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Feb 16, 2012 01:13 PM

Moving to Nairobi from US - foodstuffs to take?

My family is relocating to Nairobi for a few years and as I begin to think about packing I'm wondering if there are foodstuffs I should be taking along. We don't eat too much processed food, Oreos, etc. and won't miss that too much, but I am wondering about American staples - brown sugar, maple syrup, graham crackers, etc.
I fully intend to embrace the local grocery, but sometimes there are things you really wish you had... The bags of chocolate chips (and resulting Toll House cookies) we had as students in Italy were like gold!
Thanks in advance for any input!

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  1. Hi there, and welcome to Kenya

    With regards to foods like graham crackers etc, I really think its a matter of how particular you are to American brands. You can get maple syrup, chocolate chips and digestive biscuits (very similar to graham crackers), however it just may not be a brand you are familiar with.

    Due to the large number of expats here there are several shops that store exclusive imported items such as boxed cake mixes, hershey's brownie mixes etc. You can even get the whole range of Tate and Lyle sugars (molasses, brown sugar etc.)

    If you could specify some of the items you think may not be available here, I would be able to provide a more concise answer, however IMO I think you'll find that you can get almost anything you want here, albeit after a bit of a search

    Going slightly off topic here but what you'll have greater difficulty in finding is beauty products at a reasonable price.

    2 Replies
    1. re: waytob

      Hi waytob.
      Any and all thoughts are most appreciated - even if OT.
      Beauty products with regard to fancy cosmetics and fragrance or just decent shampoo, lotion, facial wash, etc.?
      thanks again

      1. re: slslaughter

        You're welcome....shampoos etc mainly. I find what we get in Kenya very overpriced compared to what I buy at drugstores in London, I actually come back with a suitcase full of shampoo, showergel, face wash and conditioner plus hair products when I travel to UK, South Africa or Australia.

        I also pick up certain chocolate brands as the ones we get here are again quite overpriced (especially my beloved Toblerone and Terry's Orange - a non-gourmet vice I'm afraid).

        We get some fairly decent wine here, but you have to hunt for a good supplier as there have been many occassions where poor transportation has lost a case of good wine (african heat and road travel)

        If you are a drinker (notice a theme here?) then for specific liquors (single malt especially), bring your own brands, as unique whiskey's, cigars etc are not at all pocket friendly.

        My mother gets me to buy things like almonds (for indian sweets) and pistachio's as well as certain spices when i travel (cinnamon from Tanzania and cloves from India), but if you don't plan to use them in huge quantities you will get pretty decent quality here.

        A couple of friends who are in the export industry have told me that Kenya exports its best quality (coffee, tea, macadamia and cashew nuts etc.) so what you find on the shelves is not top level, I love the flavours nevertheless.

        Let me know if you have any specific questions

    2. I'd like to know where waytob is getting maple syrup - I've not seen it and although I've heard of people getting it, I think the price gets very high (much like the markup for specialty liquors that (s)he mentions).

      If you cook with a lot of different herbs and spices you may want to bring some of your more obscure favorites. The major spice companies here tend to offer a selection that leans toward flavors found in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking (as opposed to European). So there's plenty of cumin, not so much savory or chervil. It's also sometimes hard to find unground, unpowdered spices, like whole black peppercorns, mustard seed, etc.

      More generally, I'd say think about what kinds of things you like to cook and eat and then amend your post with some more specifics. For example, there's not a strong latin-american food culture in Nairobi (that I'm aware of) so if you cook much mexican food I'd think about bringing canned chipotles. But not knowing what your food inclinations are I'm not sure what other items to recommend bringing.

      The selection at the markets here does seem to get better all the time, and the basic standard of produce and meat and such is very high, so you won't suffer much even if you have to make some adjustments. I don't know about Nestle's morsels though.

      9 Replies
      1. re: GDSwamp

        GDSwamp , thanks for the detailed information. I love to cook, but am a pretty casual about it - I don't have any specific style, but love good quality ingredients. I'm looking forward to trying some new things and having some new influences.

