A photographic food safari of my favourite food from Mombasa, Kenya

I was born and brought up in Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, up until the age of 16 and on my visits back home in recent years, there are some dishes I just can’t wait to eat and try and make it a point to have. These are a mix of street food dishes, which can be found roadside, as well as dishes that can be found in restaurants.

Some of these dishes have been influenced in terms of taste, flavours, cooking style as well as presentation by Kenya’s historical foreign settlers such as Indians, Arabs, Europeans, just to name a few. For example, the use of spices, coconut,  fresh herbs such as coriander and vegetables, such as green chillis, have shaped some of the dishes today. You will also notice that the simple seasoning of salt, chilli, lemon and sugar is prominent in many dishes mentioned in this post.

The Indian influences on the cuisine, in particular, is due to Indians moving to Kenya about a century ago to work as railway workers on what was known as the “lunatic line” or to set up businesses from scratch. As a result, some popular Indian dishes continue to remain prominent in Kenya today.  If you haven’t watched the film The Ghost and the Darkness, I highly recommend it for an insight into what it was like working on the railway lines.

These are my personal favourites, that I love to eat whenever visiting Mombasa, and in no particular order. This is by no means a conclusive list so if you have any favourites which I haven’t mentioned I would love to know about them! Just add them in the comments section below.

Mogo

Mogo, or Mohogo, as it is sometimes known, is grilled or fried cassava, and a popular snack found at the infamous “Lighthouse,” on Mama Ngina Drive where locals drive through at a leisurely pace or park up to enjoy the sea breeze, chat and catch up and eat delicious street food dishes.

Mogo (pictured below) is usually seasoned with a blend of salt, chilli, sugar and a squeeze of lime. So simple yet so satisfying!

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Also made from the cassava are Mogo crisps, which are sold per the bag at Lighthouse. They are usually very fresh and you can ask for them to be seasoned how you like.

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Makai (corn on the cob)

Also found at “Lighthouse” is grilled sweet corn which is usually garnished with lime and chilli. You can ask for it mild, medium or hot!

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Grilled sweet potato

Another great dish found on Mombasa’s most popular pier front, is grilled sweet potato which you can have with a sprinkling of chilli and salt (sensing a theme here?) and it is utterly divine. I love the soft texture of the sweet potato and the tangy hit of the seasoning.

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Madafu

Available all over the island, there is surely no better way to quench your thirst and stay hydrated? The flesh is so delicious too!

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Kachoris

Another snack that originated from India but the Kenyan version is next level amazing. Balls filled with deliciousness and usually enjoyed on Sundays over an indulgent breakfast, I think every Mombasa resident can resonate with the famous Bhagwanji kachoris! The good news is that they have opened branches in Nairobi too!

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Bhajias with fresh coconut chutney

Bhajias are popular East African snacks whose origins lie in India. There are so many variants of Bhajias or Bajias, as they are sometimes referred to. They can be found roadside and best eaten hot with a cooling fresh coconut chutney.

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Mahamri and bharazi

Mahamris are a special type of triangle shaped doughnut flavoured with coconut and cardamom. They are usually served with gunga peas cooked in coconut milk. They are DELICIOUS and the perfect breakfast meal.

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Seafood

Being a coastal city, Mombasa has the best and freshest sea food and I absolutely love lobster and prawns especially.  Fish is always a good idea too! Some of my favourite places are Monsoons, Sea Haven, La Marina and Monsoon. They all offer Al fresco dining with a sea view and the food is incredible.

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Mabuyu

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Usually sold in bags, these are baobab seeds flavoured with sugar and other ingredients and usually coloured red with food colouring, although now you can get many more variants.

 

Achari

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This is dried mango which is then sweetened or salted and coloured using food colouring. These are rather addictive and they have a lovely chewy texture and a tangy taste.

Halwa

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The best Halwa is usually found in Malindi, but you can get it available within Mombasa too. Halwa is a sweetmeat confection with a jelly like consistence. It is usually made from starch, cardamom, ghee and lots of sugar. It is then garnished with cashew nuts or almonds. They are usually sold in a log shape and wrapped with paper.

Nyama choma

Availsble widely from roadside shacks to restaurants, Nyama choma, which is roast or barbecued meat, is one of Kenya’s specialities. It is also Kenya’s unofficial national dish.

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You can find it on most street sides. Alternatively, Mubins, which has a venue both in town and in Nyali in Mombasa, do really good barbecued meat.

