French fries are an occasional treat that many Nyeri residents eagerly look forward to, this Alice Mwangi knows very well.
Ms Mwangi has been making and selling french fries or chips as they are popularly known, for the past four years in this agricultural town but has since last week been forced to stop. She begun by rationing potatoes in her cooking before doing away with them altogether.
Informed by the high prices of potatoes at the local market that has doubled in a matter of weeks, Ms Mwangi had to make the difficult choice to either reduce the quantities she served or hike the price per plate, options that she knew her clients wouldn’t take too kindly to.
Last month, potatoes at the main market in Nyeri were selling at between Sh400 to Sh500 but has now skyrocketed to Sh1, 000 per 17 kg (measured in a bucket).
The fries are made from potatoes around which almost every meal in this town is anchored on. lice has been left no choice but to request her customers to consider eating their spuds in any other form. This has seen her core customers abandon her café as soon as they place their orders when they find the deep fried treat is no longer featured.
“Itisha kitu ingine,” (“Order something else”), she requests her customers.
“We have analysed the situation and determined that potatoes are now very expensive while our customers want to be served huge portions that they are used to for the same price they are used to paying. And since we can’t, we’ve stopped,” said the owner of New Chicken World Café.
This scenario plays out in many other similar joints popular with many people on a budget or those looking for something different from the infamous pilau Njeri that is commonly served in the region. The dish consists of a variety of food items – literally anything and everything cooked in the same pot and served together on a plate. This allows the restaurateurs to ration the number of potatoes in each dish without upsetting their patrons.
They are also alternatively using bananas to make Mukimo, a traditional food originated from the Kikuyu community, in place for potatoes.
The desire to please their regulars by maintaining the portions and number of potatoes they serve has prompted them to stop preparing the fries all together.
“Even if we make the fries, the portions we serve will have to be smaller and most customers would rather eat to their fill with alternative dishes,’ she said.
The culinary skills of Nyeri and the surrounding regions demands that every meal must have water or soup to make it edible and the food joints follow the same script in a bid to give the residents what they are accustomed to. The ubiquitous fast food joints, offer an alternative, albeit an unhealthy one, to the usual fare.
Some of the Pilau Njeris are either served too hot or too cold that it dilutes both hunger and appetite.
Alternatively, when the stew is too cold, the chapati is too and with too much fat to slow down your eating pace.
The stew come in different varieties that can be made of peas, grams or black beans, one big potato and of course soup with an occasional piece of meat.
Ms Carina Wambui, 21, a student at Nyeri Technical college has been disappointed that her favourite joint has gone slow on making chips.
“We are used to eating chips for lunch and its frustrating when you can’t get what you want to eat,” she said.
Chips is a favourite of most young people because it is cheap, tasty and uncomplicated compared to Pilau Njeri which can be either very tasty or not.
A plate of chips sells at between Sh100 and Sh150 accompanied by a samosa or a sausage while a low-end joint in Nyeri’s downtown area serves a meal of cabbages, rice, beans, potatoes and a lot of gravy as stew and topped with a chapati for Sh100.
Ms Mwangi said she would previously use a 90 kg bag of potatoes everyday but has since reduced to now using a bucket all day.
The potatoes being sold in Nyeri are being brought in from areas of Laikipia in neighbouring Laikipia County.