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Unique to Rwanda, milk bars reflect a little-known truth about how intrinsic cows and milk are to Rwandan culture.
In recent years, there’s been a lot of debate about whether drinking the milk of other animals is good for us. But how do the arguments for and against drinking dairy milk stack up? Is it better to drink cow’s milk or a dairy-free alternative? See below;
It was 10:00 in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, and an unmarked bar in the central Nyarugenge district was already packed. A line of motorcycles was parked out front, and as I pushed through a white curtain separating the dusty, dirt road from the crowd of boisterous regulars inside, the spectacled owner, Yusuf Gatikabisi smiled widely at me and said, “Mwaramutse!” – good morning in Kinyarwanda.
At the bar’s four communal tables, young bikers mingled with singles and parents clutching young toddlers. Some were eating beans and unleavened chapatti bread. Others were feasting on cakes or doughnuts. But interestingly, everyone was drinking the same thing, and it wasn’t beer or wine. You see, at Kuruhimbi and hundreds of similar bars across Rwanda, there’s only one thing on tap, and it’s milk.
Unique and distinct to Rwanda, milk bars bind many of our communities together. They are places to meet for breakfast or lunch, to socialize with people of different backgrounds, and to throw back a frothy glass of cold ikivuguto (fermented milk) poured from a vast metal drum and topped with honey or sugar or a hot mug of inshyushyu (raw milk that’s boiled and served hot). While these local watering holes may seem like a kitschy haunt to the uninitiated, they reflect a little-known truth about how intrinsic cows and milk are to Rwandan culture.
With around 70% of Rwanda’s population engaged in the agricultural sector, cows are an economic asset as well as a symbol of wealth and social status in rural areas.
Above is a man milking a cow in Rwanda.