Spirit Spotlight: Kenya's Dawa Cocktail

Kenya is known for its great climate, the amazing Maasai Mara and of course, the Dawa cocktail. Since "Dawa" is Swahili for "medicine", this famous cocktail is said to cure all ailments. I can't vouch for that, but I can vouch for how delicious and potent it is.

History of The Dawa

The recipe is based on famous Brazilian cocktail, the Caipirinha, and was introduced to Kenya in 1980's by the Carnivore Restaurant. Samson Kivelenge, who has worked at The Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi since it opened in 1980, is credited with naming the cocktail. Today he’s more commonly known as Dr. Dawa. He travels from table to table wearing a tray carrying everything needed to make the cocktail. While I was in Kenya, I had the pleasure of enjoying several dawas and none were as good as Dr. Dawa's. Seriously.

 Dr. Dawa, Samson Kivelenge

Dr. Dawa, Samson Kivelenge

Instead of cachaça (Brazilian rum), the Dawa uses vodka, similar to another famous cocktail, the Caprioska. But what sets the Dawa apart is the African honey that's added and makes a huge difference in the taste. Dr. Dawa uses a short bamboo stick to add the honey in addition to using it as a muddler. Genius. So how can you get a taste of Kenya at home?

Dawa Cocktail Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp of honey
  • 2 shots of vodka
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar
  • 1 whole lime quarter with skin on
  • 1 stick of bamboo for muddling

Instructions:

  1. Place lime chunks, honey and sugar in a rocks glass.
  2. Muddle slightly with the bamboo just enough to release the lime juice and mix with the honey and sugar.
  3. Add vodka and some crushed ice; stir to combine ingredients.
  4. Add more ice until the glass is full, then garnish with a lime wheel.

The Dawa has become a Kenyan mainstay and is enjoyed everywhere around the country, and even some surrounding countries. Since it's so refreshing, people usually drink it after a safari expedition or during sundown (happy hour). If you're ever in Kenya, trying the Dawa is a must. And when you head to Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi, be sure to tell Dr. Dawa we sent you. Cheers!

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