EMMA’S ROADSIDE EATERY
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted May 1, 2018)
Tucked away behind an army of boda boda drivers on United Nations Ave is a nameless street-side eatery that serves delicious home cooked meals six days a week.
Emma Wairimu Ngari has been cooking from home in Kangema and carrying her delicious dishes by public means every day but Sunday for the last three years.
“I used to sell Mitumba [second hand clothes] in the market at Kangemi, but the market got saturated, so I had to try something else,” says this 40 year old mother of three.
The one thing she knew how to do well was cook, so she used all her savings and bought three stoves: one using firewood, the other two use charcoal.
How she came to settle on that leafy corner under a tall eucalyptus tree is a mystery, but what’s certain is that she picked the right spot to start up what’s become a small-scale business that earns her several thousand shillings every day.
But Emma (or Mama Maggie as she’s also known) works hard for her money. She has no hired help apart from her daughter Maggie who has a job of her own.
“I’m up at 3am every day to start the stoves,” says Emma, who keeps her meals simple but sweet. “I serve chapatti and rice, githeri and ndegu, snow peas, cabbage. And I also cook plain bosho [kidney beans] since the price of maize is too high to buy right now.”
Explaining how she manages to bring all that food every day from Kangemi all the way to the UN where her clientele is assured, Emma says she takes two matatus.
“Then if I’m lucky, I find a wheelbarrow man who I pay to carry all my gunia’s (bags) across the road,” she says. “Otherwise, I carry them myself, although I have to take several trips,” adds this strong, sturdy woman.
But before she even thinks of boarding a matatu, Emma has to cook everything before 10am.
“I start with the chapatti, making three or four which I slice into quarters and charge 20 shillings a piece,” she says.
After that, she puts on the rice, beans, peas maize and ndengu. “I season mainly with onions, tomatoes and salt, since most of my customers aren’t big on hot spices. But for those who are, I make kachumbari with hot peppers. Then I steam the cabbage last,” she adds.
Actually, cooking is the easiest part of Emma’s job. The really hard part is loading the food into buckets, and then cardboard boxes “to retain the heat”. Then she places the boxes is big gunia’s that she carries on her back. She loads up another big bag in front which contains clean spoons and service plates.
“I carry around 30 of each,” says Emma whose clientele includes not only the boda boda and car taxi drivers, but people like Elizabeth Ndindo, 37, a flower seller who works just down the road.
“I come for Mama Maggie’s rice with ndengu and cabbage every day,” says Ndindo who pays a hundred shillings for a heaping plateful of healthy food.
Mama Maggie doesn’t have fancy tables and chairs unlike the Big Square restaurant behind which she serves her food out of buckets that rest on the rocks piles next to Big Square’s back wall. Her customers also sit on the big bricks or rocks right next to where she serves. Otherwise, they stand using the wheelbarrow as their lunch table as did Peter Mwaura, 66, the day I stopped by for lunch at Mama Maggie’s.
But the biggest endorsement of the quality of Emma’s food came from James Gichania, 44, who’s a chef a hotel nearby that serves only spicy vegetarian food.
“I come daily to eat Mama Maggie’s food,” says James who prefers the freshness and simplicity of hers compared to what he cooks regularly.
Emma usually starts to head home around 4 since nearly all her food have been sold. She gathers up the dirty dishes and empty buckets, takes two more matatus home where she’ll have Maggie help her wash everything so she can start afresh the following day.
Emma averages around KSh3000 a day or almost KSh20,000 a week. So for her, even though the work can feel backbreaking at times, all the effort is worth it. “I’m now assured that I can provide for my family.”
She admits she doesn’t have a license, but then she adds, ‘Even the Kanjos come to eat my githeri.”Boda boda taxi drivers outside UN HQ have their lunch every day at Emma's Eatery