First of all, unless you're a completely unadventurous eater, you may as well skip the Chinese food. China is one of the subjects of this year's Folklife Festival, but in its two food tents, Chi Fan Le and Dragon Tavern, you'll find the same stuff -- lo mein, dumplings -- that you would find in most Chinese restaurants around the country.
But the D.C. area has few outlets for Kenyan cuisine, so head for the food being dished out under two tents on the East side of the festival. At the Spice Routes Cafe, Kenyan caterers Collabo LLC are serving a curry and lentil-influenced menu with salads and rice dishes from the Kenyan coast. At the adjacent Choma Grill, Beltsville's Swahili Village restaurant is offering three stews served with sauteed spinach and ugali, a polenta-like cornmeal mash. You can get Tusker beer for $6 at either tent. Entrees are between $8 and $10, and sides and snacks are $5 or $6.
From the Spice Routes Cafe, we tried the wali wa nazi na dengu, a dish of sauteed lentils and coconut rice; for the spice-wary, it's definitely on the milder side. Over at the Choma Grill, the spicier samaki wa nazi, a tilapia stew, was our favorite. The fish is flavored with a masala coconut gravy, and wasn't too heavy on a hot day. As for the mbuzi mchuzi, a goat stew, beware of bones! We picked out the most obvious pieces, but still ended up accidentally crunching a few. For dessert, the Spice Routes Cafe's mahamri were a sweet finish: the doughnut-like triangles are flavored with coconut milk and cardamom.
Even though the weather outside feels about the same as a blast furnace, don't let the word "stew" scare you. The most pleasant meal I've had all week might have been this one: Sitting under a shaded tent with the slightly-spiced dishes of meat and fish, listening to the enthusiastic Afrobeat band one tent over. Check out the concert schedule, and head over in one of the festival evenings, when it will be slightly cooler.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, on the National Mall between 9th and 12th Streets, NW. Concessions are open every day of the festival -- June 25 through 29 and July 2 through 6 -- from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.