Dawa, Nairobi’s medicinal cocktail

“Dawa” means “medicine” in Swahili, as in “I need dawa for my headache.” It is also the name of a refreshing cocktail found in Nairobi – and on a hot afternoon, it sounds like just what the doctor ordered.

The drink is a mix of vodka, lime juice, honey, and a little sparkling water, often with sugar around the rim of the glass.

“It comes with a stick so you can stir the honey from the bottom – a ‘dawa stick’,” explains Beth O’Donnell, an American photographer and artist who also leads safaris in East Africa where she lives several months of the year.

In addition to a cold Tusker Beer, with the iconic African elephant on the label, the Dawa is the drink to request, especially at one of the local hotel bars.

“If I’m in Nairobi and I’m at a bar, I order a Dawa and they’ll know what I’m talking about,” O’Donnell says.

Failing that, opt for a classic Gin & Tonic – during the British colonial days, the quinine in tonic water was purported to help ward off malaria.


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