Irio, a Kenyan food

Like N, I have been accused of being far too active on Facebook. I have been unfriended because my contacts only see me on their feeds.
It's all you, you, you and you. So annoying.
Well, of course, it's all about me, me and me. That's why it's called my Wall.
How much do you write?
I write a lot. A lot. A heck of a lot. Facebook doesn't even make a dent in the lot that I write.
Where do you find the time?
Do you talk to people during the day? You know, like in the next cubicle or desk or at the water cooler? Where do you find the time to do that and, also, update your Facebook Wall or comment on mine? Facebook is my watercooler. Your friends have to listen to you talk whereas you can Hide me and never hear from me again, unless you seek me out.

Thanks to Facebook, I've reconnected with a whole bunch of my schoolfriends from Kenya as well as college friends from India. And, very recently, one of my favorite friends from Bombay. She disappeared without a trace a few years ago, as did I for her. Facebook to the rescue!

Mso chicks!

It was during one of those infinite updates that one of my school friends asked me if I knew how to make bhajias, the kind we gorged on in Kenya. And if the pictures that these gals had posted had not taken me down memory lane, this question sent me hurtling down its path. I rued that I was a pathetically under-nourished kid who was not interested in food when we lived in Nairobi. I remember names of dishes and there are memories wound around most of them; but the flavors? For the most part, I have no recollection whatsoever.

I do, however, remember some things: like the time I ate ugali for the first time and didn't need to eat again for the next two days! It was like a giant idli that sat like a rock in my stomach forever. Whee! The freedom it gave me!

I had my first taste of rhubarb at one of my first hot lunches at school. I felt like I had licked someone's sweaty underarms and both, the smell and the image, made me extremely nauseous. If you had told me then that I would grow to love rhubarb, especially in a crumble, I would have given outlaughed all the hyenas on the Kenyan savannah.

Indian cuisine has had a fair amount of influence on Kenyan cooking; for example, chapatis and samosas are now as Kenyan as they are Indian. Spices and aromatics find their way into everyday Kenyan fare. A friend who is currently vacationing in Kenya reports that the "food is really good here!" And I believe her!

As my subconscious continued to be bombarded, I awoke one morning with the word irio ringing in my ears. Now, that was a stark change from the strange dreams that play vividly in my mind's eye otherwise! I remember it being described simply as food. Some sort of a nutritious mash that I am pretty sure I did not care for.

It had been served to us at a friend's home in rural Kenya, when he took us on a tour of his farm. His family had been fascinated by my mother. They couldn't stop touching her sari and asking about the bindi she wore on her forehead. All I wanted to do was run around outside after having been caged inside a car for over three hours. Who cared about the food when there were new kids to play with! Especially kids with an endless yard to romp around in.

But I am a different person now - the same friend who asked about bhajias wrote something about Sammy Sosa on her Wall and all I could see was samosa. I had to look up irio and while I was very tempted to make this spiced up version, I chose to stay closer to the home recipe and used Congo Cookbook's recipe instead. A simple mixture of mashed potatoes, dried peas and maize with a healthy dose of greens.


  • 1 cup dried split green peas
  • 6 medium red potatoes
  • 6 ears of fresh corn
  • 1/2 lb baby spinach, washed
  • green and yellow beans, a good handful
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • salt to taste

  1. Soak dried green peas overnight or give them a quick hot soak. Cook in a pressure cooker or boil in a saucepan until done.
  2. Peel and dice potatoes into large pieces.
  3. Scrape the kernels off the cobs.
  4. Mix peas, potatoes, corn kernels and baby spinach and cover with just enough water to cook the veggies.
  5. Mash the cooked mixture to a thick consistency.
  6. Serve hot.

This is a great alternative for mashed potatoes and a lot healthier, too. Traditionally, irio is served with grilled meat, usually steak. I served it with broiled lamb chops. No special recipe: I marinated the chops with ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric powder and salt.

Leftovers can be rolled into small patties and shallow fried. Or used as stuffing for a toasted sandwich.

This was supposed to be my second entry for my own event, IFR: Memories. Remember that? I have been a terrible host but this particular post was a mental block. The pictures were awful, the words wouldn't flow and it came at a time when I haven't been able to sit at my desk for several hours at a stretch. Whatever time I do get is focused on work and at my watercooler. I have been very self-absorbed lately, for which I apologize profusely.

Does this post mean the round-up is coming up? Like you, I sure hope so, too!

Disclaimer: I'm really sorry but I do not add friends to my Facebook page unless I know them personally or have had a reasonably long online association with them.


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I'm so looking forward to the Memories round-up.

And you had long hair :) The same specs though? :D I remember someone on FB asked for bhajias. I thought they were desi Bhajias and was quite surprised to see someone non Indian (if I'm right) ask for them!

Also, I remembered you a lot yesterday when I watched Invictus.

Plus, you knew me long enough to add me on FB :D Plus I love your FB activity and you are so fun/witty. So, don't bother!

