Back in the day, booze was used to cure sicknesses, nowadays we are usually told to stay away from alcohol because it can dehydrate us or make the matter worse. However, in Kenya they doctors recommend the complete opposite. If you are under the weather, their first thought is to whip up a Dawa cocktail for you to sip on, and the best part is it tastes very very good. What could be better?
The Dawa cocktail is a famous drink in Kenya and is known for its healing powers.
You’ll definitely see it at restaurants or any social gatherings should you be visiting East Africa. However, you’ll also see it if you happen to fall ill on your travels or experiencing any kind of pain. It is their go-to-fix-it-all wonder in a glass and it doesn’t taste like actual medicine.
Packing around an ABV of 40 percent, this is a pretty strong cocktail. The drink is served as a social drink, it is mainly known to treat cold and flu-like symptoms, but don’t be afraid to order it at any bar. It is typically served to sip on as the sun is going down during what is called a “Safari Happy Hour” (sign us up!) to help you feel better relaxed.
Used medicinally, it can be compared to how people treat the common cold with lemon, honey, and hot water. This drink is very similar to that but is said to be more effective. Think of it as Kenya’s Hot Toddy combined with Brazil’s Caipirinha.
It is a tasty combination of lime, honey, sugar and a splash of vodka, making it a tangy but sweet and refreshing drink. The ingredients are simple but they can be modified to fit your palate. The recipe we gave you includes vodka, which is the traditional way to make this potion. However, many people switch out vodka for white rum or gin. The honey is what truly makes it a Kenya staple since the country has a long standing reputation for beekeeping.
In Kenya, some bartenders even add apple cider vinegar and ginger to give it an extra kick. These two ingredients help regulate your digestion and boost your immune system, so it makes sense why many throw these in the mix. The vinegar and ginger will give the cocktail an extra bite and take out some of the sweetness that comes from the honey and sugar.
Speaking of sweetness, if you don’t like white sugar, brown sugar is cool, if you can’t find a Dawa stick two wooden honey sticks dipped in actual honey will do just fine. If you’re wondering what the hell a Dawa stick is - we got you:
It’s truly the one thing that makes this drink unique. Basically, it is a honey-coated swizzle stick that is occasionally carved at the head, or even include the famous beadwork of the country’s Maasai people. This stick is no ordinary garnish; it comes already wrapped in honey but also it is said to be coated in magic as well. Oh, and it is a kick ass muddler. Use it to stir your drink and the honey dissolves perfectly with the rest of the ingredients.
At the Carnivore they use sticks that may seem and feel like wood, when in fact they’re plastic, a switch made for sanitation purposes. It all works better in the end anyway as the honey slips right off the plastc and you don’t loose it to the absorption of wood. The decorative Dawa sticks still exist and they are almost always made of wood, when traveling to Kenya you’ll see them as handy souvenirs but you can buy them online if you can’t make it out there soon.
Hot traveling tip: Many claim the best Dawas around are served on Zanzibar. The island is just off the east coast of Africa, and has an incredibly fertile climate. Over there the bartenders are very particular about the ingredients- specifically the limes.
The main bartender at the Carnivore, and the guy credited with naming the drink- Samson Kivelenge AKA Dr. Dawa loves showing his patrons the variations of Dawa. For example, he isn’t shy to use brandy or Kenya Cane, a highly-refined spirit with not one, not double, but triple distilled sugarcane, the result is a clean neutral flavor closer to vodka than rum. Whatever you choose, just don’t forget the honey!
A brief history-
The Dawa cocktail has been around for nearly four decades.
The magical potion was first mixed together and served at Nairobi’s Carnivore restaurant since they opened in 1980. Samson Kivelenge has been there since day one.
The Dawa was indeed inspired by the Caipirinha, according to company chairman Martin Dunford, when he traveled to Brazil he was inspired not only by Caipirinhas but also Churrascos, the infamous Southern American style of serving up tons of meats as their main course.
However, when he did bring it back to Kenya he realized that due to the nature of Portuguese language many people had difficulty pronouncing the names of the ingredients, so they changed it to Dawa and that was that. To this day, people flock to the Carnivore and eat tons of meat while sipping on Dawas.
The restaurant is not just famous for naming the cocktail; they claim that they invented it on purpose for their meat filled menus. These meats included grilled impala, giraffe, and wildebeest the main stark difference is they use the Swahili tradition of grilling. While Kenya has had a government ban on game meats since 2004, the restaurant continues to thrive. Many believe this is because of the signature cocktail alone.
“Dawa” actually means medicine in Swahili.
Samson Kivelenge claims the only medicinal power is that: "It treats your stomach so that you have an appetite for the meat."
Maybe you are feeling under the weather and want to test the powers of the Dawa? Maybe you just want to try this signature Kenyan cocktail and see what the hype is about. Just pick the right sunset and voila. If you try our recipe let us know how it goes!
Thanks for reading, and as always...