How to Eat a Rolex: This Popular Ugandan Street Snack Is Not a Watch
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you haven't had eggs until you've had an omelet rolled in a chapati.
By Eromo Egbejule
Partygoers and other night crawlers in Kampala, Uganda, know the remedy for hunger at ungodly hours of the night, or an early morning hangover: a rolex. And, no, we’re not talking about a fancy watch.
Instead, this combination of eggs and vegetables (lettuce, avocado, carrots, tomato) rolled into a chapati closely resembles a sausage roll in shape, but it’s arguably more delicious. And luckily you can find them from street vendors at any time of day –– whenever the need hits.
The rolex snack, which in Uganda is just as popular as –– if not more than –– the eponymous Swiss luxury watchmaker brand, gets its name from a linguistic corruption of “rolled eggs,” as coined by speakers of Uglish, a version of English with strong influences from Luganda and other local languages.
No one knows exactly how it moved from chapati to a rolex — someone just tried rolling an omelet in chapati and it caught on.
The rolex came about in the ’90s as a random experiment by a chapati vendor in the agrarian region of Busoga in the eastern part of the country, an area known for the nation’s best chapati makers. No one knows exactly how it moved from chapati to a rolex –– someone just tried rolling an omelet in chapati and it caught on. “The way I see it, we Ugandans saw an opportunity to make money and jumped on it as soon as possible,” explains Sophie Musoki, chef and creative director at A Kitchen in Uganda, a blog.
The chapati experiment eventually found its way to Kampala, and became immensely popular in the Wandegeya suburb, near the main campus of Makerere University. This likely had something to do with the price –– one rolex typically costs about 1,000-2,000 Ugandan shillings (27-55 cents). It’s “among the cheapest and tastiest meals” on campus, says student Isabella Pedun. She likes her rolex with egg, a few onions, tomatoes and salt.
One area seller in particular –– a man simply called “Sula” –– became known for his mincemeat version. His stall, strategically positioned outside the popular clubs on Friday and Saturday nights, became a hot spot for the snack. His popularity rose after a former customer went on to work at The Daily Show and reportedly praised the snack to the show’s presenter, South African-born Trevor Noah. “OK, Uganda … I’ll try to visit sometime,” the comedian tweeted in March 2017. “But when I land, I want the original rolex made by Sula in Wandegeya.”
You’ll now find the humble rolex everywhere in Uganda –– it’s even become a star attraction at festivals, like the Nyege Nyege music festival held annually in September in Jinja. There’s even a Rolex Festival in Kampala, held every August since 2016, which brings in everyone from students to politicians, and offers entertainment. And Godfrey Kiwanda, a member of Parliament and the junior minister for tourism, wildlife and antiquities, has publicly endorsed the rolex as “a proudly Ugandan product.” But it’s also found new markets abroad, like in neighboring Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, and even in Berlin and Denmark.
Back in Kampala, the classic is becoming inevitably gentrified, with rolexes appearing on the menu at major restaurants across the city. At Endiro Coffee there’s a version called “the bacon excitement,” explains Pedun, who works here, and a Greek-inspired rolex. They’re even being sold with “hash browns or chips, bacon or sausage,” she adds.
Many Ugandans like Sue Muhereza, a self-acclaimed “observer of rolex culture,” argue that nothing beats the street version. “The best is still the basic roadside one with egg, [a] little bit [of] cabbage, tomato and some Kampala dust,” Muhereza laughs.
So what makes a great rolex? Musoki says that the secret (still) begins in the pan. “[It’s] the way the chapati is made –– mostly smoky, because the tava, the frying pan used for making the chapati, has been used for a long time,” she explains. But it also comes down to how the egg is fried and the dish assembled. Therefore, re-creating the “tastes and smells of the roadside/street rolex” can be “quite difficult,” she adds.
So if you want an authentic version, stick with the street one. Sula seems to have disappeared from the scene (sorry, Trevor Noah), but there are loads of other roadside rolex vendors ready to satisfy that handheld omelet craving.
Make Your Own Rolex
Beat an egg and then mix with sliced onions and green pepper. Fry the egg (both sides) long enough to harden, but don’t let it become rubbery. Place a hot chapati –– the best ones are multiple-layered and flaky –– onto the egg and flip so the side with the egg is facing upward. Top with sliced tomato and thin slices of cabbage. Gently roll the rolex from one end to the other while pressing down to make sure it is firm. Serve hot.
–– Source: Sophie Musoki, chef and creative director at A Kitchen in Uganda
Fun fact: In July 2018, the world’s longest rolex was created for the Entebbe Tourism Festival — and included about 100 eggs, 5 kg of wheat flour, 6 kg of tomatoes, 5 kg of onions, two liters of cooking oil and 2 kg of cabbage. The meal was later shared between visitors and children at a nearby special-needs school.
- Eromo Egbejule, OZY Author Contact Eromo Egbejule