She had never seen anything like it before. Not that it looked alien or unusual, but she’d just never seen chips in an omelette in her entire existence. Fascinated, she asked the short and stout restaurant manager if she could come to the kitchen to watch the cook preparing the chip omelette.
“It’s called ‘Chipsi mayai,’” the manager said, adding emphasis on the “d” such that it sounded like “call-dee”. His smile revealed a set of teeth with a huge tooth gap the size of a cotton bud. Chenai noticed some brown stains on his teeth, a defect that wasn’t unusual to her anymore as she’d seen it in a lot of people since her arrival in Arusha.
“Asante sana”, Chenai thanked the man in Swahili, then followed him through a blue wooden door linking the restaurant to the kitchen. Mama Violet, the cook, was sat on a stool with a bowl full of potatoes sitting on her lap as she peeled them. Chenai counted about 12 of them, although she doubted all 12 would go into a single omelette. She began slicing them into chip-like strips, and Chenai watched in fascination at how she did it without a chopping board yet she did not accidentally slice her own fingers off. Noticing her gaze, Mama Violet looked up and smiled at her, but she did not say much to her. The manager spoke too fast for Chenai to catch what he was saying, since her Swahili was relatively poor, but she guessed through his gestures that he was telling Mama Violet that she was there to watch and learn.
Chenai watched as Mama Violet poured quite a lot of cooking oil into a wide frying pan by the fire, and as some of the oil dropped to the sides of the pan, she watched as the fire licked at it, nearly getting Mama Violet’s hand. She did not flinch; clearly she was used to this.
Mama Violet grabbed a handful of neatly sliced potato chips, about a medium potato and a half’s worth, from the bowl and put them into the frying pan. It sizzled and Mama Violet stirred gently to avoid sticking. Chenai watched intently as the older woman took 3 large eggs, cracked them into a small bowl, sprinkled some salt and beat them thoroughly while the chips were cooking. She placed the bowl down to stir the chips again, and, once satisfied that they were well cooked and soft, she scattered bits of sliced bbq’d beef in between the gaps. She then poured the mixed egg into the frying pan over the chips until they were practically submerged in runny egg. It didn’t take long for the egg to cook, so she grabbed a spatula and flipped the omelette over for the other side to cook.
“Chipsi mayai na mushkaki”, she said in very little Swahili for Chenai’s sake, letting her know that she’d just made a standard chip omelette with bbq meat the way locals enjoyed it sometimes, the way she’d asked for it.
“Sawa”, Chenai nodded her head and watched. She was curious to find out what vegetarians would do then, so she enquired in English.
“What if I don’t want bits of meat in my omelette?” She furrowed her brows
“You justy put the egg over the chipsi and let it cook withouty putting the mushkaki, the beefy” Mama Violet said.
Within a few moments, Chenai’s Chipsi mayai (na mushkaki) was well cooked, and Mama Violet plated it on a plain white metal plate like the one Mr Jordan had given her as a “souvenir” before he left for Moshi. She served it with a mushroom and garlic relish, and Chenai chuckled as the lady garnished it with kale leaves. She nearly screamed when Mama Violet’s eager hands grabbed the chilli bottle and she grabbed her wrist before she’d squeezed “the devil’s blood” into her food. Chenai couldn’t handle spice.
About the author:
Sh’anesu Gutsa is a multi-award winner, writer, motivational blogger and vlogger, food enthusiast, volunteer and budding entrepreneur. She is passionate about women empowerment and community development programmes, and she is the founder of The Revolutionary Girls of Zimbabwe mentorship and coaching programme.
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@chef_shanners on Instagram and Twitter