Of all the flavors I can remember as a kid growing up in Kenya…
I’ll never ever forget that meaty, gamey, fleshy, all-na-tur-all bursting taste that can only result from a free-range, grass grazed goat that’s been freshly slaughtered, and slow roasted on a grill made from metal fencing that hovers over a bed of charcoal.
Nyama choma (roasted meat)!
And while you can occasionally get beef or chicken, goat remains the local favorite (known as mbuzi choma or roasted goat).
I’ve written about nyama choma (especially that article about where to eat the best nyama choma in Nairobi) a number of times already throughout the years of Migrationology, but there’s always room for another lip-licking article on East African style roasted goat, right!?
So while in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, one day we headed out of town, a bit to the outskirts, to a home (more like a little shack with a big yard filled with trees) that opens up on Sunday each week for a goat nyama choma roast.
It’s basically just a home that opens its doors to slaughter goats and roast them on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Yes, as you might guess, the clientele is dominated by males. And let me tell you, it was an awesome and intense Tanzanian nyama choma experience!
How do you order Nyama Choma?
The first step is to tell the butcher how much meat you want and from what part of carcass you’d like it from. He’ll take the dangerously sharp machete (or panga) and hack off a chunk of goat flesh.
In our case, there were two of us eating (my wife on the other hand wasn’t so interested), so we ordered 1 kilo of the freshest Tanzanian goat!
He’ll first cut off your chunk of meat and proceed to weigh it on the scale to confirm the correct amount.
The butcher then grabs a bag of of both salt and MSG (yup that’s right), and generously anoints the meat, coating it in all its crevices.
Preparation stage complete, the nyama choma is ready to join the other hunks of goat already slow roasting over the hot coals.
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Cooking Nyama Choma
In East Africa, nyama choma is meant to be slow roasted. The coals are kept very low and then covered in ash so they don’t cook the meat too fast.
The grill, which is normally some kind of jua kali homemade creation, is often covered by metal fencing material that gives the nyama choma a convenient roasting bed.
Goat is fatty, so as it slow roasts, the meat releases droplets of oil that sizzle and flame up the fire – this is one of the reasons for keeping a low heat – so the fire doesn’t flame up too much.
Hopefully the red paint from the griddle came off on someone else’s meat long before!
On most nyama choma grills in East Africa, you’ll be able to see the entire animal either on the grill or scattered somewhere around the butcher house, waiting for someone to order it.
Goat stomachs and all the organs were being roasted, as lots of hungry and tipsy men licked their lips in anticipation of the nyama choma!
This particular restaurant is also extremely well known for their goat soup.
It basically begins with a pot full of water, and the cook adds nearly all the organs of the goat, along with some giant chunks of white fat, and lots of salt.
Sitting over a fire, the soup then boils and cooks for a few hours before it’s ready to be served. A bowl of oily goat soup is normally eaten with chilies and lemon to garnish.
This time I didn’t have any soup, but we just waited for our nyama choma.
After about an hour and a half, the butcher gave me the nod, and indicated that our nyama choma was roasted to perfection and ready to be chopped into bite sized pieces.
Using the same raw meat cutting board (of course), he then sliced through the meat with an extremely sharp knife, making the meat look like it was soft as butter (definitely not the case).
Our wonderful plate of freshly roasted nyama choma (mbuzi choma), grew and grew until the entire 1 kilo was piled high into a mountain of the best Tanzanian nyama choma.
Since the process often takes 1 hour or even longer until the meat is fully cooked, nyama choma is a social meal where, typically men, gather to drink some beer and wait for the meat to finish cooking.
Many hang out for hours, enjoying beer after beer, and when the meat comes, slowly digging in piece by piece.
Served with a pile of salt (chumvi) on the side, a few wedges of lemon, and some tomato chili sauce, our nyama choma pyramid was delivered to our wooden stool makeshift table.
My friend Kabila and I couldn’t hold back any longer, the aroma of the goat meal luring us in like Sirens.
When it comes to Tanzanian food or Kenyan food, nyama choma is the cream of the crop, one of the most popular dishes, especially for men.
How does nyama choma taste?
The first thing to know is that nyama choma does NOT slide off the bone.
It’s not that tenderly wimpy meat that gets babied and massaged into a buttery creature. Nyama choma is the REAL deal.
It has some serious texture to it, you can actually taste and feel the grains of a goat that’s been running around Africa, munching on grass and grazing.
Eating nyama choma is an extreme sport, it is an intense jaw workout, and since I’m out of practice myself, though I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I actually got a little sore from eating this nyama choma!
The flavor was outstanding! I could actually taste the animal and the naturalness of the meat. A little squeeze of lemon, a slice of pili pili mbuzi (chili pepper), and I felt like I was back at home, thoroughly enjoying every chew of wonderful nyama choma.
I’ve had plenty of African friends that have visited the USA and have told me they don’t like the meat, because it just has no flavor and is way too soft.
Once you eat a fresh plate of nyama choma, running around one minute, on the grill the next, and into your mouth, you’ll understand.
Jaw worn out, and stomach full of pure delicious nyama choma, I sat back in my plastic chair and patted my belly.
Behind me another live goat was being pulled out of the pen, hauled to the slaughter yard, hung up in the butcher house, and roasted kilo by kilo.
This is the nyama choma experience!
1 kilo of nyama choma cost us 8,000 TZS ($4.84).