I think I should've written you an email.

Anjali Koli said...

Irio sounds yummy. Connecting up with friends is good for you then why be apologetic Manisha. Imagine the power of the virtual water cooler, it is not possible to recreate it in real life with friends scattered in different geos. There was a reunion recently in Mumbai and I could not make it. I felt very bad. The gals met after 2 decades! I got to see the pix immediately. More power to the Social Media. Cheers!

Desisoccermom said...

Can't complain about FB cause I am not on your friends list but I do complain about the ones who play Farmville and load up the page with 'ugly ducklings' and their adoption notices. I am assuming that is not what you fill up your wall with.
Having a hard time imagining Irio's taste. But I am looking forward to Memories roundup.
Wishing you and your family a very happy and prosperous new year. :)

Ann said...

Jambo! An ex-African Indian - hah! Someone else who I can identify with, or who possibly also has had to define herself to many a "But what nationality are you?Where exactly are you from?"

Tasty Eats At Home said...

I love that you're posting foods that conjure up memories for you! Those are, even at their most humble, the foods that capture our hearts.

Bong Mom said...

Happy New Year Manisha. You look damn cute :)

Mandira said...

Looking forward to the Memories roundup Manisha. Happy New Year to you and your family!

bee said...

happy new year, darling.

Cynthia said...

Are you in specs on the right side of the photograph? Gosh I can just imagine how the memories came flooding back. Thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Happy New Year to you and the family!

TKW said...

You always make me smile. I have so much to learn from you, my friend.

Nirmala said...

Love the old photo. The Irio looks very simple and colorful. A lovely post to start the New Year! Thanks for coming out of your hybernation ;)

Anita said...

Jaya, she was farming for a while! But, thankfully, I think she decided to sell it so that she had more time for the water cooler! :D

I am a very reluctant FB user, but it had brought me in touch with many of my school and college friends. And they don't seem to mind too much that I have rarely anything to add. But, I know I can get in touch in a moment if I need to. One can choose to be as active as one wishes and that 'unfriend' thing is pretty useful too, it seems!

Oh, yeah - forgot that we have a special recipe here this time! Will surely try! Honestly, I do have all the ingredients for a change!

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Too active on FB? Good for you. I still have to figure out how it works. Guess I'll get there now that I've figured Twitter!!!

Lived and studied in Kenya for about a year but don't recollect Irio. Sounds good though.

Belated wishes for a wonderful year ahead.

TKW said...

Tasted like you'd licked a sweaty armpit?? Hysterical!!!

You've had such an interesting life, Manisha. I look forward to the Memories round-up.

Let's be "ladies who lunch" again soon!

TKW said...

ps: Obviously, I liked this post so much that I had to read it again. Plus, I wanted another gawk at that picture!

Pelicano said...

Your pic is truuuuuly scrumptious (see the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for reference), but what I am most-astonished by is that *you* *now* *like* RHUBARB?! What is up with that and when was the moment of enlightenment and does this mean that a ripe-banana-and-jackfruit smoothie is on its way too?

Rajani said...

hi my first time here! lovely blog :) hope to be back.

Rajani @

Vardhini said...

i'm going to be laughing over your description of rhubarb for awhile yet :)

Siddharth Parmar said...

Manisha why are you not on twitter?

Anonymous said...

Stumbled on to your post from my friend Planet Sue's blog. I like this post and am going to try the Irio recipe.

Ashwini said...

Long time since I have stepped here Manisha. Happy New Year (belated), liked the Kenyan write-up. Would love to try Irio recipe some time soon.

Madhuli said...

Hi Manish, Could not find your mail ID on IFR (may have missed it )but just wanted to tell you that tried your recipe for Orange barfi and it was fab.everyone just loved it and found it quite easy to make.I am not a very 'sweets' person but worked for me. thank you and ur mom for the recipe!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful dish! A better version of English mushy peas. شكرا

Cynthia said...

Hey, I hope that you and the family are well. I miss seeing you online.

migrationology said...

I grew up in Nairobi for 10 years and our house helper use to make Irio all the time. It is so healthy and sooo filling. I remember eating a full plate and not being able to go outside and play football afterwards, ha.

migrationology said...

I grew up in Nairobi for 10 years and our house helper use to make Irio all the time. It is so healthy and sooo filling. I remember eating a full plate and not being able to go outside and play football afterwards, ha.

Anjali Koli said...

Posted last 4months ago ..says the reader. Where are you Manisha? come back lady.

Shyla said...

Adorable pictures and yummy recipes. What a great find!

bee said...

Hi Manisha, Hope all's well. Haven't visited in a long time. Food memories many time center around Indian Railway Platforms! Need to make me some of those "spicy lentil donuts".


maybelle's mom said...

I have always been fascinated by Kenya. I have so many indian american friends from there, and I have heard so many stories. Though interestingly enough, they never talk about the food. Now, I will need to ask.