        I think I'm just going to restock my spice cabinet and bring it over. Oh yeah, and maple syrup. And molasses - I'm from the South.
        How is the baking flour selection or is there one? Not looking forward to cakes at 5000 ft.!

        The movers that came over today told me that one of Kenya's restrictions is on bringing in food... he did say spices were OK, but no dry cereal, etc. I had hoped to bring a stash of organic fruit loops for my sadly addicted toddler son.

        I might have to add some good bourbon to my list.

        1. re: GDSwamp

          Hey GD, agree whole heartedly on the Chipotles, also ancho chillies etc. Am off to Borough Market on Saturday in London to pick up that as well as some of my specialty oils

          Regarding maple syrup, never had a problem actually, got it last time at Muthaiga Mini Market and before that at Chandarana in Mobil Plaza.

          SLS - Regarding the fruit loops, you really shouldn't have a problem bringing them in. My SIL brought a huge suitcase full of baby formula last time and had no issues.

          Bourbon, definitely, your wallet will thank you. You get a seletion of baking flour and I have never had any issue with baking here (My dad used to run a bakery so its in the blood) again if you're looking for specialty stuff like gluten free flour etc then there may be a bit of a search involved

          1. re: waytob

            waytob - thanks for the syrup info. Knowing where to get that particular foodstuff means more than, maybe, it should.

            SLS - agree definitely with WTB about bringing in loops - or anything really. My approach to customs at Jomo Kenyatta has always been to smile, wave, and keep walking. If you do actually end up having your bags checked, I suspect they'd ignore your cereal. And if, finally, they both inspected your luggage and confiscated your Froot Loops, well, it's not the end of the world, I hope (not like losing your bourbon).

            Also - per waytob's helpful input on the syrup issue, you might want to post a follow-up question on where to go for specialty foods in the city. Even the different Nakumatt locations can have different selections, and then there are some kinds of foods that you'll only find in a few stores. waytob will know a lot more than I do (I'm just a frequent visitor for work), so I'll be interested in what you find out as well.

            Finally I want to amend the alcoholic-beverages discussion to say that, although it's true that decent wine can be had in Nairobi, the standard is pretty far below what you'd easily find in any major US city, and the markup for the good stuff is extreme. My understanding is that the Wines of the World shop in Kileleshwa has good bottles, but at exorbitant prices. So you might want to add some wine to your liquor-cabinet suitcase.

            (by the way I just googled Wines of the World to recheck the neighborhood and found it referenced on this web site - - which might be useful. At a glance I see listings for things like Italian supermarkets, bike shops, etc.)

            1. re: GDSwamp

              Hey GD, for wines I get mine from Mombasa either Roberto's or San Giorgios, can email or link in thier wine list and they deliver to your door from Mombasa at 100 shillings per case.

              In the really hot days my favourite tipple is Prosecco Blu with fresh raspberries, and they sell it at 10 dollars a bottle

              1. re: waytob

                Seems like I've been drinking with the wrong people...

                1. re: GDSwamp

                  Lol...have a look below, he gets some really good cheeses and cured meats as well.
                  Plus I get my arborio rice, olive oil and balsamic from there too

                  BORGO ALLE VIGNE ZOVENIN 2007
                  FRIULLI DOC GRAVE CHARDONNAY 6 13% 0.75 789
                  FRIULLI DOC GRAVE PINOT GRIGIO 6 13% 0.75 986
                  FRIULI DOC GRAVE MERLOT 6 13% 0.75 986

                  1. re: waytob

                    My problem is that I'm only in town for short periods at a time, so it's not reasonable for me to order wine by the case. Your advice will hopefully be very useful to the OP. For myself, I need more friends in the city to follow your lead in wine purchasing, and then invite me over to help them consume the stuff.

                    1. re: GDSwamp

                      Maybe next time you are in town. I'm always up for meeting new wine partners

                      1. re: waytob

                        Well, that would be great. And I'll bring chipotles.

