My office is located in the heart of the Central Commercial district of Kampala City. It’s surrounded by banks, and, as a matter of fact, we’re right opposite Uganda’s Central Bank. With five-star hotels and five-star restaurants, Kampala is a hive of activity, bringing together hawkers and peddlers selling anything from trinkets to cigars.
Because Kampala is the heart of the financial district, a sizable fraction of its human traffic is made up of bankers, insurers, telecom executives, journalists and so many more, most of whom can afford what is deemed a “decent meal” in a “decent restaurant.”
My workmates and I, however, frequent the more dingy restaurants known as “bufunda.” There are quite a number of them around my office building, almost all of which target the low income earners, the middle class and those traveling back from the diaspora who are looking to experience the local cuisine. I’ve had people ask me to place orders of their favorite meal for them while they’re still at the airport, or, better yet, have me take the food to them when I pick up them up from the airport.
Two of my favorite bufunda are only about 50 meters away from the office, each on opposite sides of the street.
Seshaz Restaurant, possibly my favorite, has a very interesting access route; you have to go through an arcade selling children’s toys and compete for space with naked mannequins forgotten by the owner of the second hand store they’re in. When you finally get there, you’re in a building that has four other restaurants, and you’d think that you would be spoilt for choice. But that’s not the case; the patrons often develop some kind of loyalty to their kafunda and feel the need to ‘support” it in any way they can.
Eating at Seshaz is an experience on its own. First of all, the perfect spot to sit is by the entrance, because the kitchen smoke gets stronger the further you go in. By the time you’re done with your meal, you might as well be the cook! Secondly, sitting by the entrance gives you a view of the passers-by going through the hustle and bustle of street life, accented by the chaos of lawless transportation. The downsides of course, are the constant interruption by people who may know you popping in to say a quick “hello” whilst pulling up a seat to catch up on some idle chit-chat. There are also the beggars asking for your food; I don’t think anyone ever really gets used to that. Occasionally, some random stranger will just walk in and help themselves to a few toothpicks!
Seshaz, like most bufunda, serves food that we grew up eating. The kind of food that the doctors always encouraged us to eat, like matooke (mashed banana plantain), cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, etc. These are normally served with stews of beef, chicken, liver or goat. Of course, they also serve vegetables such as beans and peanut paste – which we call groundnut sauce here – among others. Every serving comes with a side of “greens.” My second favorite bufunda, Good Food Restaurant, serves “best seller;” what we call “luwombo” This can be chicken, beef, smoked tilapia, or smoked beef in groundnut sauce with other ingredients, wrapped in smoked banana leaves and put in a pan to steam. Each serving is wrapped separately. This is one meal you just have to experience to truly appreciate Ugandan food! My friends and I always joke that the owner of Good Food Restaurant should change its name to Don’t Kill Me With Good Food Restaurant…
Quite truthfully, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find good, filling, wholesome food at the price-point of the bufunda, and that’s why, dingy as they are, they are a huge favorite even for the middle class – so much so that my friends in the diaspora are always lamenting how much they miss “local” food.
The biggest downside though is the food coma that inevitably follows such heavy meals. Walking back to the office through the chaos of Kampala’s streets and blazing sun, I can already feel the nap settling in.
I originally shared this on The African Channel.