May 15, 2012 / 11:31 AM / 6 years ago

Spirited Traveller: Dawa, Nairobi's "medicinal" cocktail

(Kara Newman is the author of "The Secret Financial Life of
Food", Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012.
Any opinions expressed are her own.)	
    By Kara Newman	
    NEW YORK, May 15 (Reuters) - "Dawa" means "medicine" in
Swahili, as in "I need dawa for my headache." It is also the
name of a refreshing cocktail found in Nairobi - and on a hot
afternoon, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered.	
    The drink is a mix of vodka, lime juice, honey, and a little
sparkling water, often with sugar around the rim of the glass.	
    "It comes with a stick so you can stir the honey from the
bottom - a 'dawa stick'," explains Beth O'Donnell, an American
photographer and artist who also leads safaris in East Africa
where she lives several months of the year.	
    In addition to a cold Tusker Beer, with the iconic African
elephant on the label, the Dawa is the drink to request,
especially at one of the local hotel bars.	
    "If I'm in Nairobi and I'm at a bar, I order a Dawa and
they'll know what I'm talking about," O'Donnell says.	
    Failing that, opt for a classic Gin & Tonic - during the
British colonial days, the quinine in tonic water was purported
to help ward off malaria.	
    "If you're in Nairobi on a conference, it might be at the
Norfolk Hotel (<>),"
O'Donnell says.	
    This historic hotel, which opened in 1904, is famed as the
place where "Out of Africa" author Karen Blixen lived in the
1920s, and the Norfolk's terrace bar is a top choice for
tippling in old-world colonial-style.	
    Meanwhile, luxury hotel Tribe (<
>) in upscale Muthaiga, near the United Nations compound, also
offers a prime spot for a poolside drink. Noted as the most
modern hotel in the area, O'Donnell describes the bar scene as
"sophisticated," and the environs as "very First World and
shocking to see in Nairobi."	
    Then there's Carnivore (<
>) restaurant, which claims to have invented the Dawa, but is
perhaps best known for the meaty offerings (lamb, pork, ostrich,
even crocodile) its name suggests. Here, the house drink is
delivered on a tray by a "medicine man" named "Dr. Dawa", and
brandy, rum and tequila dawas are available in addition to the
traditional vodka-based cocktail.	
    But it is Talisman (320 Ngong Road) in downtown Nairobi
which O'Donnell considers to be "the best place in town" for a
meal or a drink, and "the most happening place to see the local
    With its low couches and beautiful gardens, the only thing
needed to complete the scene is a Tusker or Dawa in hand.	
    This drink also works nicely with gin or white rum. The key
item to have on hand is a swizzle stick or "dawa stick", to stir
the honey into the drink.	
1 teaspoon brown sugar	
1 lime, quartered	
2 ounces vodka	
Honey (approximately 1 heaping Tablespoon)	
In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the limes with the brown
sugar, crushing out as much lime juice as possible. Add crushed
ice and vodka.	
Dip a "dawa stick" in honey and twist it to coat. Use the
honey-coated stick to stir the drink. Alternatively, a dollop of
honey may be spooned into the drink, and then stirred from the
bottom with the dawa stick.	
 (Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato)
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