Kenyans enjoying Cincinnati style Cheese Coneys in the Rift Valley of Kenya.
Food certainly brings people of different cultures together. Fusian food should be the modern form of foreign diplomacy. Cincinnati Chili, for example, is being served at Chili House franchises in the areas of the Middle East where we’ve been at war for the last nearly two decades. But has our government ever thought to use Cincinnati Chili as diplomacy?
A local nonprofit, Child Wellness Fund, headquartered in Cheviot, introduced Cincinnati Cheese Coneys halfway around the world too. In existence for 15 years, the CWF is a non-profit that uses Twisted Creek Farms as a camp for kids with behavioral needs, and sponsors among other programs, a Kids in Kenya Fund, which hosts a number of operations there for underprivileged youth from camps to durable medical equipment exchange.
Jamey Ponte, Director of the Kenya Fund, recently returned to Cincinnati for business meetings accompanied with one of his workers from Kenya, Patrick Othieno. While in the Queen City, Othieno was exposed to Starbucks, Budweiser beer, and Skyline Chili, two of which are well- known brands in Africa. But the third brand, well known to us in Cincinnati, stuck with the young Kenyan. As part of their going-back-to-Kenya sendoff, the Cincy folks sent Jamey and Othieno back to Kenya with four cans of Skyline chili.
East Africa is a new frontier for Cincinnati Chili, and they seem more receptive than Americans outside of the I-275 loop to try it. Maybe it’s that this is a hometown food, not a national brand. It’s something we all know, and many of us even make with our own family recipes in the home. Maybe they can relate to Cincinnati chili, because the Kenyan diet consists mainly of braised stews.
Armed with the key ingredient to our local delicacy, all Jamey had to do was go to the grocery and put it together. But it’s not so easy for someone living in Mau Narok, a small village in the Rift Valley of Kenya. The western sandwich buns are replaced by starches like Ugali, a white cornmeal mush made into a thick paste and served with vegetables, like Sukuma wiki (like our collard greens) or the rare meat stew. Think of it as the Kenyan cornbread, served with every meal. There are also flat breads like Indian chapatti, and a denser fry bread like a donut called mahamri that is made with coconut milk.
Kenyan Ugali, a white cornmeal paste, used as starch with most meals.
There’s also maharagwe, a type of kidney bean coconut curry soup. You might call it their version of ‘chili’, albeit meatless. The western bun is really only attainable in the large cities like Nairobi, which has a Burger Hut restaurant. But that’s a many hours trek from the Rift Valley. You won’t even find Coca-Cola very easily in Kenya, to go with your chili dinner. Ginger sodas are much more popular, and the Coca-Cola Company makes a ginger ale cola called Stony Tangawizi, which has a jolt of ginger that will clear your nostrils.
Kenyan Maharagwe, a bean and coconut curry stew.
After staring at him on the shelf for several weeks, Jamey decided to make a cheese coney feast for his Kenyan colleauges. Despite the said challenges, he went to the ‘fancy store’ to find the makings for cheese coneys. Finding bread that could be split as a bun, and cheddar cheese, he spent more than a Kenyan would typically spend on a week for this meal. But the end result was successful. Jamey served his local food from the heart, as close to it as he could, and the Kenyans loved it, as evidenced by their lovely smiles. Call it Food Diplomacy. Now we just have to teach them not to eat cheese coneys with a fork!