Mutura Is a Blood-Soaked Kenyan Delicacy

Mutura is Kenya’s traditional blood sausage, made with fresh blood and a blend of ginger, garlic, scallions, cilantro, and fistfuls of lethal piri-piri chilies.

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Apr 7 2016, 6:00pm

It happened so quickly I almost missed it. One moment the two men were pinning down a bewildered-looking sheep, then with a sudden slash and barely a sound, it lay slumping, dying, gone. I had expected violence, screaming—but if anything, this passing was the opposite. The men acted swiftly to ensure a clean kill with minimal pain. I had never seen an animal die, let alone slaughtered five feet from me, but for them this was a job, one that they sometimes repeated up to 300 times in a day.

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The sheep's blood is drained immediately and saved for later. All photos by the author.

France has its boudin, South Korea its sundae, Germany its Blutwurst, Ireland its black pudding, Italy its sanguinaccio, and Spain its morcilla. Mutura, often nicknamed "African sausage," is Kenya's traditional blood sausage. I had come to Beer Garden Hotel, a restaurant located about an hour's drive from downtown Nairobi, which was rumored to have some of the best in the area.

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The still-moving intestines are thoroughly cleaned.
Mutura6 Fresh ingredients help mask the strong taste of offal and enhance the overall flavor of the dish.

Unlike European variations, mutura boasts a heady cocktail of seasonings: ginger, garlic, scallions, cilantro, and fistfuls of lethal piri-piri chilies. Fresh blood binds and provides a powerful umami kick to the offal and meat of a cow, lamb, or goat, before the whole mixture is simmered, stuffed into intestines, and grilled. Misshapen, oozing dark liquid, and stitched together with twine, the resulting sausages may not be pretty, but they boast a deeply savory flavor that pairs well with a chilled Tusker beer. Salty, fatty, and addictive, this is street food at its finest, the fuel behind many a barbecue and late-night party. So integral is this dish to the local culture it is recognized by Italy's Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity.

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Ginger, chilies, scallions, cilantro, and red onions give this particular mutura its distinctive taste. Every chef has their own signature blend.
Mutura8 Every ingredient, whether animal or vegetable, is diced with equal care.

"Kenya's tribes don't always agree on everything, but just about all of us eat mutura," explains James T. Sapuro, the hotel's director of more than 20 years. Of his own tribe, he adds, "Maasais, for example, traditionally add more fat to the mixture, which melts when you grill it. It's delicious. Everyone has a different recipe and their own special blend of seasonings."

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Fresh blood helps bind the chunks of meat into a cohesive sausage.
Mutura13 The stomach and intestines are stuffed by hand before being sewed shut with twine.

Unfortunately, it's becoming harder to find this delicacy in an increasingly industrialized country. Real mutura requires skill to produce and must be made fresh in order to prevent the offal from spoiling. Unlike processed sausages, such as Kenya's ubiquitous Farmer's Choice, it contains no preservatives and is meant to be eaten within a day or so. Making mutura is an event, a cause for celebration, rather than a convenience. Even at Beer Garden Hotel, it is typically only made on weekends, when friends, family, and guests travel from neighboring towns for the occasion.

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The last sausage casings are stuffed while the coals heat.
Mutura14 Since the mixture of blood, meat and offal can be stuffed in any of the animal's digestive organs, the final result doesn't always resemble typical European charcuterie.

Methods and recipes vary wildly, but the fragrant sausage that Charles Mureithi and Simon Muchoki prepared took well over three hours to make, from stripping the carcass and cleaning the still-squirming intestines to slicing seasonings with surgical precision. The final result would have been more than satisfying on its own, but as is the custom, we ordered it with heaps of mbuzi nyama choma (grilled goat) on the bone with coarse salt for dipping. Platters of tender, slow-braised sukuma wiki (colewort greens), kachumbari (tomato-onion relish), and still more piri-piri piled up on the table alongside starchy ugali (cornmeal mush) and irio, a pale green mash punctuated by corn kernels that deserves a place of honor in the global pantheon of comfort foods. The guests at the table came from different backgrounds—lawyers, architects, businessmen, Maasai, Kikuyu, Kamba, and, yes, American—but after a few rounds of drinks, we were swapping stories and contacts.

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Though some simply boil and serve the sausage, grilling crisps the intestinal casings and adds a subtle smoky flavor.

It was, simply put, a feast.

Beer Garden Hotel: Kitengela, +252 713 343 238, tjsapuro@yahoo.com