The number of actual Mexicans in Nairobi is small, about 200 people, according to embassy estimates. But their influence on the city’s cultural life is hard to miss. From the food, to TV, to the radio – Mexican culture has slowly been embraced and even fused with Kenyan culture. CGTN’s Terry Wangari explores how Kenya embraces multi-cultural traditions.
Good Mexican food is notoriously hard to find throughout Africa, but in Nairobi, hungry travelers and residents can access it at the heart of the central business district
Burrito Bar is one of the first Mexican restaurants to take center stage in Nairobi in 2017. Mostly known for being one of Nairobi’s best kept secrets – Burrito Bar is not only popular for its burritos but also due to the fact that it was started by an unlikely duo.
“It actually came from a craving from my sister and I when we moved back from the UK. I guess we had a lot more options for Mexican food when we lived in London. So when we came back here there were not a lot of options – they were very limited options and they weren’t really well done,” Burrito Bar Co-Founder Faiza Hersi said.
“So we would make it at home for ourselves, for our friends and family, when we have them over and I guess it was a hit with the customers then and so we decided to try our hand in it….space opened up at The Alchemist and here we are.”
The Mexican restaurant prides itself on bringing a modern Mexican twist to some of the meals included on their menu since many of the ingredients chosen are readily available in Kenya.
“Basically from our country Kenya, they have accepted Mexican food and the good thing with Mexican food is that its just our ordinary Kenyan food, the one we put on our dinner table everyday but now made in a different set up and presentation. Yeah, actually the only difference is presentation. But the toppings, all of them they come from here, its things that we know,” said waiter Kevin Wanjohi Kahuthu.
While Faiza notes the challenges of starting a Mexican restaurant in Nairobi, she attributes Nairobians interest in trying different cultures a selling point.
“We have so many other restaurants that have opened up around Nairobi now. Everyone now knows what Mexican food is. But in the begining, which was really interesting, we had to teach people how to unwrap burritos so people had never tried burritos before, tacos,” Faiza said.
“So we had to have a very simple menu as well to cater to new-bees to Mexican food but right now its, there’s many options that you can go to and have some good mexican food in Nairobi. So its really nice, its really neat that we were a part of something that grew in Nairobi.”
The infusion of Mexican culture doesn’t stop on the dinner plate. The blend of Mexican and Kenyan cinema began in the 1980s.
Latin American telenovelas, mostly from Mexico, took over Kenyan airwaves. The rights for these soap operas were cheaper to buy than those for United States shows, so networks snatched them up.
“KTN was the first private station and then more stations came up. As more stations came more Telenovelas were broadcast and so everything that would have been sort of, a lot of the American soaps and programming where quickly replaced by Mexican Telenovelas in the 90s,” CEO of Africa Voices Dubbing Company Caroline Mbindyo-Koroso.
“We have entire generations who have never even seen the American stuff, they have literally grown up watching Mexican Telenovelas.
Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Edgar ‘Romantico’ Manuel Vargas Gallegos came to Kenya in 2015 as a missionary.
Upon arriving, he realized he had a different calling and is fusing the two cultures lyrically, saying he chose music because it comes from the heart.
“It’s part of my passion. It brings Kenya, that fusion. I was born in Mexico, I grew up in Mexico, I am from Veracruz near to the coast. So another flavour of the music of the Latina flavour. So I put it in with the Kenyan music,” he said.
He adopted the stage name Romantico and fell in love with genge – Nairobi’s home-grown music genre that combines traditional hip-hop beats with rap lyrics in Kiswahili and Sheng.
Romantico believes that with the fusion of both worlds, his music can be taken to the next level and make it on global platforms.
“Right now am the only one who is doing Spanish-Kiswahili, nobody has done this one,” he said.
Over the years, Nairobi has become a melting pot of cultures. Partly due to its strategic position in the continent and rapid economic development. Although Mexicans are few in number in this dynamic city, one thing is clear – Nairbobians love tacos, tequilas and telenovelas.