Foodie Friday: Chapati

Seems the Israelites fleeing Egypt weren’t the only ones eaten unleavened bread. Chapati, as its spelled here, is ubiquitous throughout East Africa, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of stews, salads and meals. A flat bread made of flour, the chapati looks like an enlarged Mexican tortilla, or a blinz, or roti, or a pita or…well you get the picture.

14, Frying Chapati

Not traditionally an African dish, chapati was most likely brought to East Africa by Indian Ocean traders and like so many things absorbed into the local culture. It’s most often served as a side dish to help you scoop up the rice and stew (cutlery is not traditionally used here), chapati is rather bland itself. Just flour, water/oil and salt, it’s fried on a skillet and served fresh on street corners all over Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. We’ve seen it made into southeast asian flavored pizzas, rolled with seafood and served almost like a burrito, stuffed with salads and beans, as a snack with some sweet chai and well you get the picture.

Here’s an easy to make chapati recipe from Kenya Recipes, let us know how it turns out!


2 cups of Flour

1 teaspoon salt


Serves 4

Sift the flour and the salt into a mixing bowl. Add some water to make a fairly stiff dough, moistening your hands frequently to ease off the bowl. Shape dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let it stand for at least ½ hour. Divide dough into 4 or 5 balls and roll each out into a flat, round disk. Heat a large creased griddle or frying pan over medium until it is hot. Cook each chapati until golden; when you see tiny bubbles it’s time to turn them over. It should take about a minute for each chapati. Press them down with a wide pancake turner or a clean towel to cook evenly. Serve hot.

Uganda: the Pearl of Africa

There’s an intensity in the cities of East Africa, always someone yelling at you to buy a product, take their matatu, or visit their tour office. It’s lively, it’s loud, it’s colorful and it’s chaotic. Tribal peoples walk down the street next to muslim women in full veil, next to modern African women in home made clothes made of eye poppingly bright prints. The streets are enough to make you head spin, especially if you head out during twilight when the street vendors are out roasting meat, frying fish and fries on the sidewalk. It’s chaos and sometimes you just have to say “This is Africa.”

Uganda however, was lovely.

In a small wooden shack along a busy street in Kampala we stopped to look at a drum makers shop. Surprised to see mzungu‘s interested in his work, he proudly showed us his instruments, sharing with us unfinished products in the back of his store. The flimsy shack was dark and in the back near his workbench lay a well used mattress with a mosquito net. A small toddler ran around the place pantsless laughing as we beat each drum to hear its timber. Purchasing two drums, we hardly negotiated at all, him having given us a very fair price, and handed over the money into his astonished hands. Grabbing each of our hands between his, he thanked us profusely a large smile crossing his face expressing pure gratitude and pride.

For us, that experience was Uganda. Friendly, honest, genuine people trying to make it. Like so many countries in Africa, Uganda suffered under a brutal dictator, Idi Amain, the atrocities of whose regime we in the western world cannot truly grasp. Any yet, unlike so many other places in Africa, there spirit of the people has not been broken. Ugandans were for the most part, hopeful for the future, looking forward to expanding and growing. Government corruption wasn’t accepted as a way of life, as it has been in so many African countries, and we saw examples of growth all over the country. In so many developing countries we’ve seen the negative side of international aid – governments that stop providing services for their citizens because the NGO’s do it, communities which have been handed things for so long that they’ve lost the will to do it themselves, people who expect to be given rather than work, but we didn’t feel this at all in Uganda. In our short time in the country, we found the atmosphere to be the opposite and in that sense it felt more prosperous that some of the larger, wealthier countries we’ve been in.

That’s not to say that Uganda doesn’t have its fair share of problems- and it does- but its a wonderful country and for us one of the best travel destinations so far in Africa.

Gorillas in the mist

So after being charged twice as Danny mentioned yesterday, which really was terrifying, we slid down the mountain a bit more and found ourselves in a huge clearing with about a dozen mountain gorillas.

It was an amazing experience being surrounded by these huge creatures, but they couldn’t have been more passive.

We spent an hour with them, and while it was probably the most expensive hour of our whole lives, it was incredible.

Our gorilla group- nkongo- had 18 members, including one 4 month old infant and a set of one year old twins.

While we only saw one silverback, there were two in the group as well as several  males. After being charged, I was surprised the gorillas allowed us to come so close to them.  For about an hour (maybe a little more but shhh…) we stood less than 10 feet from the gorillas, watching them eat, play and interact with each other.

Ever been charged by a mountain gorilla?

Transportation from the capital to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – $130

Permits to go gorilla tracking in Bwindi – $500

Seeing your wife’s face as a 400 pound angry silverback mountain gorilla charges your group and knocks down one of the guides……..priceless

The walk hadn’t been too bad, at least not in comparison to everything else that had come before it. We were hiking at an altitude above that of Denver, yet it was humid as though we were in a rainforest. We were sweaty, and breathing heavily, trekking over wet muddy terrain but it really wasn’t that bad…at least not until we got our first glimpse of the super rare mountain gorilla.

