Top 15 East African Foods
Eastern Africa is as diverse as it is vast. With the largest subpopulation on the continent, it has over 460 million people speaking over 200 languages. With such myriad influences, each country has its own distinct culture which is reflected in its food.
Here, we hop through a few of the countries in the region giving a taster of what each has to offer on their menus.
Ethiopia boasts the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world and is a wonder in itself, being the home to coffee, the Rastafarian movement, and arguably the first human skeletons.
With 13 months to the year due to its own calendar, why not enjoy the rich history and culture, sunshine, and amazing Ethiopian food a little longer. If you have to pick only one country in Africa to visit, Ethiopia may just be the one.
1. Doro Wat
Doro wat is a type of stew made with chicken in a deep red and extremely flavorful sauce. The sauce contains the uniquely Ethiopian berbere spice, made with a mix of coriander, ginger, chilis, holy basil seeds, and more.
Fresh chicken is soaked in water, salt, and lemon juice, and then cut into pieces for cooking. Just before the stew finishes, shelled boiled eggs are added in take on the flavor and color of the dish. Doro wat can be found at every festive occasion and holiday and is a favorite dish for breaking fast. What do you want for a special meal? Doro wat, that’s what!
Tibs is a kind of Ethiopian stir fry. There are many varieties using a range of meats, vegetables, spices, and differing quantities and proportions of each. It is usually served at festive occasions and holidays, or simply as a sign of respect for someone special. Whenever you have it, it is a feast of flavor.
A super treat for Ethiopians, and a good hangover cure, kitfo is essentially minced meat that is warmed with butter and spices. While typically and best served leb leb (warmed), you can also ask for it betam leb leb (translated as very warmed, but meaning cooked).
Great on its own, it can also be served with side dishes such as spinach and cottage cheese for an even tastier and filling meal. Pass the beer, and the kitfo, please!
Injera is a unique kind of spongy flatbread made from the super tiny supergrain teff. It has a slightly sour flavor, a bit like sourdough, due to the fermentation time during preparation. It is shaped into a large circle, then either rolled and cut into pieces, or used as a base topped with a variety of dishes at once. Rip off a piece and dip it or use it to scoop up any of the delicious sauces or stews.
A testament to the integral place in Ethiopian culture, people greet each other by asking “Did you eat injera today?” You will know that life is fine if they answer yes. You should always say yes to injera!
While not technically a food, this Ethiopian delight needs to be mentioned. Spriss is a variety of fruit juices layered in a cup. Using fresh fruits such as avocado, papaya, orange, mango, watermelon, and other fruits in season, the thickest is found at the bottom and layered to the least thick at the top.
I’ve never seen anything like it during my travels; this refreshing drink is as delicious as it is beautiful.
When in Kenya, expect the utmost hospitality. “Mgeni ni baraka” means that a “guest is a blessing”. What better way to welcome guests than to offer food?
There are several customs you should follow when eating in Kenya, but most of all it’s important to know that refusing food is considered an insult. Who would dream of it?
6. Nyama Choma
Roasted meat is any Kenyan’s favorite dish. Swahili for meat, nyama is usually goat or beef roasted over an open fire.
Traditionally the dish of hunters cooking game meat, it was brought to urban areas and is now found everywhere, from street food to festive occasions. Served with a tomato and onion relish called kuchambari, and ugali, it is a hearty, communal dish.
Ugali is one of Kenya’s staple foods made from maize flour. Kenyans love ugali and will debate endlessly about its superiority to other African starches, such as fufu and pap.
It is a culture in itself and can be served in a variety of ways, such as with sour milk, soups, stews, or meats. Always enjoy it with your hands though!
If you love sausage, or street food, then mutura is a must. An authentic Kenyan sausage made from goat’s intestines stuffed with ground meat and, here’s the kicker, goat’s blood.
It is boiled to nearly done, then grilled to dry out the meat and give it a smoky flavor. It’s bloody tasty!
Matoke is fried bananas with onions, tomatoes, and a savory sauce and is a common household meal in Kenya. A perfect blend of sweet and savory, it can be served as a side or a main dish. I go bananas for matoke; any kind of banana or plantain is a yes for me!
With influences from the historic Indian spice route, many Tanzanian dishes include a lovely variety of tasty and aromatic spices, including coconut, turmeric, and cardamom. Beware though!
It is considered offensive to sniff your delicious food before eating it. That seems a bit unfair.
10. Wali Wa Madodo
Swahili culture pervades most of Tanzania, and wali wa madodo is one of their favorite dishes. This dish, which translates as rice with beans, is spiced up literally and figuratively by first boiling the beans, then frying them with onions and spices.
What makes this special is that coconut water is used to cook the rice instead of water, resulting in a thick, creamy stew.
You can find mshikaki at bars, on the street, at groceries, just about everywhere, it is so popular. It is a grilled meat kebab made with beef, and spiced with ginger, lemon, and chili peppers. Enjoy it on its own, or, better yet, with roast potatoes, which is known as chips mshikaki. Who doesn’t love a good meat and potatoes meal?
While it looks like a donut, it’s actually fried bread. It’s a go-to treat for locals since it’s easy to prepare and deliciously tasty. Don’t leave Tanzania or Kenya without trying mandazi! You will thank me later!
Rougaille is a typical Creole dish representing the French influence on the island. Its versatility makes it a favorite for a quick home-cooked meal.
This tomato-based sauce is made with garlic, onions, chilies, coriander, and thyme. You can either eat this sauce plain with rice, or add your favorite vegetables and meat such as beef, chicken, sausage, seafood, or, Mauritians’ favorite, salted fish. Bon appetit!
14. Dholl Puri
Influence from Indian shores brought this delicious flatbread made with yellow split peas, turmeric, and cumin. Fill it with bean or potato curry, rougaille, and don’t forget the chili and special Mauritian coriander chutney and pickles for the full flavor experience.
Equally ubiquitous at special events and street corners, this delicacy is a favorite for Mauritians and tourists, for a cheap and filling, yet delicious meal.
15. Bol Renversé
If you translate it directly, this means upside down bowl, and that is exactly what it is, and what makes this a little delight. Although the name is French, it is a Chinese inspired dish known as Magic Bowl, and can be ordered in most Asian restaurants.
It is a rice-based dish with stir-fried vegetables and meat, together with a soy and oyster sauce, topped with a fried egg. Place the egg at the bottom of the bowl, followed by the sauce, vegetables and meat, then the rice. Flip it upside down on the plate, and voila! Magic!
I hope you enjoyed this brief culinary journey through a few of East Africa’s interesting and colorful countries. This is but a glimpse of the delicious dishes that you can find through the whole region. I highly recommend working up a hunger and eating your way through the cuisine of the rest of the region as well!
Discover the cuisine of other East African countries below: