• Nondiah Khalayi

The unique food of Kenya

Nondiah discusses five nuanced dishes of Kenya that characterize its culture.


Kenya, a beautiful country in East Africa, whose athletes rule marathon tracks and boasts over 40 different ethnic groups, is rich in cultural diversity. If you travel through Kenya, you would hear at least 60 different languages, something that truly makes Kenya a diverse and vibrant country to visit.

Culture is not only defined by religion, music, and traditions, but also food and drink. While the different ethnic groups in Kenya are uniquely identified by their own foods and drinks, there are five defining foods and drinks common in most Kenyan families.

Ugali

Ugali is the most common dish in Kenya, and definitely qualifies as the national dish of Kenya. It has cornmeal that is boiled into a thick paste, and is accompanied by vegetables, or meat, such as beef, chicken, or mutton. One needs cornflour (mainly maize flour), and water to prepare ugali. A cooking stick, otherwise called a mwiko in Swahili, is used to stir maize flour into boiled water to make a thick paste.

Ugali is best eaten when still hot. It is not unusual to find leftover ugali being substituted for bread in the morning in some households: it can be enjoyed with hot tea. Ugali is an affordable meal to most Kenyan families because of its simplicity. The poorest communities in Kenya enjoy ugali for this reason.

Chapati

Chapati is another common dish in Kenya. It is a flatbread made of wheat flour dough, and uniquely defined ceremonies in the past decades. Today, most households do not wait for ceremonies or holidays to enjoy chapatis.

To prepare chapati, wheat flour dough is wound into a coil, rolled on a flat surface (rolling board or table), and fried in moderate oil. Sugar, some salt, and oil are added to the flour dough to add taste. While chapati can be traced back to the Indian influence on the coastal region of Kenya, it is now widespread in Kenya. Chapati goes well with stew with ingredients such as peas, beans, beef, and vegetables.

Mandazi

A Kenyan mandazi is a donut-like, sweetened bread eaten as a snack or for breakfast. Most commonly, you would find families enjoying their breakfast tea with mandazis. Mandazi, similar to chapati, is commonly made using wheat flour. Wheat flour dough with baking powder, and sugar, and other ingredients depending on the flavor (such as lemon, milk, margarine) is thickly rolled on a flat surface and cut into small sizes. The most common shape of a mandazi is a triangle. The pieces are then deep-fried in cooking oil until they turn golden brown.

Githeri

Githeri is another unique dish in Kenya. It is commonly served for lunch in most Kenyan schools. It is a stew made of corn and beans, and it is very easy to prepare. Oftentimes, maize is left to boil first before beans are added to ensure uniformity.

The boiled githeri can be shallowly steamed in some oil, and tomatoes and onions are added to make it even more flavorful. It is common to find some people adding potatoes and vegetables, such as cabbages, in their githeri to customize it to their liking.

Tea

Tea tops the list of the most popular Kenyan drinks. Tea is especially enjoyed during breakfast, and often enjoyed with chapati and mandazis. Also, in Western Kenya, it is common to find tea served as a side drink in events and gatherings. Kenyans love their tea prepared with milk. To make tea, you need to boil milk, add some water to your preference, add tea, and then add sugar to taste. After all ingredients are added, the tea should simmer for one to two minutes before serving. Sugar can even be substituted with honey.

I suggest you add Kenya to your travel bucket list so you can enjoy these five unique dishes while experiencing the cultural diversity of Kenya.