The Search for Kenyan Food in Jersey


A year ago the Voice ran a piece called “Kenyan Unrest, Jersey Style,” a fascinating story about how Kenyan immigrants who identified with the opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement, were streaming into a fairly obscure corner of Jersey City after a disputed election a few months earlier turned violent. The story mentioned a local hangout called Mallory Coffee Shop.I tucked it away in my “To Visit” file, and just dredged it up again recently.

Mallory Coffee Shop is an unprepossessing place, a corner storefront with a green awning a few blocks south of Communipaw Avenue, near a swampy arm of Newark Bay. There’s no indication on the outside that the place is anything more than the usual coffee shop. Mallory’s does indeed serve coffee, along with a few low-level Kenyan snacks, including samosas and chapatis. If these sound like Indian snacks, that’s where they originated, but the Kenyans have put their own spin on them, in a cuisine that also includes dishes that originated in England and South Africa. The storefront is nearly empty, with a couple of small tables, a Mr. Coffee and some cups, and a counter behind which the proprietor stands. Luncheon-meat sandwiches are also available.

While the Voice article mentioned ugali and managu being available, the first a cornmeal mush and the second a stewed green, the properietor laughed when I asked for them. “In about six months, we’re going to make this into a real restaurant. You know, with hot plates and more tables.” Then he directed me to the website to watch for developments. Don’t bother, the site doesn’t work.

I had a cup of coffee and the order of mandazi ($1) pictured above — a sweet fritter that’s a common form of street food in Nairobi. They were great, and I guess I’ll have to go back in six months to see if an actual restaurant has materialized. 

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2009


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