Kuruhimbi is one of Kigali’s most popular bars, and it doesn’t serve a drop of liquor. Instead, milk is on tap. Located in the city’s Kimisagara neighborhood, on a dirt road just a few minutes away from a bustling market, Kuruhimbi is a milk bar and Rwandan stalwart. Despite its popularity, Kuruhimbi is one of the last of its kind: With the growth of Inyange Milk Zone, a corporate milk bar chain, local milk bars are becoming relics of the country’s past.
Kuruhimbi may not be the easiest place to find—it’s not listed on Google maps, and there’s no website or official phone number—but the colorful sign above the entrance, crisp white interiors, and patterned red-and-yellow plastic tablecloths are nothing if not welcoming.
Once you’re inside, the menu is fairly self-explanatory. Poured from a vast metal drum in the corner of the shop, frothy cups of milk are served hot or cold alongside snacks such as chapati, samosas, and hard-boiled eggs. Ikivuguto, a thick fermented milk similar to probiotic yogurt, is one of Kuruhimbi’s specialties, and locals swear the bar brews the best in the city. Condiments—honey, sugar, and cocoa powder—are readily available.
The bar seats no more than 10 at a time, but customers pop in and out quickly, just long enough to throw back a half liter of milk or fill up a large jerry can for takeaway. Kuruhimbi is one of the community watering holes, and many nearby residents spend late mornings and afternoons chatting in the shop. The owners often buzz around as well, restocking snacks behind the counter or filling up glasses. They have lived in the neighborhood for decades, and they source Kuruhimbi’s milk from farms just outside of Kigali’s city limits.
Although Kuruhimbi is one of many similar operations scattered throughout the area, milk bars are unique to Rwanda. Cows are intrinsic to Rwandan culture and heritage, and the advent of milk bars came with the advent of the modern Rwandan city, rendering Kigali the country’s de facto milk bar capital. When citizens left their rural homes and cows behind for urban life, the milk bar was born as a way to keep Rwandans connected to their dairy. Cows often signify prosperity and are involved in many of Rwanda’s rituals, including traditional marriage ceremonies.
The independent Kigali milk bar, once ubiquitous, is slowly being replaced by dozens of Inyange Milk Zones, a sterile, government-owned chain replica. Though colorful signs still dot the city, replete with images of cows and the words Amata Meza (“fresh milk”), Kuruhimbi is one of just a few operational neighborhood milk bars still standing.