Poussin chips

Nothing makes me happier than a plate of Poussin chips. Poussin sauce has also been my most popular recipe on my blog. The sauce is made from margarine/butter and drizzled all over chips or alternatively used as a marinade for meat or fish. Most Barbecue restaurants in Mombasa such as Hashmi or Sham E Bahaar have this available.

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Packed potatoes

Packed potatoes are my weakness – they are thick slices of potatoes sandwiched together with a delectable mix of chilli, salt and lemon and then deep fried with a seasoned gram flour batter. Heaven served with a cooling chutney!  I recently had this at the Aga Khan club in Mombasa, as well as roadside.

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Zanzibar Mix, also known as Mombasa Mix to coastal locals

Mix, is well loved in our family, and my favourite to date has been at the Aga Khan club. Thanks to the lovely Nasim for treating me to a wonderful bowl of mix as well as a catch up during my last trip to the coast.

So what is mix? It is exactly what the name suggests and is a mix of potatoes, chickpeas, spices, coconut sauce, dashes of chutney, raw mango, sev, chevro and bhajias. It is divine! It originated in Zanzibar but East Africa has adapted it and it has become somewhat of a speciality in Mombasa too. This dish is the perfect example of multiple cultural influences on the cuisine of Kenya.

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Samosas

Finally who doesn’t love samosas? Triangular parcels of delight! These are an example of an Indian snack adopted by Kenya and it even has an alternative name which is Sambusa! These can be filled with vegetables or meat and are best eaten hot!

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Do you have any favourites in Mombasa? Would love to know in the comments section below.

Binny xx

Hotel Review : Swahili Beach – a luxury hotel in Diani, Kenya

During our trips back home to Kenya we always try and have a mini break in Diani, the south coast of Mombasa, and this time we chose Swahili Beach, a luxury 5 star hotel, as our chosen venue to relax and unwind on a half board basis.

Swahili Beach has a unique look and designed with a traditional Swahili and Arabic architectural flair which is characterised by the use of arches, high ceilings, stone and pale colours. I love this design and find it has a charm of its own. Everything is so spacious and open and tranquil. The decor is all deliciously Swahili and beautiful.

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The resort

The resort itself is extensive with 7 cascading pools, gorgeous gardens and set on the beach with a view of the Indian Ocean. I have to highlight that it is not the most beautiful stretch of beach in Diani but it is still lovely and peaceful.

There are various areas across the resort with ample sun loungers and chairs to relax in and there is also a coffee lounge, where afternoon tea is served daily, and a beach bar and restaurant, which is really nice.

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Check in

Upon arrival we were given refreshing Dawas, which are a popular Kenyan cocktail, to cool down with in the intense heat. This was a lovely gesture and check in was really smooth, quick and seamless. The staff were really welcoming and friendly.

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The rooms

At Swahili Beach they have three categories of rooms – standard, superior and Executive. We were upgraded to the Executive suite, which was MASSIVE. It had its own lounge area, bedroom, ginormous bathroom and impressive balcony. There was a view of the pool area palm fringed with the coconut trees I adore!


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The balcony was so difficult to capture in one shot but here is a series of shots so you get an idea!

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The bathroom had a dreamy sunken bath as well as a separate shower and had a stunning design.

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The room had a large TV, desk, ample mirrors and plugs in convenient spots, hairdryer, eco friendly toiletries as well as air conditioning and a fan. The wifi was good and the room was clean and extremely comfortable. We had no complaints about anything.

Food and Drink

There were lots of choices with a lot of African and Indian dishes as well as classic continental ones. As we were on a half board basis, we decided to have lunch at the beachside restaurant Barharini, which was really nice. The sound of the waves whilst eating your lunch is one of my favourite ways to eat al fresco.

For dinner we dined at the buffet restaurant, Majilis, which means meeting place. There was a really good selection, especially for vegetarians as one of our party was a vegetarian. It was a special occasion and the hotel pulled out all the stops to make it special so we were very happy and grateful for that.

Breakfast, also in the Majilis, had an incredible spread of fresh fruits, juices, cold meats, cheeses, pastries, cereals, eggs, hot food and also some Kenyan specials.

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The Kahawa Lounge, where we had our afternoon tea, serves coffees and teas, and at tea time you can have pancakes, bhajias, cakes, and other delicious treats. This is complimentary.

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The cocktails were really good at Swahili Beach too! The mojitos kept me refreshed and happy.

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Amit was more than content with his chilled beers :o)

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The Dawas were delicious too!

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If you fancied it, you could also have fresh madafu (coconuts). I adored this little table that signposted this.

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The hotel also has a seafood restaurant and an Indian restaurant, but we didn’t get a chance to try these out.

