Christmas Food in Kenya: 12 Most Popular Dishes
Christmas celebration is a tradition in Kenya that’s been observed on December 25th every year for over 200 years. Approximately 85.5 percent of the total population in Kenya are Christians; with such a huge number, Christmas is a big deal to Kenyans.
It is an important tradition for Christian families to come together and celebrate. Over the month, all schools are closed, and there is mass travel around the country.
Many people who work in big cities, such as Nairobi, travel to their villages or ushagoo, where they were born, to celebrate as a family. During this time, the matatu (minibus) and bus owners double the fares to maximize profits!
Christians and others decorate churches, malls, and streets with colorful balloons and ribbons, and many erect a Cyprus tree, rather than the more commonly used pine tree. Santa is not a big deal in rural areas, but you might see him in the big cities such as Mombasa and Nairobi.
On Christmas Eve, Christians gather in church for a night vigil or ‘kesha’, singing Christmas hymns and carols to honor the birth of Jesus Christ. Children perform plays recreating the story of the birth of Jesus, and when the bell rings for midnight, everyone cheers.
The next morning, most Christians return to church to mark the day. It is traditional for children to wear new clothes, everyone wishes each other a merry Christmas, or ‘heri ya krismasi’, in more than 42 languages.
Kenyans then get together as a family for the Christmas dinner, comprised of various traditional dishes. Let’s have a look at the top 12 dishes Kenyans serve up to celebrate Christmas.
1. Nyama Choma (Roast Meat)
Meat dishes are essential for a good Kenyan Christmas meal. Nothing brings Kenyans together quite like their love for nyama choma. A goat, sheep or lamb is slaughtered on Christmas eve or early Christmas morning and the men take charge of grilling the meat.
The ribs are roasted on a stone fire with a wire rack on top. While roasting, everyone catches up and tells stories, then they serve the meat with salad, ugali, and cold beer.
2. Chapo (Chapati)
In the late 1990s, chapati was a rare and expensive dish that Kenyans could only afford for Christmas. It has become much more widespread now as it is a simple bread, easy to make. Flour, salt, and oil are mixed into a dough that is set aside for an hour.
The dough is divided into small balls that are rolled out, placed in a pan on medium-heat and fried until. They have to be soft, or they might just mess up the whole party!
They are served as a side to meat, chicken, potato, and matoke stew.
Pilau is a popular Swahili dish. It is regularly cooked in the coastal regions, but for Christmas, everyone gives it a go.
Pilau is white rice cooked with spices such as masala, ginger, and garlic and tomato paste, onions, and meat. Every family adds their own secret spice. The wonderful aroma wafts through the house.
It is best served with potato or meat stew and a cold juice or soda.
Chicken is popular among the Luhya communities. The chicken must be kienyeji, a local chicken breed, and not a broiler, as it is believe that kienyeji chicken are tastier and healthier than broilers.
Families will slaughter up to 5 kienyeji chickens for Christmas, depending on how many they are catering for, and they are fried, roasted, or wet fried, whichever method you fancy.
Rice is the second most consumed food in Kenya and is grown in most of the central regions. Pishori, basmati, and aromatic rice are most often served up. We always use a ratio of 2:1 water to rice, adding a little oil and salt.
The spices are often added, but these cause acid levels to rise so plain white rice is served for those with stomach issues. It is best served with potato or beef stew.
6. Beef Stew
Beef stew is a dish found on every family’s Christmas list. The meat is cut into small cubes and boiled in a traditional pot, mtungi, with salt and water until it softens. It is believed that the traditional pot produces a softer meat than the modern sufurias do.
After, it is fried with oil, onions, and tomatoes and then a cup of water is added to create a sauce. It is served with mokimo, chapati or ugali.
7. Mokimo (Irio)
Mokimo is a popular local dish among the Bantu community of Kenya, especially the Kikuyus. As well as Christmas, the dish is prepared for other special events such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. It consists of boiled mashed potato (waru), corn, and spinach or pumpkin leaves.
All the cooked ingredients are mixed in a large bowl until its smooth and green, then it is served with chicken or beef stew and salad.
Matoke is a delicious stew made with unripe green bananas. It’s a popular dish in the Kisii community of Kenya, but other communities also prepare it. The bananas are fried, boiled, or roasted, depending on preference with every household doing them differently.
Matoke is also made with meat, potatoes, peas, or beans, . For Christmas, meat stew is the favored choice. The dish goes well with chapati, plain white rice, and pilau.
9. Salad (Kachumbari)
Salad in Kenya is a regular meal. During Christmas, it is served to liven up the meals. Tomatoes, onions, carrots, chili peppers, avocado, and a touch of lemon juice for flavor are mixed up in a large bowl.
Kachumbari is a side dish that accompanies the main course, served with roasted ribs and fried potatoes.
10. Boiled Potatoes
Potatoes are grown in the highlands of Kenya and are a regular daily lunch. For Christmas, they are diced small and fried with onions in vegetable oil. Water is added and it is all simmered for 20 minutes. Chips and bhajia are also popular, and they can be served with chapati, rice, pilau, and beef stew.
The main ingredients are marinated chicken, rice, spices, and herbs. It takes at least a couple of hours to prepare, but when you lift the lid of sufuria, you get the most delicious aromas of chicken and spices.
It can be eaten on its own or served with chicken soup and salad.
12. Chang’aa and Busaa
Christmas celebrations doesn’t end with the main meal. When the children go off and play together in the fields, the adults enjoy traditional homemade alcoholic beverages, chang’aa and busaa.
Busaa is a famous traditional drink of the Luhya community. It’s a beer made with maize flour, water, millet, fermented for 7-8 days before Christmas. Although not strictly legal, people still make it. In the evening, the drink sits in a large pot and men from different families gather around, drinking from the pot with straws.
Chang’aa is another traditionally drink that has been passed down from generation to generation. It’s prepared using busaa leftovers, sugar, and water. The mixture is left to ferment for 3-5 days and then distilled. Again, this is not strictly legal, but it is still made and sold in the villages.
Related: Most Popular Kenyan Desserts
Related: Most Popular Kenyan Foods