Chapatis, eggs and vegetables—these are the three humble ingredients needed to make Uganda’s ubiquitous snack food, the Rolex. A play of words on ‘rolled eggs,’—no relation to the watch— the Rolex is said to be traced back to a single chapati-maker in the eastern town of Busoga but it gained popularity at Makerere University in Kampala. No wonder the students loved it; it’s fast, cheap and delicious. The Rolex is now found all over the country
Unlike other country’s national dishes, it can be hard to find abroad. The one exception is in the tiny country of Denmark where in 2015, Sylvester Bbaale opened UGood—the world’s first Rolex joint outside Uganda. He even has an award from the King of Buganda certifying it.
UGood had somewhat funny beginnings. Bbaale, also a musician, used to put on monthly music events in Refshaløen, a part of Copenhagen that was nothing but warehouses. It was a great place for loud parties, but a terrible place to make sure event-goers were fed. So, in order to make sure people stayed, he outfitted a cargo bicycle and started making Rolexes on site. People liked it, word spread and that makeshift kitchen on a bike evolved into a food truck and, today, a brick and mortar location in Denmark’s second biggest city of Aarhus.
Okay Africa Interview with Sylvester Bbaale
So, why the Rolex?
Bbale: The Rolex is what I consider the most common street food in Uganda. It’s easy, it’s fast and it’s good. I’m not a chef so I was trying to figure out what I could make.
I grew up making chapatis and I figured anyone can make an omelet – so I was already halfway there and thought ‘I might be able to pull this off.’ It was something I could actually do while still giving people something special.
Did you ever want to do other stuff?
Yeah, I wrote down a bunch of foods I wanted to do. I wanted to make Pilau, Matoke, Kaunga (fufu) – a lot of different dishes. My friend’s mother kind of stepped in as my mentor and told me to focus on one thing, a simple thing.
With the Rolex, it’s cheaper and easier to get a hold of the ingredients. For instance, Denmark doesn’t have plantains and the ones they ship in are usually horrible, so how can I make Matoke with bad plantains?
The Rolex doesn’t need a big kitchen or an oven. I could make it on the spot when people were ordering. As I started making and serving out of my bike, it was just more practical. I’m planning on expanding into a full scale restaurant in Copenhagen in the future, then I’ll make more dishes but, for now the Rolex is good.
It obviously worked out or else we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but how did it go in the beginning? The Danish idea of exotic flavor is basically mustard.
Danish people can be very afraid of new stuff. But the advantage of the Rolex is that it’s simple to understand. It is like a durum or a burrito – which is something they know. So it’s safe. And they know an omelet. But as a whole it was something completely new.
No formal restaurant or food business had ever made it before. Like, for real. I even got an award from the King of Buganda for being the first to take the Rolex outside of Uganda – for introducing it to the western world. I’m sure people had made it before, but no one had it registered with a
Okay. So for people who do try it, does it change their mind?
It changes their mind 90 percent of the time. Most of them come back and say, ‘I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But this is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.’
After I started UGood, I started winning awards. First, I got that spot at Christianstorv – which was really a big deal. Then, in 2016, I won ‘Audience Favorite’ & ‘Best Street Food’ vendor at Streetfood Festival CpH and in 2017 I won ‘Best African Project’ at the Celebrate Africa Awards. I was one of the most popular food trucks in the city.
So from the media and press, people had to pay attention to that. And, for a society that kind of thinks together, getting approval and positive coverage from the media was a big step in the Danish representation of an African business and African food.
It’s like you had the Mandela Rolex?
[Laughs] Yeah, plus there were so many African people who said it gave them something. There is no African food, really. There was one Ethiopian restaurant in Copenhagen at the time. So it meant a lot for them and their children to see something representative.
A man told me his daughter was so happy to see another Ugandan making Ugandan food in public. You know, I was the only African food truck when I started. I was the first to serve fresh sugar cane juice in all of Denmark. No one had had it before. So it had to build some bridges somehow.
m also importing directly from Ugandan farmers. So I can control the quality and I know they’re being paid well. It comes full circle. Being a change in the community is a reason I can’t stop. When I started, I was doing it for myself and to try something out that could make some money, enough to invest in a creative project back home. But now it’s bigger.
Read full story here: The Ugandan Chef Introducing the Rolex to the World