From ugali, nyama choma and kachumbari to chapati madondo and girtheri, Kenya has diverse foods for all tastes and preferences. The indigenous Kenyan food is rich in flavor, nutritious and tasty…
If you are traveling to Kenya for the first time, you probably are curious to know what Kenyan food is like. That’s to be expected, seeing some foods are specific to the country and rarely available in others. Here is a quick overview of how the Kenyan food is like, to give you some idea.
What do Kenyans Eat and Drink?
What’s for breakfast in Kenya?
Kenyan breakfasts aren’t as diverse as those of western countries. A typical Kenyan breakfast includes milky tea and bread (or mandazi – a type of deep-fried dough similar to an unsweetened doughnut). Some families are more traditional and serve tea alongside boiled arrowroots, eggs, sweet potato, or cassava. Others are more contemporary (or affluent) and serve cereals, processed meats and other stuff.
Basically, a Kenyan breakfast will include tea, coffee or porridge served with the following:
- Mandazi (deep friend dough)
- Sweet potato
- Kaimati (sweet dumplings)
- Uji (Porridge)
- Sweet bananas (Brazilian bananas)
- Sweet potatoes
- Arrow roots or Cassava
- Vibibi (Rice Coconut pancake)
Most families will prepare these drinks and place them in a flask whenever they have a visitor coming. This serves as a snack as you await the main meal.
Depending on the parts you are visiting, you may also find fermented milk. Mursik is the most popular Kenyan fermented milk and is found in the Rift Valley (where the home of champions is). It is what Kenyan athletes are greeted with at the airport when they arrive from their racing competition. The Maasai community also has their version of fermented milk.
Like in many other countries, there are different sodas, energy drinks and juices in Kenya too. There’s Coca Cola, Pepsi, Monster, Minute Maid etc. But you’ll still find some native beverages like mnazi which is in plenty in the coastal region. Mnazi (coconut juice) is all-natural, with some earthy taste.
Drink accompaniments may include samosas, potato, banana or cassava crisps, popcorns, mushkaki, hot chips, and groundnuts. These are readily available on the streets, but you’ll have access to vast snacks in supermarkets, drive-ins, and hotels.
Kenyan Meals for Lunch and Dinner
Nutritionists and food experts always recommend that people have heavy breakfast, light lunch, and lighter dinner. But it’s an inverted triangle in Kenya – people do the exact opposite – lighter breakfast, light lunch, and heavy dinner. That’s why you’ll never miss the most filling meal in most dinners – ugali.
Ugali (oo-Gahl-ee) is the most popular food in Kenya. It is also Kenya’s staple food. Ugali is prepared by gradually mixing maize flour and boiling water to achieve a thick, stiff porridge. Some people use sorghum flour or millet flour mixed with cassava flour to prepare the ugali, depending on preference. Ugali is has a plain-to-sweet taste, just like boiled corn.
Kenyans love chapati. Years back, chapati was only served during special occasions like Christmas, New Year, and Easter. But now, it’s more of street food that you can grab on the go. Chapati, which is flat fried dough, has a toast-like taste.
Sweet potato, cassava, arrow roots, bananas
Sweet potato, cassava, matoke, and arrowroots are also pretty common, especially among those living in rural areas or trying to avoid processed foods. These starchy foods are only boiled with some salt or black pepper for taste.
Most Kenyan families will boil their rice. But the people from the coastal region have the most diverse rice-based dishes, including pilau, biryani, and coconut rice. Pilau and biryani are Persian meals but are a favorite in Kenya. Many Kenyans will tell you that a wedding without pilau is no wedding at all.
Githeri is a one-pot meal made out of boiled beans and corn. It is a simple meal with a nice flavor even without any adornments. But in other African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria, githeri is sometimes mixed with smoked fish, meat, or other ingredients.
Irio is native to the people of Central Kenya. It combines potatoes with peas, watercress, and corn. The hearty and nutritious irio is an excellent accompaniment to meals and comes in many variations. It is famously paired with grilled steak (nyama na irio).
Vegetables in Kenya
Kenya has a range of indigenous greens, like managu, saga, mchicha, and kunde, that are very tasty and nutritious. Most of these vegetables need initial boiling to soften. Some are sour; others are plain or even bitter. People who don’t like the bitterness have to prepare the veggies for a while. They’ll need to keep adding milk cream until the bitterness disappears. But this process might not be appealing to everyone. Besides, these veggies can be expensive in urban areas, so most people go for sukuma wiki (kales), which are cheap and readily available.
Stews in Kenya
Cow meat and goat meat make up for most Kenyan stews. But fish is more common in the coastal and lake regions. Chicken and mushrooms are more popular in the western parts – but you’ll find them in other parts of the country.
Fruits available in Kenya
While fruits in Kenya are seasonable, you’ll always find some fruits available in the market. Mangoes, bananas, pears, passion fruits, pineapples, papaws, oranges are the most popular fruits. Others like guavas, loquat, avocados peaches, apricots, dates and plums are also common.
Is Kenyan food spicy?
The traditional Kenyan food is not spicy. Most of the foods were just boiled, dried, or roasted. That still stands to date. Most foods only have salt. However, the western culture has caught up quickly, and many Kenyans are now preparing foods the same way other people from the rest of the world are. So, it’s all up to you – you could have your food spicy or plain.
Can you drink alcohol in Kenya?
Yes, you can drink alcohol in Kenya. Alcohol is easily accessible to people above 18 years. You can order for delivery, buy in supermarkets or wines and spirits or walk right into a pub. Kenyans love to drink alcohol with some nyama Choma (roasted meat). Nyama Choma is hands down one of the most delicious meals you’ll taste in Kenya – especially if you find one that’s well prepared.
You may also want to try out the locally made drinks like chang’aa, which is said to cure illnesses like typhoid. Other popular local brews are mnazi and busaa.