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The Carnivore, Nairobi, Kenya

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When people travel to Kenya, they will more often than not fly to Nairobi, the nation's capital. If this is your initial destination, you will stay here for one day and one night and will take in such sights as the giraffe sanctuary and the Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, estate. After having taken in the attractions, many visitors will return to their hotels and eat in the exclusive restaurants therein, safely tucked away behind patrolled perimeters.

There is a place to eat in Nairobi that is a great place for tourists and locals to mix. The Carnivore serves great food using an ancient East African method.

Getting There

One thing you will notice on your trip to Kenya is the fact that the roads are full of people walking - you could be on the most desolate stretch of road leading to the market town of Keratina and there you will see people walking. This is truly an African phenomenon. However, walking to the Carnivore from your hotel is not recommended as Nairobi suffers from the same inner-city problems that occur throughout the world. The best bet is to ask your hotel to organise a taxi for you; when booking a cab, make sure the hotel arranges a price before you get in. Nairobi is not a city where you want to be seen arguing with a taxi driver in an area of town you don't know.

If you are brave, you could take a matatu. This is a shared taxi and is a major people mover in Nairobi's mass transit system. In essence, it is a minibus or open-backed truck which only leaves when it has a full load. However, even though the matatu is full, it will continue to pick up people along the way - giving you that great crushed commuter feeling. The open backed matatus will usually have a teenager hanging off the back who will help you up as the vehicle is moving.

Matatus are not recommended as they often break down, often get overcrowded and are often involved in major road accidents.

The Restaurant

When you arrive at the restaurant, you'll have to walk down a long ramp. As you descend, the smell of charred meat wafts past your nostrils and fragrant smoke gently laps the rafters. When you pass through the doors, the first thing you'll see is a board with a list of what appears to be the Who's Who of African fauna. This is your menu. The next thing you see is the huge Maasai barbecue with countless spits of roasting meat.

Who Are the Maasai?

The Maasai, or Masai, are a nomadic tribe who roam the land which covers the borders of Kenya and Tanzania. They live in temporary settlements called kraals which house several families and their prize cattle herds.

The Maasai are the equivalent of the lower classes in Kenya and are looked down upon by the inland and coastal populations. Their lifestyle is hard; for example, young men from the age of 14 upwards are sent out in to the plains to live in solitude for eight months to two years. These years are spent building the courage, strength and fighting skills that Maasai warriors are famous for.

The staple diet of the Maasai is cow blood mixed with milk which is stored in a gourd that has been sterilised using urine. The Maasai are reputed to have the best cattle in the world because the human consumption of milk is minimal, thus ensuring the calves get more of their mother's goodness.

In fact, so important is the herd to the Maasai that they are the only people allowed to kill a rhinoceros if it attacks their herd. The story of Morani illustrates this.

Back to the Restaurant

Considering that the cow is the very lifeblood of the Maasai, you would expect that they know how to cook it to great effect - and they do. When you get inside the Carnivore, you will see a huge circular stone Maasai barbecue. On the barbecue there are huge joints of meat on Maasai spears roasting gently of burning coals. If you look closely, you will see about 20 varieties of meat sizzling away.

What You Can Expect to Eat

The food at the Carnivore changes on a daily basis, but the following are among the meats you can expect to try:

  • Giraffe is like a very succulent pork cut. It tastes better if it is slightly pink.

  • Waterbuck is really moist and tender. The smell alone will make your chops slobber and your palette won't be disappointed either.

  • Zebra is slightly tough and surprisingly gamey.

  • Hartebeest requires a substantial amount of chewing that'll give you jaw ache for about 5 minutes. Tasty but not really worth the effort.

  • You will also find all the usual cuts and meats such as pork, chicken, lamb and beef all served on a Maasai spear... brings new meaning to sausage on a stick at any rate.

Table Service

From an unusual restaurant, you'd expect unusual service and the Carnivore doesn't disappoint.

When you take your seat, you will be confronted with a plate, napkin, cutlery and a flag. The flag is very important. When you are ready to eat, you put your flag upright and the waiters know that you are ready to be served.

The waiters come to your table waving huge Maasai spears with hunks of meat spilling their juices on the floor and tables. Your waiter will tell you what the meat is, plonk the end of the spear on your plate and carve away. Be prepared for bloody splash back. Your waiter will ask you how you like your meat cooked - do not apply Western standards - the meat will come in two broad varieties; flame-licked or scorched and raw. If you insist, the waiter will return the meat to the barbecue and cook it for a little longer.

When you have eaten your fill, simply lower your flag and the waiter will leave you alone. If, after a pause, you are ready to eat again, simply raise your flag and your waiter will reappear.

The Carnivore is an eat-as-much-as-you-can restaurant. Tourists can expect to pay £30 per head including alcoholic drinks.

A Word on Wine

You'll be encouraged to try the Kenyan wine while dining, and a word to the wise is don't. It is potent, slightly acrid and tastes like the refuse from a chemical plant. This is because Equatorial climates are not conducive to wine production. The grapes need to ferment at a certain cool temperature which Kenya exceeds, giving the wine an 'overcooked' flavour. Stick to the local beer; it's tasty and refreshing.

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