Uganda

Kabagarame Pork Joint: A Bushenyi food festival

Visiting my old friend Frank in Bushenyi was one of the main highlights of my Uganda adventure. It was 24 hours of good talks, dancing, and a culinary feast at Kabagarame Pork Joint!

-You eat pork, right? Frank and Simon Peter ask as they turn to look at us in the car. We have a surprise for lunch!

An hour later I am digging my right hand into a large plate of stew that triggered all my senses. The fantastic colours, the mouth-watering smell, and the taste of the tenderest barbequed pork combined with tomato and herbs. It was nothing less than a proper culinary delight! And yes. You read it correct. No cutlery was involved. Just shared plates of food eaten with our hands. Frank and Simon Peter had taken us to the weekly food festival Kabagarame Pork Joint in Bushenyi.

Two men in front of large barbeques filled with sticks with pork meat at Kabagarame Pork Joint.
Luckily I eat pork, as there was no wondering about what Kabagarame was all about.

How we ended up at Kabagarame Pork Joint

Let us rewind 14 years. Coming back to my student housing in Trondheim, Norway, from my summer break in 2008, I was met with a large smile from a tall, kind-looking man from Uganda. Over the course of the summer, I had gotten three new house mates, and Frank was one of them. Many good talks and laughs over shared meals later, I left Trondheim for NYC when the semester was over. As the years went past, we stayed in touch.

And now. After all these years. I was finally visiting him in Uganda!

A woman holding a beer sitting beside a man in a gazebo, both smiling towards the camera.
Frank and I, 14 years after we shared an apartment in Trondheim, Norway.

Frank had been kind to invite us to stay at his beautiful country home in Bushenyi and literally welcomed us with open arms as we stepped out of the car. The evening was spent in the best way possible. There were tasty, local food, drinks, music, and good conversations in Frank’s lovely man cave aka gazebo in the garden. When we also headed out for dancing at some local bars, I could not have wished for more.

View of a house and a gazebo in a nicely laid garden with green lawn, palm trees, flowers, and bushes.
A dream of a country home!

Hospitable Bushenyi

Sitting around the breakfast table the next morning, well rested after a short, but good night sleep, it felt like we were a group of old friends. In reality, I had only just started to know my travel companion, Fatima, had not seen Frank since 2008, and only briefly met Simon Peter, who arranged our two-week-Uganda-trip and had come down from Kampala with Frank.

A woman in t-shirt and skirt holding a long stick up t a large tree with guava fruit.
When you get ripe guava fruit straight from the tree…

Bushenyi is not a typical destination for tourists in Uganda, which made it even more special. And if we had not experienced the wonderful hospitality from Frank and his friends the night before, we definitely found it when visiting his family.

Frank took us to visit his aunt Allen and uncle Anthony and mother Prossy on their nearby farms. Again, we were welcomed as if we were family! We laughed, talked, and got a bag full of ripe guavas directly from the garden. Ugandans are hands down some of the friendliest people I have met. So easy to talk to, so unpretentious, and always with a wide smile.

It had been a fantastic day that I knew I would remember for life. Driving away from Prossy and the farm, I was sure our Bushenyi visit had come to an end. But that was when Frank and Simon Peter announced the surprise lunch.

-We are going to Kabagarame food festival!

So, what is Kabagarame Pork Joint?

Entering the large, open field we smelled the barbeques before we even saw them. No wonder what this place centered about. People sat and walked amongst picnic tables, chairs, and colourful umbrellas. Some women had laid fresh vegetables and fruit on the ground to sell and children were playing around them. Kabagarame definitely had a lively festival feel.

A woman with red bag walking into Kabagarame food festival. A man in front of a barbeque, many picnic tables with colourful umbrellas and small huts in th ebackground.
Kabagarame is as colourful as everywhere else in Uganda.

Frank and Simon Peter led us directly to one of the small, circular straw tatched huts surrounding the field. Sitting down at the waiting table inside, the excitement was real. Not only for Fatima and I, but also from the guys who wondered how we would find it!

What we had realized was that this place was all about the large skewers of pork meaton the barbeques outside.

A man wearing a blue and red apron holds up 4 pork meat skewers in front of a large barbeque at Kabagarame in Bushenyi.
What Kabagarame is all about!

Kabagarame means “let them lie on their backs” and the food festival has been running every Saturday for decades. From being a small local goat market, it now attracts up to 2000 people from near and far coming for a feast with friends and family. And after, lay back in satisfaction.

The Kabagarame food experience

Inside, drinks were served while we observed the family sitting next to us getting their food. They had driven for 2 hours to get there and obviously thought it was funny to have two mzungo women joining them.

Not long after, two large trays of steaming hot, tomatoe-based stew of pork, kale, pepper, and onion were put out on our table. Small baskets and plates of matoke, millet, and casava accompanied the stew as side courses. It smelled wonderful!

A man poring water from a large can over two women's hands inside a hut at Kabagarame Pork Joint.
No one starts eating before hands are washed!

But (there is always a but, right?), no plates and no cutlery were handed out… Were we really eating with our hands? Yup. The traditional Ugandan way to eat is with their right hand, and Kabagarame is first and foremost a place for Ugandans – not international tourists.

So, when in Rome, do as the Romans…

Even though water and soap were passed around the table for hand washing, I was happy I had brought a bottle of hand sanitizer along.

Two large pans of red stew, a bowl of matoke and two baskets with lids on a table with yellow wax table cloth typical for Kabagarame Pork Joint.
If you could only smell it too!

With clean hands and equipped with a napkin it was just to dig in! And what a taste! All my taste buds awoke instantly. It was definitely the best thing I had tasted in Uganda so far, and I could see why people travelled for hours to eat this. The pieces of meat were so tender they basically fell apart in my hand.

How did eating with my hand go? Let us just say that more than one napkin was needed…

Three men sitting around a table in a hut at Kabagarame Pork Joint, eating with their hands.
Who does not love shared, social meals?

A place to make friends

Mid-eating, the weather gods decided to show off. Lightning, thunder, rain with drops the size of cats, and a wind that went straight through the hut we were sitting in. Did it ruin the good mood? Not at all. Sitting close together under warm shawls while the sky opened outside made for an even more social experience.
Being social and talking to the people you meet is another important part of Kabagarame food festival.

Two men, a woman, and three children sitting in a hut at Kabagarame Pork Joint.
No problem being stuck inside with these lovely people

While waiting for the rain to stop, we chatted with the family next to us. When talking to people abroad, it sometimes strikes me how small the world seems despite differences. Among other things, we found that these guys had a Ugandan friend who worked as a teacher in Norwegian in Norway!

A surreal tip for the onward journey

As the heavy clouds started lifting, our time at Kabagarame Pork Joint was over – a wonderful and unique experience richer.

Back in the safari van with driver and guide Justus, we got one last piece of advice from Frank: Remember to keep your eyes open for elephans along the road! Yeah, right. As if this day could get even better.

View of the plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.
Nothing negative to say about the view of Queen Elizabeth National Park from the road

What do you think? Did we spot any elephants en route Queen Elizabeth National Park?

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