Kenyan cuisine is a heady mix of spices, fresh ingredients, tangy piquant flavours and an abundance of coconut. Each region in Kenya boasts something unique in the food department, but 90% of dishes are heavily influenced by Arab and Indian flavours; thanks to spice merchants from 100s of years ago. Arab, Asian and Swahili cultures dominate Kenya; which means food and drink is a tasty global mix of country specific cuisine prepared with Kenyan personality.
Kenyan food is very healthy, packed with local spices and oozes flavour. And of course, there are a few local beverages that need sampling.
These 10 local drinks and dishes in Kenya are bound to tantalise the tastebuds.
The chapati is also known as a roti, and is a typically Indian flat bread that has been adopted by Kenyans as their own. It’s a soft, round shaped flimsy bread used for wraps and scooping up juicy curry dishes. Chapati dough is typically prepared with ‘flour, salt and water; and Kenyans like to layer their Chapatis and cook them in oil. It’s just not a meal without a Chapati bread on the side.
Ugali is the most popular staple starch food in Kenya. It’s cornmeal made with maize flour, and is also commonly known as sadza. This porridge like dish is quite stodgy in texture and makes a perfect accompaniment to saucy meat dishes, stews and even soup. Ugali really is the most commonly devoured dish of Kenyans.
Matoke is found across most of East Africa and served alongside hearty dishes. But just what is Matoke? Matoke is an East African Highland banana (plantain) commonly found throughout the Great Lakes region, and differs from normal bananas in that they are larger and tougher. Matoke are steamed in plantain leaves until soft and then mashed into a meal and served with a sauce. Plantain is starchy and tastes a bit like mashed sweet potato.
Pilau rice (Pilaf) is basically an aromatic rice that is built up using a variety of spices. Pilau is a must have on any Kenyan menu, and is particularly prevalent on the Kenyan coast where it is served with Kachumbari. It’s often cooked with beef or chicken, and it’s bursting with flavour. The Swahili chicken pilau is a firm favourite dish in East Africa and is a typical dish of the region.
Kachumbari is a refreshing, palate cleansing side dish comprising raw onions, fresh chillies and tomato. It’s a great side to spicy curries and a small bowl is often served alongside heavy meat dishes, Pilau and just about every other meal. Kachumbari is actually the Swahili name for fresh tomato and onion salad, but each chef has its own take on the side dish. Some add fresh herbs, others add salt and pepper, some add olive oil and others squeeze lime juice over the raw ingredients.
The spicy bhajia is a mouthwatering, spicy snack that is similar in consistency to a fritter. You can’t have just one – don’t be surprised if you end up eating an entire plate of bhajias. The dish originates from India, but the Kenyans have put on their own twist to these delightful bites. These more-ish bites are often served as an entree or game drive snacks. They are normally served with a creamy yoghurt dip or spicy tomato salsa, and there are a number of variations of the dish – potato, stuffed chilli and onion.
The Tusker beer is the mascot of Kenya and considered the national emblem! The name “Tusker” refers to an elephant with large tusks, which is even more fitting given that Kenya is a superb country for game viewing. The beer’s slogan – directly translated – means “my beer, my country”. There’s nothing better than grabbing a cold beer in the stifling African heat.
Banana beer is a traditional Kenyan beer often consumed during celebrations and ceremonies. It’s quite a potent beer, but it’s definitely worth trying. It’s made from mashed bananas (East Highland Bananas from the area) and either sorghum, millet or maize is used as the yeast component. It’s a locally brewed beer, but there are commercial banana beers available; one of which is the popular Mongozo Banana Beer.
Nyama Choma basically means roasted and barbecued meat, typically goat or beef. It’s eaten together Ugali and Kachumbari. The word “Nyama Choma” in Swahili means roast meat, and is certainly eaten at any given opportunity. Kenyans don’t need an excuse to whip up Nyama Choma.
We haven’t mentioned much on the dessert/candy front, which is where Mabuya steals the limelight. It’s a delicacy made from baobab seeds, sweetened with a red syrup. It’s basically a candy that is most popular on the Kenyan coast and in Mombasa. There are all different types Mabuya candy and desserts – give this sugary treat a try!