I find shelter behind twin blue doors in an alleyway, at the home of Lela Abdulaziz, whose family owns several fruit and vegetable stalls in the city's main market. I struck up a conversation with her earlier this morning, while buying black Zanzibar peppercorns from her father. On hearing that I'd come to Mombasa to learn about the foods eaten here, she invited me for lunch—my first taste of home cooking in this part of East Africa, a region knit together by a complex skein of linguistic and religious kinship that constitutes Swahili culture. In her foyer, Lela sheds her bui-bui, the black robe and head covering worn by many Swahili women, and begins preparing the meal. First, she unfolds a low wooden stool that has a serrated blade affixed to one end. She sits, a half coconut gripped in her hennaed hands, and grates the white meat against the blade into a fired-clay bowl. Then she stuffs handful after handful of shredded coconut into a woven-palm-frond strainer called a kifumbu. I watch as she pours in a cup of water and squeezes the kifumbu to extract the coconut's rich, thick milk, which she stirs into a chicken stew, called kuku wa nazi, that has been simmering in a pot on a charcoal brazier.