Service and Facilities

The service at the hotel was really good. The staff were really attentive without being intrusive and quick at helping or taking food and drink orders.

The pool was my favourite feature of the hotel, and I had a fantastic time swimming and sunbathing by the pool. The hotel was very quiet when we stayed so we had most of the pool to ourselves.

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The hotel also has a spa but I didn’t get a chance to try it out.

The Location

Swahili Beach is located on Diani Beach. The beach is really relaxing and peaceful but I wouldn’t say it is the best stretch of beach you can find in Diani, having stayed at other hotels at the South Coast. However, it is still a really decent stretch of beach and there are nice comfortable lounge chairs to chill in.

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Overall we really enjoyed our stay at Swahili Beach. It was really good value for money when comparing rates at other hotels (March 2017) and the service, food, room and overall experience was wonderful and we would recommend it.

For more information about Swahili Beach visit their website.

 

 

 

The Arbor Restaurant, Nairobi

If there was a restaurant in Nairobi that would win an award in my opinion for its Instagram worthiness it would be The Arbor, in Lavington. When my girlfriends, Meera and Harpreet, who also happen to be bloggers, picked The Arbor for our catch up lunch I knew they would have picked somewhere dreamy and I was right!

From rustic wine bottles as centrepieces, decorative charms, hanging bottles and potted plants and flowers everywhere, it is the ultimate garden cafe for al fresco dining. You can even purchase plants if you want, which if I lived in Nairobi I probably would as they all looked so lush and pretty.

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To start with we picked cocktails and mocktails. I went for the Tamarind Mojito, which was delicious! I very rarely deviate from a classic mojito but this one was really nice that I wish I knew how to replicate it!

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The menu has so many amazing sounding dishes and is really good if you are a vegetarian. It has a nice selection of Asian dishes and so I decided to go for the Nasi Lemak. The presentation was fantastic and all the various flavours were so intriguing and tasty.

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Meera went for the Grilled Halloumi Burger, which was grilled in a peri peri sauce and topped with onions, pepper and mushrooms and served with a side of chips and salad. We had predicted she would choose this :o)

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Harpeet chose the Thai Green Curry, which looked divine. This was served with a side of rice and she really enjoyed it.

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I loved the presentation of all 3 dishes and the helpings were so generous that we couldn’t manage any dessert. We had an amazing time catching up and nattering away though.

The venue is stunning and the type which is perfect for a date, girly catch up or to really impress a client. I couldn’t get over its rustic yet charming decor and all the prettiness everywhere.

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Inside is a shop where you can buy home decor items. I didn’t dare look as I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist and our luggage to go back was already close to being over weight.

This is also the kind of place where you would want to be at during golden hour with a cocktail in hand as it is seriously swoon worthy.

If you are in Nairobi, or visiting, I would recommend The Arbor for lunch and I think it is  definitely one of the most stunning al fresco venues I have seen in Nairobi.

While the girls did treat me to lunch, I did have a peek at the prices on the menu and they were really reasonable! I really enjoyed the food and the ambience and thought the service was excellent. My verdict is it is a fabulous restaurant and one I would definitely return to on my next visit to Kenya.

The Arbor can be found next to Ebru TV, James Gichuru Rd, Lavington, 69671 – 00400, Nairobi, Kenya

 

Haller Park – a beautiful ecological sanctuary in Mombasa

When I was growing up in Mombasa, Haller Park, a gorgeous sanctuary in Bamburi,  was known as Bamburi Quarry Nature Trail. It is now named after the founder, Dr. René Haller, who has done the unthinkable and managed to transform barren limestone quarries into what is now a thriving ecosystem of forest, grasslands and ponds.

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There are beautiful walking trails where you can wander and see various animals such as giraffes, hippos, reptiles and bird species. It is actually hard to believe that Haller Park was once a rough, uninspiring quarry and what Dr Rene Haller has achieved is quite remarkable.

Mombasa is also not usually associated with wildlife and so it is to me a hidden gem where you can escape for a few hours and absorb the serenity and marvel at the various animals you can see. It is also so good for education to teach children all about ecosystems and how animals, birds and plants are all interlinked and each play such an important role in nature. In fact, there was even a school trip there during our visit and it was so lovely to see the children all excited and interacting with the guide.

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The first step in the transformation of the quarry to the ecological paradise it is today was to introduce the Casuarina tree, which is able to grow under severe conditions. Dr Haller then introduced Millipedes to the site, as these feed on the pine needles of the Casuarina tree. Their droppings enabled a rich layer of humus to form allowing other plant species to grow. In turn, animals were introduced and slowly it all started rolling into place like clockwork.