To get to Bwindi was a trick in and of itself. First there was ordering the permits in advance. A lot of money had to be wired from the USA to Uganda, all while we were trekking somewhere between Malawi and Mt. Kilimanjaro (thanks to our parents for handling that one!) Then there was getting to the forest itself, which isn’t called impenetrable for nothing. A 20 hour overnight bus ride north through three African countries got us to the Ugandan capital of Kampala…then it was another day’s drive south, in private expensive transport as that was the only real option available to us, to reach the forest. So really, after all that time, effort, and money….a couple hours walk through the equatorial mountain rain forest was nothing.

We hadn’t been trekking too long, maybe an hour or so, when the lead guide stopped us and told us the trackers had already found the gorillas. It would be another hour at most, he told us, but we got our first glimpse a mere 10 minutes later…then everything went to shit.

The guides had taken us up the hill with the plan to have us descend to where the larger group of gorillas were peacefully eating and resting. We saw that first gorilla, and then we began our decent which was not so easy on account of the steepness of the hill and the water-saturated ground. Carefully we went, step by step, falling every few paces when suddenly we heard noise from above. One of the males was there, clearly upset that we were between him and his family. I could see its teeth.

I’m not entirely sure what happened after that but here is what I can piece together. I hit the deck and averted my eyes as I was told. Jill freaked out and didn’t remember to get down and avert her fact her eyes were huge…exactly the opposite of what we were told to do. Bad job Jill. The gorilla, a blackback (a non-elder adult male) named Bahatu charged down the path we had made for ourselves. One of the guards standing a few feet away from me, the one with the big gun, was knocked down by the gorilla. Lotta good that gun did. The gorilla literally ran past this guard, yanked up his foot, and put him on his back….all while the gorilla himself was running. After that charge (I’m not done yet) all the guides were laughing. It seems this is something that “happens” but not every day. When it does happen though, it isn’t usually just one charge.

The next one up was the silverback (elder male) named Safari. I was still at the back of the group, lucky me, I had a front row seat. He appeared above us, much as the first one did, showing his teeth and hooting and hollering and acting like any of us do when we’re at a sporting event. Jill was just ahead of me and taken down more or less whereas I was taken aside the path. Safari began to charge, I got down and averted my eyes again, and then I looked up when I thought it was over. This time the guard was “fighting back” as he was trained to do. The guard was on all fours, “barking” at this silverback gorilla and swinging his hook on a stick (kinda like a machete, only not as cool) at the grass in between the two…making himself as big as he could against the mean looking vegetarian. It worked. Safari stopped advancing and turned into the forest to his left to go around us. I wonder what my mother would say if I told her that I decided to stop the next gorilla myself?

Eventually we made it down to where the rest of the gorillas were feasting. More on that tomorrow.


Review: Nalubale Rafting (Jinja, Uganda)

We contacted Nalubale Rafting when we arrived in Jinja at the suggestion of a friend. On price alone Nalubale was 30%-40% cheaper than just about everyone else in town and on that recommendation alone we were sold. After speaking to the owners/guides about the river levels and the river-boarding we preferred to do, we were also sold on the personalized level of service we were about to receive as well as their river knowledge as well. We are two whitewater kayakers, know many whitewater rivers, and know the difference between someone just trying to sell the river and someone who actually knows and respects its dangers. Working mostly with Reuben, we were told that the river was a little low for river-boarding but that we could take the boards and fins and do it whenever we could.

The morning was a bit slow to start on account of finding boards and fins for the three of us but even with that delay we were still on the water ahead of the other rafting trips. A quick lesson on using the boards in the river and we were good to go. Throughout the day Reuben was a perfect guide. Leading down good, clean lines so that we had fun in the rapids rather than a bad time. On those rapids of questionable difficulty he was clear in articulating the dangers and advised us when it was best to get into the raft and off the board…the final decision always left to us. Our day on the river could have been a lot worse but I don’t really see how it could have been any better. The extras were also top notch. The food provided to us, three small meals, was far more substantial than the one or two snacks I’m usually accustomed to…and then beers and sodas for the ride back to Jinja as well.

Logistics were all handled well and with three safety kayakers monitoring the three of us at all times we were never in any danger. I am not sure but I believe shuttles to Kampala and camping sites can also be arranged at no extra charge. The most difficult part of the day was that we were staying at the Nile River Explorers Backpackers, home to not only the only backpacker accomodation in town, but also one of the largest rafting outfits in the entire country. Their prices were higher and due to their size, the impersonal nature of the staff rubbed us the wrong way. Some managers were nice but others were the opposite of helpful and really irked us. In the end I was extremely pleased that we chose not to go down the river with them.
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