Located near Rama Apartments, Off Mama Ngina Drive, Mama Ngina, Mombasa, Kenya is the all famous Mombasa Lighthouse which offers you some gorgeous views of the port and the opportunity to munch on real African street food under the sunshine or shade. In the past, I’ve recommended that you visit the Mombasa Lighthouse as it’s one of the top places to enjoy a snack. Having recently visited Mombasa again and tried nearly every item available at lighthouse, I feel I absolutely have to tell you about your snack options in order to help you decide which delectable items, you should pick during your time visiting! The food at Mombasa Lighthouse will be some of the most nutritious and versatile of items that you will sample and some of the items available are real staple foods for the locals, so they take pride in sharing it with you.
Option 1: casava crisps
Cassava is a root vegetable similar to a potato but its flavour and texture differs, in the best of ways. It is sweet and chewy and when freshly cut and deep fried, it can be made into the thinnest and crispiest crisps you’ve ever had. Forget the packet crisps that you pick up in the supermarket, the hand-made cassava crisps fried at the lighthouse are in a league of their own. The fibrous surface of the cassava turns a gorgeous golden colour immediately once fried and your street food vendor will cover it with chilli and lemon to add some zing and spice to your unforgettable snack. The crisps are packed into a white transparent packet before the copious amounts of salt, chilli and lemon are added and shook! Some visitors of the Mombasa Lighthouse request that their packet be sealed so that they can pack these delicious crisps in their suitcase and bring them home to share with their family and friends (my mother is one such person). If your taste buds can’t take spicy heat then make sure you let your street food vendor know in advance and before he starts covering your cassava crisps with his ultra hot chilli powder! In Swahili, cassava is known as mogo, so when you order your cassava crisps, refer to them as mogo crisps and you’ll certainly receive a smile from your street vendor (and maybe a little extra love and attention to your order!).
Option 2: fried or grilled cassava?
Now if you’re hooked on the idea of trying cassava (known as mogo in Kenya), you will be pleased to know that you don’t just have the option of trying it in the form of crisps. Street food vendors at lighthouse can fry an entire slab of cassava (rather than thin slices) and cover it with salt, lemon and chilli. Eating cassava in this way allows you to enjoy more of its chewy exterior texture and slightly soft centre. If you’re more of a healthy diner then you have the option of requesting that the cassava be grilled instead. This is because grilling the cassava means that it’s cooked less and there is minimal loss to the moisture and vitamins of the cassava! Once the cassava is either fried or grilled, it will be wrapped in a green cob leaf for you to enjoy. Now if you’re looking for something more soft to eat (and like my grandma, you or your travel companions do not have teeth), then I would recommend that you opt for the sweet potato option, which is next!
Option 3: grilled sweet potato
It’s quite easy to relish an entire grilled sweet potato at lighthouse! Please also don’t let the name “sweet” make you feel that this vegetable can’t take the heat of the chilli powder layered onto it by the street vendors though. This delish snack is all about mixing the sweet and spicy together and giving your mouth something soft and tasty to hoover down. The skin of the sweet potatoes is charred and crunchy on the outside (not recommended for eating, but more to note in respect to the aesthetic difference) due to the grill, which is a real contrast to the creamy inside. Compared to your usual white potato, this snack is high in vitamin C and includes less carbohydrates than a white potatoes, so you’ll feel like you’re having a healthy snack whilst enjoying the lighthouse view (way better than having some fries at your hotel and only seeing the beach!). Again, if spicy food is not to your liking, you should let the street vendor preparing your food know so that he/she isn’t so generous with the added heat! I would recommend that if you’re going to order this snack, you take your own fork or spoon with you (as this won’t be provided on the street!).
Option 4: grilled sweetcorn
No one grills corn better than the Kenyans at lighthouse, so you know that this is one option that you must seriously consider ordering. In Swahili, corn is translated into mahindi so if you rightly decide to order this snack, call it by its local name and give your street vendor some extra joy that you’re trying to speak their language. The sweet corn is cooked until deeply roasted and just before you’re given it to munch on, the corn is rolled in a wet, spicy, salty lime juice which sticks on the corn and adds a much more interesting taste then perhaps only using butter (which is common in other continents around the world). I really like watching the corn being cooked because it’s quite mature corn, rather than the baby yellow type, and it hisses as it roasts and begins to turn a golden yellow and black colour. It’s much easier to eat than the sweet potato, provided that you have teeth (unlike my grandma).
Option 5: coconut
With all this gorgeous food on offer, of course you need a drink to wash it all down with and what better than a coconut that is sliced open in front of your eyes. In Swahili, coconut is called madaf and the street vendors obtain coconuts from the coconut trees surrounding the lighthouse and offer you the freshest drink that you will ever have! The coconut water is an excellent thirst quencher in the tropical summer and a refreshing low-calorie beverage that will make you feel rehydrated within seconds. The best part about drinking coconut water out of a real coconut is that once the water is finished inside, your street food vendor will use the lid of the coconut to make you a spoon with which you can scoop up the creamy and milky flesh inside the coconut and have a final snack! Now that’s what I call value for money — a drink and a snack in one.
Food from humble and grounded people
The prices for most of the snacks above are between 50 KSH (0.5 USD) and 150 KSH (1 USD) but please don’t bargain with these hard working local people. The job of obtaining, carrying and then cooking all of these snacks for you in the open heat is physically challenging. They are such humble and grounded people who are trying to earn a living for themselves and their family. You will see as you sit and relax in either your tuk-tuk or hotel booked taxi, that the lighthouse area, whilst beautiful, does have elements of poverty around it, including young and elderly individuals begging for money, so please do be kind to those that are trying their best to earn a living and don’t haggle to get a lower price. The lighthouse offers ingenious combinations of flavour, nutrition and a great view for a wonderful price. If you are a tourist, I would recommend that you enquire about this wonderful location with your hotel and book a taxi to and from this lovely sight where you can eat some delish food and once you get to lighthouse, look out for the fantastic and cheerful street food vendor called Astar.
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