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