Elizabeth Ndindo
Emma Wairimu
Emma Wairimu Ngari
James Gichania
Peter Mwaura
United Nations Avenue

My roadside eatery settles all my bills

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.

Emma Wairimu serves her customers at her eatery on United Nations Avenue, Nairobi. PHOTO | margaretta wa gacheru

Tucked away behind an army of boda boda drivers on United Nations Avenue, Nairobi, 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] at Kangemi, but the market got saturated, so I had to try something else,” says the 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 using charcoal.

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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 daily.But Emma, or Mama Maggie as she’s popularly 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 chapati and rice, githeri and ndengu, snow peas, cabbage. I also cook plain mboco [kidney beans] since the price of maize is too high right now.” To bring all the food every day from Kangemi all the way to the UN where her clientele is assured, Ms Emma takes two matatus.“Then if I’m lucky, I find a wheelbarrow man who I pay to carry all my bags across the road,” she says. “Otherwise, I carry them myself, although I have to take several trips.” But before she even thinks of boarding a matatu, Emma has to cook everything before 10am. “I start with the chapati, which I slice into quarters and charge Sh20 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.READ: Jumia spices up customer service with new food delivery appActually, cooking is the easiest part of Ms 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 in big sacks that she carries on her back. Her 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 Sh100 for a plate. Mama Maggie doesn’t have fancy tables and chairs unlike the Big Square restaurant behind hich she serves her food out of buckets that rest on the rocks piles. 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 at 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.Ms Emma usually starts to head home around 4pm 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. Ms Emma averages around Sh3,000 a day or about Sh20,000 a week in earnings. 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 says.

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