Why you should care

If scarfing grilled meat is your thing, this city will make your stomach sing.

There’s meat everywhere in energetic Goma — whether roasted on the side of the road, boiled in fragrant soups or served in fine-dining restaurants. The bustling town, situated alongside peaceful Lake Kivu, is crowded with weaving motorcycles, street artists and dusty U.N. vehicles, but its best-kept secret? The food.

Though rarely synonymous with foodie culture, Goma, an eastern city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a simmering hub of creative cuisine. Previously sidelined by political dictatorships, violent militias and even volcanic eruptions from neighboring Mount Nyiragongo, the city has witnessed a recent — although somewhat volatile — stability that has helped encourage and support a blossoming restaurant scene. With that, its growing and diverse population has influenced the food, from flavorful street eats to artisanal markets, and from lively bars to candlelit meals.

“Where Goma really shines is in grilling,” says Moise Miteo, owner of Castel Club, an eatery known for its whole grilled rabbit and brochettes. And the meat here is fresh: Rabbits are slaughtered and cooked on-site, bringing new meaning to the phrase “farm to table.” Here, food is prepared in a dimly lit shed to the left of the entrance, while patrons move back and forth between the casual open restaurant to the buzzing nightclub (which is, in classic Goma style, pumping music all days of the week).

Chefs are slowly bringing traditional recipes out of the home and giving them a makeover.

Chefs are slowly bringing traditional recipes out of the home and giving them a makeover — from stews, soups and sauces to fufu, beans, sombe, plantains and cassava. “We’re starting to experiment with spices, marinades and different vegetable flavors — we like to change it up,” notes Miteo. The result? Something different that still tastes like home.

Salt and Pepper, a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant, is beloved by expats. My favorite dishes include the paneer khalimurj (a paneer cooked in black pepper sauce), fish tikka with local lake fish and manchurian, an Indo-Chinese fried vegetable dumpling that originated in Bihar state of northeast India. And it’s affordable: A full meal rarely reaches $10.

On the more upscale side, Lac Kivu Lodge, situated on the shores of the lake in a quiet neighborhood of the city, offers French classics with a Congolese twist. Popular menu items include roast duck with a passion fruit and mango coulis, homemade tagliatelle pasta arrabiata — and the grilled meat dishes, of course. Meals are served in view of the sparkling blue lake, with candlelight and white linens.

But it’s the street eats in and around Virunga Market that provide much of Goma’s flavor. Samosa, chapati and brochette stands serve up cheap snacks (less than $1) to hungry workers and shopkeepers in town. “This is my favorite samosa stand,” declares Goma resident Jean Zilirwa, pointing to a small stall near the Virunga Market. He says it has the crispiest potato-, rice- and meat-filled samosas, topped with a killer homemade chili sauce.

Hot sauce is serious business in Goma. As I fanned my tongue after trying Kasheke, a small brand based in Goma, on my chips, two laughing women a few feet away directed me toward their nearby fruit stand with a sign that read Safi, which is Swahili for “good” or “fresh.” As I chowed down on sliced mangoes sprinkled with lime juice, the burn finally ebbed away.

What doesn’t ebb away after days of eating your way through Goma? Memories of this vibrant city’s modern take on its traditional cuisines: tasty, spicy, colorful, succulent and everything in between. Or that feeling of beautiful fullness, with the lively market in front, the tranquil lake behind and the busy streets just a few steps away.

Go There: Eat Your Way Through Goma

  • Central African Butchery (CAB): Go for the fresh pili-pili sausages.
  • The Au Bon Pain bakery serves up croissants and fresh baguettes.
  • Petit Paris is known for its fish brochettes and whole grilled fish.
  • Le Petite Chalet serves lighter bites like salads, juices and bagels. Try the homemade yogurt and granola.

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