Photo Credit: Esther Sweeney
Local Food in Kenya: 10 Essential Dishes To Try On Your Next Visit
Kenya has 42 tribes calling the country home, and the cuisine is just as diverse as the populace. There are clear Indian and Arabic influences in dishes like samosas, bhajia, biryani, chapati, and pilau. And despite a love for roasted meats, the daily diet leans toward the vegetarian side with vegetables, maize, beans, and potatoes playing a prominent role in their meals.
Head to the East African country for the golden beaches, majestic animals, and breathtaking sunsets, but stay for the kaleidoscope of flavor. Here is the essential guide to local food in Kenya.
1. Ugali (Cornmeal)
Add cornmeal to boiling water to form a dense paste, and you will have Kenya’s version of polenta. Ugali is a ubiquitous staple that might as well be the national dish. You’ll find it on the side of most stews. For extra authenticity, eat it with your hands. Former president Barack Obama has fond memories of eating ugali with his sister.
2. Githeri (Beans and Corn)
Also known as muthere or mutheri, githeri is a Kenyan meal consisting of boiled beans mixed with corn.
3. Mukimo (Mashed Peas and Potato)
Mukimo or Irio is a combination of mashed potatoes, green peas, and corn. It is commonly attributed to the Kikuyu people and is served with rich stews or nyama choma (roasted meat).
4. Nyama Choma (Roasted Meat)
Did you go to Kenya if you didn’t have nyama choma? To say that the roasted meat staple is a must in the East African country might be an understatement.
Nyama choma is literally the Swahili term for grilled goat or beef, which are the most popular cuts, but chicken and fish are also options.
Mutura is a Bratwurst style sausage link, albeit with much more seasoning and flavor. The grilled, protein-filled snack is made from cow, lamb, or goat intestines and blood. Pairs perfectly with a cold beer.
6. Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice)
Basic rice is taken up a notch by boiling it with grated coconut and milk for a mildly nutty flavor. Enjoy with stew or curry.
During colonial times, Indians migrated to East Africa, which explains the large influence on Kenyan cuisine. This is reflected in chapati, a flat fried dough which accompanies anything from beans to tea.
Samosas are further proof of the Indian influence on Kenyan gastronomy. The deep-fried, triangular shaped pastries are stuffed with meat, veggies, or potatoes and are readily available at restaurants or street food pushcarts.
9. Kenyan Pilau
This heavily spiced and flavorful rice and meat dish is a celebratory meal that is popularly served at weddings.
10. Makai (Roast Maize)
Corn features prominently in several Kenyan meals, but it’s also delicious as a standalone snack. The grilled maize, roasted over charcoal, is often served with a chili lime salt garnish.