He’s an eccentric fellow called Tony Siasi. He goes over to Morendat farm where they raise the cows that we will eat shortly and he hand picks the calves himself and visits them every month monitoring their grass feeding, making sure that they are happy cows because a happy cow makes for happy meat. After the happy cow is slaughtered he ages the meat himself. I told him I like my meat well done and he patiently urged me to have it medium because past medium, the meat loses all its juices. “It’s the juice you want.”
“You mean the blood?” you ask.
“No, the blood is drained off, what remains is the enzymes, that’s the juice of the meat.”
Fine, I will have some juice.
When the cocktail and wine arrive, the first type of girl is already talking about babies. She regularly volunteers at a children’s’ home that rescues and cares for abandoned babies, some who are HIV positive. She helps bathe and feed these babies. “They are so adorable.” She kept saying it over and over until you started listing down synonyms for the word adorable in your head and this got you distracted, as these things tend to, and when that happens it offends people because then they think you’re not interested in whatever they are saying. Or that you don’t love babies. You love babies…especially when they are napping.
The first type of girl is experiencing some sort of existential crisis. She says she is in love. She can’t stop thinking about that baby at the children’s home. She shows you a photo of the baby from her phone. “Isn’t she just adorable?” She asks, staring at you so intently, the only answer that can come out of you is yes. To be honest, the baby just looks like another baby; well-fed, soft round cheeks you want to smell and a small cute mouth. You see one baby, you have seen many babies. But this is the baby after her heart and you don’t want to be a prick about her baby so you say, “yeah, she really is adorable.”
The platter she ordered comes. It’s got three prime cuts of beef fillet, rump and sirloin. “Oh that looks amazing,” she says, looking at the meat with great tenderness. It does look amazing. She chews on a sirloin and for the first time since she sat at the table in her badassery black leather pants, she is quiet. She then puts the rump in her mouth and chews. You quickly figure that at this time you shouldn’t say a word, so you watch her. “Is it adorable?” You ask her. She says it’s amazing!
“I want to adopt her,” she announces.
She has been thinking about it for months now, she says. She wants to adopt that baby. “It’s crazy, right?” she chuckles, tucking a piece of dreadlock behind her ear.
“Crazy is good,” you say. “Babies need a home. And love.”
“Right?” She leans forward, her cleavage over the beautiful rump. (Not that her cleavage wasn’t).
“Yeah,” you say. “And you can afford it. Plus she will bring you greater purpose than golf.”
She laughs and points at you with her fork. Then orders another margarita.
The second girl was also obsessed but not with babies, but with death.
The Harvest Restaurant at Village Market’s TradeMark Hotel is the last place to be obsessed with death. Because it’s so bright and tasteful and highbrow. The second girl had just turned 33 and she had it in her head that, just like Jesus, this would be her year to die.
“How?” You inquired, “ how do you think you will die this year?”
You had a table for two, near one of the entrances that led to the balcony where more diners sat around their plates and conversations, eating morsels of moments. The room ran further inside, featuring partnered seats and wood, waiters scurrying about with trays bearing wine, clearing some tables, leaning over others with questions formed on their lips.
“Sometimes I think two men clad in all black on a motorbike will spray my car with bullets at a traffic light.”
You laugh. “You owe people money?”
“I’m serious,” she said and you looked up and realised she was, but not sure if she was serious about dying this year or the motorbike bit.
“Can I please have the Lamb Pollok, please,” she told the waitress. What the hell is a Lamb Pollock? You quickly turned the pages of the menu to the starter menu where you discovered that lamb pollok was just lamb broth, vegetable and Hungarian soup. There were initials GF and LF next to them that apparently means, Gluten Free and Lactose Free. This is how you knew she didn’t believe she would die this year. If I thought I was going to die this year, I’d not care if the food I was eating had arsenic on it, let alone gluten.
If you are wondering what kind of restaurant The Harvest is, they have starters from the land and starters from the sea. From the sea they have things like prawn cocktail mille-feuille. (Don’t know what that is). You wanted to be on solid ground, so you picked a starter from the land; chicken wings. (1,350/= Gulp). Those chicken wings had better know at least one song, you thought, because for that price you would like them to sing for you two songs.
“So,” you said, sipping your whisky, “why do you think you and Jesus will die on the same day? Why didn’t you think you would die at the same age as someone like Julius Caesar, or Bibi Titi.”
“No, who is the other person you mentioned?”
“Was that a real person?”
“Yeah, she was a Tanzanian freedom fighter.”
“And she was called Bibi Titi?” Raised eyebrow.
“You are lying.” She laughed looking around the restaurant.
