The Gombe neighbourhood, home of most of the tourists and expatriates living in Kinshasa, is known for its wide variety of foreign owned restaurant: from greek restaurants to italian restaurants, you can find them all in the Gombe. However pastas, steaks with mushroom sauce and bland plantains can sometimes get boring and repetitive. But, it is very possible to get a taste of congolese cuisine in the confinement of the Gombe. For that purpose, one needs to adventure oneself away from the Boulevard and its well lit flawlessly built roads: you need to explore the part of the Gombe that was not arranged for the comfort of expatriates. It is at the end of a non-paved road covered with loopholes that seem to be constantly filled with brownish water whether it is raining of not that you can find the restaurant Chez Flore.
Chez Flore is an open air restaurant where customers come for the sole purpose of eating and socializing. After entering through the free metal doors, I realized that I was truly entering an authentic congolese estaurant: in fact, the coloured plastic chairs and the paintings on the walls were the only instances of decorations. The tables where sparsely installed and were also made of plastic. Customers came to Chez Flore not for its appearances but for the sole purpose of eating.
As I walk down the narrow paved alleyway leading to the larger area of the restaurant, I notice the servers swerving between tables holding platters of eye popping amounts of food served in big flower covered bowls, like the ones we would be served in, in the comfort of our home. As I moved among the tables to find a suitable seat and ogled at the appetizing food served in enormous portions I thought to myself: “well today might be the day I eat until I have to roll home!”. It can be quite a struggle finding a good seat in the restaurant, especially at night where the open air tables are very badly lit, but I would advise seating in one of the wooden pavilion. These ones are rather well lit with a pale yellow light thus allowing you to actually see your food.
I make my way to one of the pavilion and sit to wait for a server to give me the menu. The many strategically placed blaring TVs diffusing in a confusing cacophony different programs (namely soccer games or african music) do nothing to cover the the customer’s loud discussions and laughter. Many very important congolese personalities also dine at Chez Flore on weekends: for them, the warmth and familiarity of a typically congolese environment contrasts with the cold “presentableness” of the typical four/five stars Gombe restaurants. Here they can meet their peers or colleagues in business meetings filled with joy, conviviality and, of course, beer (namely the infamous Tembo). There is no need to only speak in french or even be diplomatic: opinions are honestly shared, perhaps encouraged by the good food or perhaps by the beers, and words are not dwelled upon. Finally the menu has arrived: it consisted in a wide array of food originating from all corners of the DRC. There is salted dried fish, grilled goat meet, antelope ragout, grilled crocodile meat and even caterpillar sauce, a delicacy consumed in the eastern regions of the country. And of course, most of these dishes are accompanied by “Makemba” in other words, plantains. Feeling a bit adventurous, my friend and I order chicken, antelope ragout and caterpillar sauce, with plantains and “Kwanga” ( cassava paste). While waiting for our food to arrive, my friend and I engage in a discussion as to why people would pay to eat the same food they would eat at home but at a restaurant. At least we tried having a discussion: talking and hearing each other was very hard as it seemed that everybody in the restaurant was pertaining in an unspoken contest of who could speak and laugh the loudest. The food arrived very rapidly and considering the sheer size of it, I wondered how many cooks there were in the tiny kitchen. It all smelled heavenly and even the caterpillar sauce seemed appetizing.
I don’t think I have ever eaten that much at a restaurant. My friend and I obviously could not even finish alf of the food. After stuffing ourselves, it was time to relax in the haze typically caused by a full stomach. After effectively cleaning my teeth with a toothpick, it was time to pack the rest of the food and roll home.
This concluded my adventure in the best congolese restaurants in the Gombe. I would advise any visitor looking for authentic congolese food to try Chez Flore and even get a little bold with the orders.