Kenya’s highways that accommodate long distance buses are the sight of thriving businesses and skilful hawking.
Most stop-over towns, townships, and market centres are a beehive of activity that in the recent is attracting major property developers who are constructing storey buildings to take care of the 24-hour travel.
Indeed, motorists and travellers rushing home want quick meals that obey the transporters’ “20 minutes” only warnings when they stop for a breather, a snack, or take-away meals like the finger-licking chips ital (take-away chips).
However, in all this, the intrusive item on most menus in these stop-over points is meat (nyama, in Kiswahili).
On the busy Nairobi-Nyeri highway, perhaps buoyed by the Sh31 billion expansion of Thika Road, choma zones or meat serving areas are coming up within a twinkle of an eye.
They sit side by side with restaurants.
The meat is either served roasted or fried with accompaniments of either ugali or irio, the traditional Kikuyu food.
After every kilometre on the stretch of more than 150 km, there are two or more choma zones, which have become sights of cars parked metres away from the clubs ranging from ordinary vehicles to high-end guzzlers indicating a mix of clientele.
During the festivities, like the travel madness of Christmas that is just ebbing out, the choma zones have been recording a booming business.
Normally, a restaurant a meat point complement because “without the restaurant we would not be here and the same case applies to the restaurant. We play the role of a receptionist in an office and make sure the customers is well received and leaves satisfied,” said Stanley Ndegwa, a businessman the Nyeri-Nairobi highway.
Godfrey Gichuki of Casablanca Club, which mainly serves mutton spent Sh65,000 to set up his kitchen along the Kenol-Murang’a road.
Casablanca alone has more than 12 choma zones operated by different investors. A majority of these choma zones are owned by active politicians and those who have retired.
For a drive-through experience, customers who have contacts of chefs and owners of the clubs order ahead of arrival.
“When a client has the phone number of the chef or butcher of their favourite meat joint, they call and place an order so the meat is prepared before they arrive,” said Mr Gichuki.
A kilo of meat goes for between Sh600 and Sh1,200, whether fried, roasted, or raw.
A sample of operators said they sell between 70 and 100 kilogrammes in a day, giving them between Sh42,000 and Sh120,000.
“During Christmas holiday, each of us sold around 120 kilos of beef and mutton and customers were still coming,” said Mr Gichuki.
It is a cut-throat competition; the business covers the entire stretch and every month a new choma zone opens.
“We ensure that we handle our customers right, serve quality meat and prepare it in a way that is appealing. Most importantly personal appearance and grooming help to keep us in business,” said Mr Gichuki.
A portion of ugali goes for Sh50 while that of mukimo (a mixture of mashed potato, beans and green maize) is Sh100.
The meat is marinated with garlic onions, lemon, honey and they sometime use salad oil “to make it crunchy and tastier.”
To meet the demand, butchers import goats from Tanzania despite being more expensive than in the local market.
“Since we are out of a political season we are buying the goats expensively from Tanzania compared to how we get them locally,” he said, adding Kenyans love roast meat.
This hustle and bustle around the meat-eating joints is a source of employment to the youth working as chefs and waiters, who, says George Kariuki of Casablanca, take home Sh500 per day.