So you Googled Bibi Titi and showed her. She read her bio from her phone with mild consternation, not of her achievement’s you suspected but by the fact that she was called Bibi Titi. She was sipping wine, a Merlot, through the red of her lips.
The second girl at The Village thinks she will die at 33 because of her religious orientation, you suspected. She attended a very religiously inclined girls institution along Waiyaki Way that instilled certain dogma in her that she says she has been trying to shake off.
A small kitchen gargle of kitchen staff led by a man playing a happy birthday tune from his sax weaved through tables to a table with a family with a young boy celebrating his birthday. You liked how the boy’s sister, chin in small hands, looked like she was about to strangle her brother. She was so envious of him and his candles. Throughout the evening, that crew would come out about five times. It seemed suddenly everybody was celebrating their birthday.
“If something like that happened to me,” you say, looking at the entourage, “I’d run out of the restaurant before they get to my table.”
“Why?” she turned to look at you.
“I hate loud birthdays,” you say. “Spectacle. Of people coming out of the kitchen banging pots like it’s an exorcism.”
“Why?” She asks. “Why do you hate being celebrated on your birthday?”
“It can be done quietly, can’t it? Without hullabaloo.”
“I guess.” She said as the starters arrived. The chicken wings sang the national anthem and one song by Otile Brown, you don’t remember which.
“I think I only got over my attitude towards sex when I was 26 or 27 years. It took leaving, studying in schools that were not overtly religious, dating, reading up. But it doesn’t go away completely. I don’t feel guilty anymore for being a sexual being.”
“So you no longer wear t-shirts and switch off sex lights during sex.”
She laughed. At the next table, a West African-looking man was amorously serenading a curvy woman in a red dress. He had one of those ostentatious crocodile skin half-loafers.
For mains you go back to sea and have something called Nile Perch Meuniere. Grilled vegetables, baby potatoes and meuniere sauce. She had the Lamb Shoulder; coconut bean stew, sweet potato mash, tossed cherry tomatoes.
“I don’t think you will die this year,” you say, “know why?”
“Because you are anticipating it. Death likes to steal. It hates you to take the joy of theft from it.”
She chewed her Lamb shoulder thoughtfully. A waitress sat another cocktail before the lady in red dress. She sipped it coquettishly and sat it back on the table. The man was literally massaging her arms now.
The third girl is late.
Not just 12 minutes late, we are talking 40 mins late. The lateness that makes dinner a pre- breakfast event. Why not then just have eggs and toast? She waltzes in Karel T Lounge restaurant at the Village Market (I’m sure by now you have realised that this is the “village” referenced in the title). She’s looking devastating and unremorseful because she’s the type that likes to be waited upon. Her dress flows and sweeps, hugs and slits. When she sits, another slit suddenly opens on her side, spilling a great revelation of skin. She smells like a field of Honeysuckle. Her neck looks nectarous.
You are both piqued and bemused.
You are on your second glass of brandy so your tongue is loose. “An apology will be nice,” you grumble. She says nothing because she’s grown up and besides the waitress is standing there, greeting her, handing her the menu. Karel T Lounge is exquisite in taste. Its environment is swish. Upstairs, where you sit, is the perfect place for romance, instead a storm is brewing. She orders vodka and ice which comes with a soda water. A cluster of three friends sit at the next table in various forms of black dresses, chokers and golden dangly jewelries celebrating a birthday. A very long table spots about 15 corporate types – Koreans, a smattering of black guys and a woman – celebrating a business deal of sorts.
“Come on, don’t rabble rouse,” she says. “Lighten up.”
Rabble rouse. Who speaks like that? You somehow get into it and then it’s hissing between teeth and spewing thorned whispers while the waitress, Lydia, tries to do her job professionally by smiling demurely and recommending starters and mains.
Lydia dances around the mood at your table, around the hard stares and rolled eyes and terse conversation while not being intrusive but also giving you guys space to fight to the death. When you order another brandy she says, “are you not driving?”
You look away just as her Pork Loin and your Fish of the Day arrive. Hers is grilled with fresh thyme flavour with sauteed fresh apples and mixed seasonal vegetables. Yours is grilled sea-fish with assorted vegetables, potatoes and something called the citronette sauce. The presentation is artful. It looks so good you don’t want to pollute the chef’s handiwork.
“Enjoy your dinner,” lovely Lydia says with a smile, bowing away from the ring.
This is her favourite restaurant. She can eat here daily if she could. She says everything on the mains is good, especially the garlic prawns, the Ossobuco and the salmon. You eat in brief silence before she nods at the table full of corporate guys and sniffs, “hmm, there is a company that is all about gender inclusion. I bet the HR is a man.”
“Or maybe she is the HR,” you counter, referring to the one lady.
“She’s doing an excellent job then,” she says, “holding the door wide open for women.”