Today it is a tourist attraction as well as an important site for education.  I had visited so many times as a child but it had been at least 15 years since my last visit so I thought it was about time I re-visited this stunning place.

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What we saw as we drove in was Giraffes just casually wandering about on the rough road and feeding off the tall trees in the vicinity. Now I am rather obsessed with Giraffes so this already had me all excited.

This is how close they were!

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We were told that the Giraffe feeding time was at 11am so we decided to go around the park and return for that as there was no way that I was missing that. If you have been following my blog you will know that I absolutely love feeding Giraffes.

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We started off with the Reptile park, to see the famous crocodiles. Boy were these fiesty! I wouldn’t want to come face to face with one in real life that is for sure.

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These range from Kindergarten Crocodiles to fully grown ones, and there is a feeding time, where you can see them rise up from the water to grab their food, but we unfortunately missed this.

We also visited the snakes, of which there are over 40 and about 12 different species. I am a little freaked out by snakes and somehow didn’t end up taking any photos either! Close to the snakes are some baby leopard tortoises which are adorable. We actually have 7 as pets at my home in Nairobi.

Haller Park is famous for its giant tortoises though, and here is one. As a child the park used to allow people to sit on these but I am so glad that they no longer allow this as it is quite traumatising for the tortoises.

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There are also Hippos at the park, Sally and Potty, including the world famous Owen, who was best friends with one of the giant tortoises Mzee. They had been pictured in press always together but as they got bigger, unfortunately they had to be separated. It was a really cute story though of how different species thrived together.

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If you are a monkey lover you will be pleased to find these cheeky clowns everywhere across the park hanging from trees or thieving the food of the other animals!

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Ours was a quick visit so we did miss the fish farms as I really wanted to make it on time for the Giraffe feeding. However, I had seen these as a child so I would encourage you, if this is your first time visiting to see everything.

It was now time for the Giraffe feeding session so I patiently waited for them to arrive.

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They get me every single time. Just beautiful majestic animals and with eye lashes to cause major envy! (Blogger caught in action).

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Feeding them was just so much fun and literally the highlight of our visit. If you haven’t had a chance to do this yet I highly recommend it. Buying the bags of pellets only costs 50 shillings but the experience is one of which will have a lasting memory.

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How can you say no to that face? I certainly can’t and eventually Amit had to drag me away. I could easily have spent my day chilling with the Giraffes.

I did sneak in a selfie too and I think the Giraffe was more than happy to oblige.

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I still find it as exciting years on as I did as a child so if you are visiting Mombasa, or even  live in Mombasa and haven’t visited in a while go! If you think about what the site started off as and what it is now you will be awe-stricken at the transformation that Dr René Haller has achieved!

Have you visited Haller Park? What is your favourite memory? I would love to know in the comments section below.

Binny xx

Lunch at The Talisman Restaurant, Nairobi, Kenya

In the fabulous suburb of Karen, named after Karen Blixen, is an amazing restaurant with beautiful indoor and outdoor seating and the kind of place where you would want to spend your day and simply not move. The decor is gorgeous and personally, the best spot is outdoors for Al Fresco dining. It is one of Nairobi’s top rated restaurants and it really is excellent.

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We chose to have lunch at the Talisman as we were already in the suburb of Karen visiting the Giraffe Centre that day, which, by the way, is a fabulous Giraffe sanctuary where you can feed and kiss Giraffes. Intrigued? Read more here.

It was a hot Nairobi day and so we decided to cool off with a Mojito and a Dawa whilst we decided on what we wanted to eat. Now everyone knows Mojitos are my weakness and my preferred drink. However, when in Kenya I am often torn between Mojitos and Dawas. I found the solution to this is to get Amit to order the Dawa so I can have a few cheeky sips so I can have the best of both!

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Choosing the food was hard because everything sounded good! There is a really good selection and we settled with the Feta and Coriander Samosas, which are served with chilli ginger jam for one of our starters.

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They were such crispy, perfectly cooked triangles of delight!

We also picked the Talisman nyati wings, which I had heard so much about, and which are served with blue cheese sauce and peri-peri butter. You can pick the level of heat of these ranging from mild to taliban so I decided to go for hot.

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I have to say they totally lived up to the hype and were utterly delicious! The marinade was addictive and I could have eaten a whole other plate of these! The blue cheese that was served with it was amazing.

For our mains I went for the Ginger Teriyaki Tofu with capsicum, carrots, zucchini and Jasmine Rice. This was a generous portion and I did get defeated half way through although it was really scrumptious.

