Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing
Samaki Kaanga dry fish with collard greens and Ugali.

Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing Samaki Kaanga dry fish with collard greens and Ugali.

Rafiki Restaurant and Lounge offers traditional Kenyan food in Downtown Kent

How many people reading this right now can say they have tried Kenyan food before? Well, now at least I can.

When researching what kind of out-of-the-ordinary, adventurous cuisine I would want to taste and write about, I was surprised to learn that there was a Kenyan restaurant and bar in the middle of downtown Kent.

Rafiki Restaurant and Lounge, 226 First Ave. S., is a colorful and inviting venue with an attractive lime green storefront. At night, strips of neon-colored LED lights line the windows and awnings, making it seem like the location of the best party in town.

The venue is halved into a restaurant side with booths and large television screens playing international soccer games on one side. The other half is more of a bar with dimmer lighting. Posters advertise nights where the venue becomes a nightclub as various DJ’s are hosted.

When I arrived, I explained I was there for a bite to eat before being directed to the restaurant side of the establishment. A waitress greeted me at my table and asked if I had ever had Kenyan food. The look in her eye suggested that she already knew I had not.

I explained that I was there to try a cuisine that was unfamiliar to me and I asked what she recommended.

She pointed to the samosas and recommended the whole-fried fish, which I was determined to try regardless of her recommendation. I ordered the dry fish, Samaki Kaanga, which comes without the masala-like sauce that comes with the wet fish, Samaki Wa Mchuzi.

The samosas arrived deliciously toasty and crispy with a light and flaky exterior. The filling was different from what you might expect in an Indian-style samosa, with a tender ground beef filling. They were accompanied with lime wedges to zest the crispy fried dumplings.

The fried fish arrived at my table looking nothing short of delicious. The tilapia fish, fried in its entirety, had a crispy and flaky texture as the skin of the fish bubbled up like fried chicharrones. I was initially unsure of the best way to approach eating a whole-fried fish, but I quickly learned there is no wrong way to go about it.

The crispy skin of the fish peels back to reveal deliciously tender and moist fish meat. The seasoning on the outside of the fish was so light and allowed the true flavor of the fish itself to shine.

The dish included sides of tender collard greens, a grits-like cornmeal cake called Ugali, and salad of diced vegetables and herbs, which as far as I could discern included tomatoes, onion and cilantro, reminding me of pico de gallo.

I thought the tender fish was delicious when tossed together with the pico-de-gallo-like side salad. To me, it was similar to the freshness and variety in texture that I enjoy in a good ceviche.

The menu at Rafiki Restaurant and Lounge includes many traditional Kenyan dishes such as Kuku Curry, a chicken curry dish, Mbuzi Kaanga, goat stew, and a beef and rice dish called Pilau.

Rafiki is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday to Sunday.


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