Preparing an East African Feast

Biriyanis, vividly spiced rice and meat dishes, are a special-occasion dish in coastal East Africa.

James Fisher

A cook gets ready to serve beef biriyani to guests at a wedding on Lamu Island. Biriyanis, vividly spiced rice and meat dishes of Indian and Persian origin, are a special-occasion dish for many people in coastal East Africa. This cook has overseen the preparation of the dish from start to finish, having slaughtered the cow himself and slow-simmered the meat with cardamom, chiles, cinnamon, and pepper in large steel pots. The biriyani will be served with numerous achari, or pickles—cucumber, lime, mango, and others—that were ordered months in advance by the bride's family from women in a nearby village who are known for their excellent versions of the flavorful condiments.