It only takes some bars of steel, a soldering iron and a metal chain saw to make an Argentinian style choma down at the coast, discovers Adam Kilifi over the course of one memorable meal.
Simon Zimmerman is a carpenter from Argentina temporarily relocated to Kenya, to convert what is basically virgin forest into a festival site. His passion for grilling meat is evident in conversation. When he invites me to lunch deep in the Kilifi plantations’ forest, it is with childlike excitement.
“You’re about to experience an asado, Argentinian style grill! Get in the truck!”
Simon is pulling two sheep by a rope towards his pick-up while waving at me. He shouts over that it is midday and we are officially late.
As we bounce along the mud-packed road, Simon informs me that: “Argentineans have had a long history with the grill; for them roasting meat isn’t the quick butcher, baste and burn style that you get in Kenyan nyama choma joints.” I smart at the cuss but let him go on: “An entire day has to be set aside for an asado to give ample prep time and close to 8 hours to grill. Every chef has his own grilling style and the mood at an asado will generally reflect the chef’s personality. Today we go Simon-style, eh!”
Simon is blonde, blue eyed, about 6’11 and made almost entirely of energy. When working, he has been known to shimmy up close to thousand year old baobab trees to find someone he could have just dialed over the phone. A ‘Simon-style asado’ is wild and characterized by excess: Loads of meat, loads of beer and enough palm wine to floor the drinking population of Lamu Island.
On arrival, I am concerned at the obvious lack of any grilling facilities on site. Turns out that Simon and Paolo Rodo, the long-haired Italian crew member of the Musafir dhow, have a plan to build one. While three Oromia watchmen butcher the sheep, the Italian and the Argentinian set to work with power tools; a generator and long pieces of metal. The result is an an odd grill and bears no resemblance to anything I have ever encountered.
Eventually the strange contraption takes form. All it takes are various bars of steel, a soldering iron and a metal circle saw. They have built two cross-like structures upon which they proceed to splay the butchered and skinned sheep, minus their organs. These they then stick into the ground nearly half a meter from a roaring mango wood fire.
According to Simon, three things are key when you get the meat to the fire: the wood, the strength of the heat and the distance of your meat from the flames. Each of these contributes to a slow roasting process that yields delectable meat whose only seasoning is salt. With regards to the offal, I am informed that there are many ways to prepare it but that nothing beats roasting the small intestines till they’re slightly crispy and just a little soft on the inside. Nothing except good old mutura, Kikuyu blood sausage, of course.
Finally we reach the 7 hour mark. Simon declares the meat ready and we proceed to sit on sawed-off logs while the Oromia expertly carve the meat into bite-sized pieces. The rest of the crew have been trickling in over the course of the afternoon bearing more additions to the feast. An offering of bhajias from Mombasa are a welcome addition; they come with a homemade ‘bomb chilli’ sauce that when combined with the slow cooked, mango wood-caramelised lamb, are a match made in heaven.
Simon is proud of the result: “For me asado cordero, is the best kind of grilling. If you get it just right like today where you have the outer skin crunchy like a potato chip and the meat comes off like pulled lamb. La carne hace el amor a tu boca (the meat makes love in your mouth)!”