As Rwanda tourism increases and more people fly through Kigali, the capital city has become less of a layover and more of an addition to the itinerary.
The eclairs at Baso Pâtissier are sublime. Thick and velvety on the inside, delicate and crispy on the outside, they're the kind of eclairs you’d find at a patisserie in Paris. The croissants, pain au chocolats, and madeleines, too, are pure Parisian perfection. Looking around the café space, I’d expect to see woven bistro chairs facing the street and hear the distant sound of dual-tone sirens and French chatter. Rather, I hear people speaking Kinyarwanda, and my view is a panorama of the city of Kigali and its hundreds of rolling hills.
Baso Pâtissier is one of the many restaurants shaping Kigali’s food scene. “The whole food industry has really evolved,” says Candy Basomingera, who worked with brother and owner Bruno Basomingera to open the café. Born in Belgium to a Rwandan father and Belgian mother, the Basomingera’s moved to Kigali ten years ago.
“Before Bruno opened Baso, there was no place that served good coffee and croissants,” says Candy, who attributes part of Kigali’s food evolution to entrepreneurs who have returned from abroad with new ideas. Kigali isn’t known as a place that people travel to for pastries, nor a place that people necessarily travel to at all when visiting Rwanda. To many international tourists, the country’s main draw is Volcanoes National Park, which is home to the endangered mountain gorillas. It’s this gorilla tourism that's largely responsible for Rwanda's steep rise as a tourist destination Visiting the park is one of those bucket-list trips, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that lures tourists from across the globe. And as tourism increases and more people fly through Kigali, the capital city has become less of a layover and more of an addition to the itinerary.
Across the city, food and drink options are expanding and excelling. Poivre Noir, a chef-owned restaurant set on a quiet street in a residential area, makes refined bistro-style dishes like house-made cheese croquettes and chargrilled tilapia with tartare sauce. The ingredients are sourced locally, but the food has an undeniable French and Belgian flair. For Italian-style cuisine, there’s Filini at the Radisson Blu Hotel and for solid pub grub (like brochettes and burgers), there’s Repub Lounge, a local favorite with a groovy vibe. Across town, Question Coffee, a coffee cooperative that works exclusively with female coffee growers, artisanal coffee is on the rise.
“Before we started, the statistics showed that zero percent of people were drinking coffee,” says general manager, Sylvere Mwizerwa, who says that it’s now risen to two percent. “Hotels weren’t interested in having speciality coffee, but now we’re seeing that they’re buying espresso machines and sourcing beans from nearby."
At the café, there’s a peaceful, leafy patio, where locals drain flat whites and freshly brewed drip coffee, accompanied by pastries (from Baso Patissier). “Ten years ago, there was one coffee shop in Kigali, but now there are more than fifty,” says Mwizerwa.
On the outskirts of Kigali, there’s more brewing. 1000 Hills, a distillery that produces craft gin, whisky, rum and vodka, uses local ingredients to infuse their products (there’s a coffee liquor made with beans from Question Coffee). In 2014, the distilling began and in 2016, they started selling and distributing. It’s East Africa’s first craft distillery, which isn’t just bringing new products but a whole new bar culture to a city where craft cocktails haven't historically been a thing. At 1000 Hills’ restaurant (which opened in 2018), vodka, gin, and whisky cocktails are served alongside brochettes, which diners can enjoy while overlooking the city’s iconic hills.