That makes you chuckle. You look at the group, a Kenyan is standing up giving a small speech while holding a bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold which he proceeds to elbow on the base (that’s how you know he’s Kenyan) before going around pouring everybody a finger.
“Most likely engineers,” she says.
You nod and chew on your lovely fish.
Lydia, inspired by the change of mood, is suddenly at the table, asking brightly how the fish is? The fish is marvelous, the restaurant is amazing, thank you. And the Pork Loin, ma’am? Ma’am says the pork is peachy, thank you. They exchange exaggerated smiles.
At some point she will excuse herself to go powder her nose and come back saying,” have you been to their washrooms? I don’t know about the gents but the tiling in the ladies is sick.” So you go downstairs to the men’s room. The sliding door is wooden, heavy and rustic. The tiling is sick. Indeed.
The last girl is trying to lose weight but loves pasta.
She sits at Le Casa De Nico Ristorante at Village Market looking at the menu and sighing endlessly as she reads out loud all the pastas in her ridiculous Italian accent: Ravioli Alla Salsa di Funghi, Tagliatelle Con Agnello e peperoni, Ravioli Pomodoro e Basilico…on and and on she goes. Then she reads the mains menu; grilled meat platter, grilled seafood imperial…”uuu, mama mia” she says looking up, batting her eyelids, grilled salmon, linguine lobster, ravioli salmon and prawns, tagliatelle calamari and prawns, red snapper with lemon and white wine sauce…”you should have that!” She drops the menu and her shoulders slump dramatically and she says, “I can’t. I can’t handle this temptation.” You are chuckling.
Steve, the waiter, drags a massive blackboard bearing the day’s menu and asks for the drinks order. He recommends some sort of red. The restaurant is lit just right for dinner. Candles burn on tables. The tablecloth is checked. It’s Italy but at Village Market. You don’t recall if there was music. Maybe the food is the music at Le Casa De Nico Ristorante.
Steve places a Bruschetta with tomato and basil at the table. It’s a complimentary starter. “Oh no, please don’t. Please.” She pleads, addressing the Bruschetta not Steve. She then picks one and sprinkles what you imagine to be vinegar on it and takes a bite and chews with eyes closed. “I’m off wheat! What are you guys doing?” she says. You exchange looks with Steve and chuckle.
She gulps three more slices. “It really is not my fault.” She cries. “We have a bread curse in our family. I think it’s a generational curse.”
Your mains come. She has the Linguine Lobster, you have the red snapper with lemon and white wine which is simply the most delicious thing you have ever eaten in many many years. If food could attain any form of perfection and balance, it’s that dish. It’s a gorgeous evening. She’s self deprecating and funny. She makes Steve and yourself laugh. She respects her food, addresses it sometimes, looks at it like they just met and it’s love at first sight, compliments it, affirms it, all as she dabs the side of her lips with a napkin and says made up things in a phoney Italian accent. When she’s done, when her plate is cleared she leans back and says, “I should feel really bad and ashamed for eating all that bread and clearing all that astonishing lobster, but I don’t. Does that make me a bad person?” You laugh. That’s all you seemed to have done the whole evening; laugh.
A French couple walks in with a small boy about six. The mother pushes another little one in a pram. Trailing them is a black woman that we take for a nanny. She’s motherly, wearing a blue kitenge dress with a shawl thrown around her shoulders. When she passes, the girl tells you, “did you see that woman’s face? She’s regal. She looks wealthy. Do you think she is a nanny?” You saw the woman’s face. She looked very dignified. Their table was joined by more couples with more children. They hugged and kissed each other like the French do. They all hugged and kissed the dignified black woman. The children threw their tiny hands around her neck and planted kisses on her cheeks. They looked like respectable children. I noticed the black woman was having a White Cap while watching over the toddler. The kids jostled and joshed around the table as their parents sipped wine and laughed. Candles flickered on tables.
“You know,” the lady said looking over at their table, “I wonder about a woman like her. Dedicating your life and time towards another person’s children while your own are being looked at by someone else. Loving someone’s children as your own, knowing what they love and hate, what their allergies are, sharing their special moments in school and their bad moments.” She paused. “But then your own…you are away from them. They are loved by other people. Because you have to work, you sacrifice. Do they understand that their mother has to love other children in order to take care of them? To school them and clothe them? Do they understand the sacrifice of that kind of love? Or will they resent her when they are older for not being there as much as they want her to be?”
She sighed and looked at you. You are speechless, of course.
She lowered her head and looked down at her napkin. She suddenly looked sad. She looked close to tears.
The Village Market has a Foodie Experience.
Thing is, nobody should eat alone. It’s sad. And unnatural. Night runners eat alone. The experience of eating with someone is beyond the food.