Nairobi: Camel's Milk Ice Cream at the Norfolk Hotel

The Norfol Notel in Nairobi serves Muranga Macadamia nut tart with camel milk ice cream. i i

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi serves camel's milk ice cream over a macadamia nut tart baked with acacia-infused honey. Dried fruit tops the ice cream and three dabs of passion fruit coulis — the color of egg yolks — sparkle on the side. Gwen Thompkins, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Gwen Thompkins, NPR
The Norfol Notel in Nairobi serves Muranga Macadamia nut tart with camel milk ice cream.

The Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi serves camel's milk ice cream over a macadamia nut tart baked with acacia-infused honey. Dried fruit tops the ice cream and three dabs of passion fruit coulis — the color of egg yolks — sparkle on the side.

Gwen Thompkins, NPR

Real Kenyans, for the most part, dine at home. Truth be told, that is where the best food is. So if an invitation is offered — pounce! They can be as rare as a leopard sighting. After the hustle and the clawing of the day, after the pushing and the dust and the heat, Kenyans prefer a little peace at home, which means — no offense — a home without you.

Most of the finest restaurants in Nairobi are already in the guidebooks. They serve plenty of meat dishes, because this is the kind of place where beef is what's for dinner. Or goat. Or, at Carnivore (off Langata Road, Nairobi, 254-20-605-933), one the city's most famous eateries, the menu looks like the opening credits of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. There is roasted crocodile, camel, buffalo, gazelle and ostrich.

There is also a variety of Indian fare in Nairobi. And Kenya's sizable Indian population has commanded ample space on nearly every menu for vegetarian dining. Here, even Wimpy's (in Sarit Center Food Court off Parklands Road, Westlands, Nairobi) has a veggie-burger special.

But the best (and freshest) foods in Nairobi often are found along the side of the road, where farmers sell their own maize, pineapples and mangoes. They sell boiled eggs that were laid the same day. They sell yummy green lemons, with rinds that are so rough and bumpy that you are tempted to call a dermatologist.

And all that meat? Well, it is walking around town every day. In the lush, green neighborhoods of Nairobi, traffic often stops to let a herd of goats or cows go by. Some restaurants even keep a cluster of worried-looking goats a few steps away from the grill, just in case. And when there is drought, herdsmen have been known to water their cattle downtown.

Here's a good food tip — a culinary poem, worthy of D.H. Lawrence at his food-writing best. When the air is angry with heat, think ice cream. The best ice creams in Nairobi are fresh and homemade, of course.

On the Delamere Terrace of the venerable Norfolk Hotel, they serve camel's milk ice cream, which rests on a simple, macadamia nut tart baked with acacia-infused honey. Dried fruit tops the ice cream, and three dabs of passion fruit coulis — the color of egg yolks —- sparkle on the side.

For the purists, the ice cream can also be served in a simple scoop, alone in a dish. They make it right there at the Norfolk, which dates back to the turn of the last century, when British colonials ran Kenya as both a playground and a mighty frontier.

The camel's milk comes from the semi-arid stretches of northern Kenya, home to Kenyan pastoralists and thousands of Somali refugees and Kenyan Somalis. It is a staple there, but the milk is also sold in small quantities at grocery stores in Nairobi.

Camel's milk ice cream is heavy and smooth on the tongue, and tastes a wee bit musky. The milk itself is so thick and sweet that it is simultaneously milk and cream. The ice cream has a quiet bite to it, as if there is some Creole cream cheese or light sour cream mixed in.

The dish — "Muranga macadamia nut tart with camel milk ice cream" — isn't available at the restaurant every day, which makes it extra special. You have to wait for when the time is right.

So wait. Because from the first cool mouthful, the ice cream enlivens the imagination to think of distant and exotic places: places where the moon rises over the desert like a flare, where no amount of shouting could fill the silence of an empty landscape, where even the din of downtown Nairobi recedes. Executive chef Abdalla Masoud brought camel's milk ice cream to the Norfolk, but what he really brought was a hint of grace.

Norfolk Hotel — Harry Thuku Road, Nairobi, Kenya. Telephone: 254-20-250-900.

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