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I loved the way it was presented on a wooden board and it was so full of flavour. The ingredients used were all so fascinating and fresh and I would definitely order this again or recommend this dish for mains.

Amit chose the Fish n’ Chips, which were a beer battered tilapia served with delicious fat chips, tartare sauce and talisman slaw. It was really good as well and he really enjoyed it! Fish and chips is a classic and Talisman do a fantastic version.

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The food was excellent as was the service and we found it really relaxing – almost like having lunch in someone’s garden with birds chirping in the background.  The ambience was wonderful and the cocktails were superb so even if you want a good venue for drinks Talisman is perfect for that too!

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We were so full we couldn’t manage dessert but definitely on the cards for next time we are in Nairobi! There is a good variety for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

If you are in Nairobi or planning to visit I highly recommend the Talisman. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest restaurants Nairobi has to offer. I would personally recommend going for lunch as it is so lovely in the day time but it is equally good for dinner too! I would combine it with sight seeing in Karen, as there is lots to see and do in the area.

The Talisman can be found at 320 Ngong Road, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

Jumba Ruins and Monsoon restaurant – hidden gems in Mtwapa, Kenya

Jumba la Mtwana, or Jumba Ruins as it is more popularly referred to, is a hidden historical site found in the buzzing town of Mtwapa, popularly known for its Creekside restaurants and beautiful sea views.

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I am going to start this post with a confession that despite being born and raised in Mombasa, I had not made it to these ruins before. Sometimes it takes leaving a place to reflect, respect and appreciate what you had right in front of you and it is only now that I truly appreciate how rife with history Mombasa actually is and I have so much interest in putting all the puzzles together of the various centuries and the different influences it had on how Mombasa is today both culturally, architecturally and especially its impact on food, ingredients available and general lifestyle. That is what brought me to visit the site on a recent trip.

The ruins tell part of a story of a civilization during what was believed to be the 14th century, at a time when the East African coast was a significant trade hub and thriving commercially. The name Jumba la Mtwana is Kiswahili and translates as “House of the Slave”, which possibly tells another part of the tale. I did try to research more about the 14th century but struggled to find much as most documented history begins from the 15th century onwards so if anyone is a history buff and knows more please do get in touch!

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The ruins are located close to the beach and many of the buildings which you see today at the site were excavated in 1972 by James Kirkman. There appears to be several houses, mosques and a tomb within the site.

In 1982, the year I was born (telling my age now), was when it was considered to be a national monument. Rumour has it that there may still be more ruins around the site which have not yet been uncovered so in future I would like to return and see if any more is known about the residents of this town.

What is speculated is that they abandoned the site in the 15th century as they ran out of fresh water supplies. This has not been documented or confirmed anywhere so is down to pure speculation. The 15th century is also when the Portuguese arrived and they were known to notoriously burn and rob various towns during their time on the island.

What interested me were the use of arches which was prominent in the design, the materials used for the buildings which was coral rock, and the way they were spaciously spread out across the site. The site itself is gorgeous with lots of trees and flowers and the subtle sound of the ocean in the near distance and the sweet chirping of birds.

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I have to say I was slightly disappointed with the museum on site as I felt it could have given a little more information about the artefacts on display to try and paint a bigger picture and I was also shocked with how few people I spoke to in Kenya actually knew these ruins even existed. I am trying to change that though with this blog post as visiting the ruins has an extra benefit and incentive to it!

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An amazing restaurant at the end of the trail which is a real hidden gem. If you love seafood it is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow!

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The Monsoon restaurant is a gorgeous beach front restaurant with the most incredible fresh seafood I have tried in Mombasa. It is worth the trip to Mtwapa and not only do you get to see Jumba Ruins, you get to eat a fabulous meal with a view too!

To start with we shared salt and pepper prawns, which was on the specials menu. I then chose the Lobster Garlic Butter and Pili Pili for my mains, which was amazing, and my lunch partner went for the Old Town Fish Fillet.

The presentation of the food, the service and the flavours were all top notch and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

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To refresh ourselves I went for a Mojito (obviously) and my partner had a beer. The mojito was spot on and delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a superb meal.

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The hospitality of the chef Aziza and her husband was amazing and I can’t wait to go back the next time I am in Mombasa.

So if you are looking for an alternative day out in Mombasa I recommend a late morning day trip to Jumba Ruins combined with lunch at Monsoon restaurant! You will want to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the gorgeous venue with a bottle of wine or dessert and with the sea breeze cooling you from the intense Mombasa heat – trust me!

For more information about Monsoon restaurant click here.