In my many travels to northern Kenya, I have come across numerous coping strategies the locals have devised to concur and tame the harsh Kenyan north. But I suppose the most fascinating I have witnessed yet is their food preservation techniques. Here, technology such as cold chains, is not part of a standard kitchen in a majority of households (rapid electrification and the tarmacking of the Isiolo-Moyale road may soon change this).
Dried meat (otkac or nyirnyir) is usually prepared from camel meat (hilib gel). Strips are cut and left in the sun to dry and later cut into small pieces that are fried (usually in oil with garlic and iliki) until they are dry. The dry-fried meat is then immersed in camel ghee (subag) where the fatty mixture condenses and can be stored for at least 2-3 months without getting spoilt in bags made out of camel skin and hoofs.
One camel slaughtered and preserved this way can be eaten for up to 6 months. For use, its scooped in potions and melted to be served as stew with pounded maize meal, rice, beans(when available) or, just eaten on its own as a whole meal. During breakfast, nyirnyir is served only to men
But interestingly this method of meat preservation is not just a preserve of the pastoralists of northern Kenya. Among the Luo of Kenya, such dried meat, known as aliya, is made into a stew that is eaten with Ugali. The Sudanese also have similar meat they call shermout. But the Sudanese are even more innovative.
The layer of fat around a slaughtered animal’s stomach (miriss) is also dried. Internal organs are also sun-dried, pounded, mixed with some potash, and moulded into a ball that is allowed to dry slowly to make twini-digla. The large intestine may also be cleaned and stuffed with fat and hung to dry as a type of sausage
The preservation of milk is equally a novelty – wooden guards are rubbed inside with smoked herbal sticks several times (at least five times). Then they are left to dry without being cleaned washed. These herbs smeared in the guards act as food preservatives especially, for milk which then stays fit for consumption for long regardless of the weather conditions. I have eaten nyirnyir on several occasions and its really very good. I am yet to gather enough strength to try the preserved milk! I will keep you posted when I get round to doing this!