Drinking Africa – a pubcrawl through sub-Saharan Africa

In this post, I wanted to share some of the libations that I have enjoyed/survived since I moved to Africa nearly 2 years ago – first to Ghana and then to Kenya where I currently reside. Some of these concoctions, I would highly recommend that you try in your own homes, others you may not be able to get outside of their respective locales, and even others, I would suggest that you steer clear from all together (my sharing them meant only for your edification).


“Dawa” in Kiswahili means “medicine” and that is exactly what the Kenyan cocktail acts as especially at brunch after a big night out in Nairobi. Recipe as follows:

  • Crushed Ice
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • ½ Teaspoon of cane sugar
  • ½ Tablespoon of Lime Cordial
  • 2 ounces of Vodka
  • Juice of 1 Kaffir Lime
  • Spritz of soda water (optional to cut sweetness)


  1. Line rim with honey and lime juice and coat with cane sugar
  2. Muddle Ice, Honey, Sugar and Cordial until a slush is achieved
  3. Stir in Vodka and Lime Juice
  4. Start your Monday morning


No trip to East Africa would be complete without a Tusker Lager. The motto “Bia Yangu, Nchi Yangu” in Swahili or “My Beer, My Country” is a prime example of why this pale lager is the beer of choice for most Kenyans. While most whom have had Tusker may agree that there might be better European contenders in the pale lager class – there is something distinctly East African about enjoying a Tusker at the Kenyan rugby 7’s tournament, after a game drive in the Masai Mara, at the monthly blankets and wine festivals, or even at the weekend thoroughbred races.


You won’t be able to find “Chibuku” unless you’re passing through Southern Africa. It is a fresh beer made from fermented sorghum and corn. I’ve read about a few cultures around the world that have a comparable fresh beer, such as “Tesgüino”, the corn beer made by the Tarahumara Indians of Sierra Madre in Mexico. According to the Batswana who I was drinking with, there is only one way to drink Chibuku. First is to “shake shake” which means vigorously shaking the container to mix the separated contents – the fermented and alcoholic liquid and the detritus from corn and sorghum. Next is to open wide and pour it down the hatch, which evokes nostalgia from college. Unfortunately, I can’t say I loved the stuff. A bit bitter, slightly carbonated, lukewarm, and with consistencies varying from beer to yogurt – it is an acquired taste – I’ll stick with the Pabst Blue Ribbon next time.


Tej is a honey wine or mead that you can find in most Ethiopian restaurants from Addis to Arlington. Much like the Toddy shops strewn across southern India, Ethiopia hosts tej houses (Tej Betoch in Amharic) where you can drink this mead colored, bitter spirit flavored with gesho leaves – but watch out, this stuff sports a pretty high alcohol content and will render you catatonic if you don’t count your drinks.

Tej House from Ludovic Maillard’s flickr stream

Try this delicious cocktail with some:

  1. Kitfo: Ethiopian steak tartare prepared with clarified butter and mitmita – a spicy pepper mixture with cloves and cardamom
  2. Injera: An Ethiopian spongy flatbread
  3. Berbere: A uniquely Ethiopian spice mix that when mixed with olive oil – much like zatar – becomes a multipurpose savory sauce for dipping, sandwiches, and entrees. My Ethiopian friends Yonas and Sara put Johnny Walker Black and Lime Juice as their secret ingredients – truly addictive stuff.


Akpeteshie is an enhanced palm liquor that can be found in Ghana and in several other West African countries under the names ogogro, sorabi, and apio. India has a close comparable with its Toddy, a spirit indigenous to my home state of Kerala. It is difficult to find Akpeteshie in most large commercial bars and restaurants in Ghana. I stumbled upon it by meeting a seedy gentleman at an even seedier nightclub and following him back to a nearby rural ‘bar’ housed in someone’s apartment (not my best display of judgment or risk mitigation) but I really wanted to try this stuff. Despite the dangers of imbibing alcohol of unknown providence, I took a swig of the hooch and was rewarded with an outrageous sore throat, and a headache for 2 days. Thanks for nothing Bourdain.

I’ll be spending the next month traveling India where I hope to stumble across some cool cocktails and spirits, but if my familial experience is any indicator, it will be mostly whiskeys and scotches.

An obvious tip that I continually fail to execute: Choose your beverages wisely, including water in sub-Saharan Africa.


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