        2. I've been moving around the world a bit lately and I think what Sharonslau is refering to here specifically is her sea/air container of household goods going into Kenya. Most countries restrict food and alcohol imports in these types of moves. My last move from India to the EU we "hid" our spices in a clothing box in order to bypass the restrictions the packers had been given by their company and the receiving country's customs regulations. When we left Canada for India we had to drink our wine collection before leaving (poor us) as it was 100% verboten for import into India and was also against company policy for household goods moving.

          As others have indicated above you can pack a lot in a suitcase and normally have no issues getting through customs, I've at times, while living in India, "smuggled" sausage, leafy greens, wallnuts, cherries, and Campari into India with no trouble and have friends who also managed steaks and whole turkeys.

          8 Replies
          1. re: vanderb

            I agree, with regards to containers. Anything coming in via large shipping is scrutinized very carefully

            Suitcase travellers on teh other hand can get away with practically anything. Last time on my way back from South Africa I brought back 6 bottles of Diemesfontain and a large wheel of parmesan without any hassle.

            Now lets see what my london exploration brings forth.....hopefully will get some good smoked chillies

            1. re: waytob

              I, the OP, was referring to what I could bring in via our freight container and after reading this I think we're risking taking some booze and spices too. I'm also planning on bringing some American canning (bottling) jars. I like to make jam, etc. and HATE the UK jars with rubber seals. Seems like one of those things that might be hard to find...
              Not sure if there will be room in the 'moving there' suitcases for foodstuffs since we have to live out of them for the first month and are coming with baby and small kid.

              Also, not sure how much EU/US travel we will be doing, but will stock up when we do.

              All in all, I'm enjoying everyone's input and will be storing the info. on wine purchasing, etc. for when I get to Nairobi!

              1. re: slslaughter

                By booze do you mean wine? If so I would caution you against this, not because of the legalities, but because of the shipping. Your container will have a long hot voyage to Kenya, time sitting in container yards, on the boat, in transit from a to b... wine will not suffer this voyage well. Is it worth the risk for inexpensive wine, yes, but not for anything of value or special as you cannot control the environmental conditions it will face.

                This is also why I had to drink my collection before we moved to India, that and I had no family I trusted to hang on to it and not drink it while we were gone :-)

                1. re: slslaughter

                  SLS, it looks like you live in my old neighborhood (north slope), which I know because I was looking at your profile and trying to figure out how to send you an email with contact info for the great driver I use when I'm in the city without a car ( in case you'll be needing a ride from the airport ). Let me know if that'd be useful, and if so, where I can send the information.

                  Anyway knowing you're in Brooklyn reminds me how much I miss real bagels when I'm in Kenya. You can get a "bagel" at Java House (local chain of coffee shop / cafes), but it's really just a piece of round bread with a hole punched in it. Not sure there's much you can do, though, except learn to make your own.

                  1. re: GDSwamp

                    Hi GD. Yes, we do live in Park Slope - too funny! Moving in June. We would love the driver's contact information and, for that matter, any other thoughts or words of advice.Thanks for offering. You can reach me at ourhouseupstate(at)

                    1. re: GDSwamp

                      Hey GD have you tried the bagels from Cafe Luna? (they are in Loresho). Those are the closest I have come to real bagels in Nairobi.

                      They also do some great bagel chips and muffins

                      1. re: waytob

                        No but now I will (when I get a chance). There's (clearly) a ton of stuff in the city I don't know about. I stay in my work's rental cottage in Karen when I'm in town, which means I'm a bit isolated. Now I'll add Loresho to the list of neighborhoods I need to check out. Wish they'd finish up on that new edition of the A-to-Z.

                        Which reminds me, SLS, you'll probably want to get a copy of a book called the Nairobi A-Z, which is a sort of Thomas guide (if you know L.A.) for the city's roads. I'm not sure that even Google maps has yet covered all the intricacies of getting around the city. Joseph -the driver about whom I just emailed you - will also have good advice about which roads to use and which to avoid, at least for someone new to the city.

                        1. re: GDSwamp

                          The Cafe Luna bagels, chips etc., can also be found in. Chandarana supermarkets at ABC place and also Lavington Green shopping centre.

                          Bought some today for a BBQ tomorrow. :)