Top 20 Popular Kenyan Dishes You Must Try (With Photos)
Has the idea of food tourism ever came to mind? Well, Kenya is the place to be. Kenyan dishes are among the best you will ever devour. Ask any Kenyan who lives away and they will tell you how much they miss Kenyan cuisine.
Kenya is a country with 42 tribes and almost every community has its own unique dish. The culinary scene varies throughout the country. The fact is you will never taste all of them but make sure you try the following dishes before leaving Kenya so you can judge Kenya’s cuisine.
1. Ugali (Cornmeal)
Ugali is undoubtedly the national food in Kenya. It resembles polenta (Italian raw cornmeal) and is on every Kenyan menu. Coming to Kenya and not eating ugali would be like visiting Paris for the first time and not taking a photo of the Eiffel Tower.
While on an official visit to Kenya as the President of the U.S, Barack Obama talked fondly of how he used to eat ugali with his sister. Watch here.
Ugali is made by constantly mixing maize flour or cornmeal with hot water over heat until it reaches a dough-like consistency. Maize flour is the most often used, but you can also use millet flour, cassava flour, or sorghum.
In Kenyan villages, people prefer a heavier flour made by grinding maize in a mill without removing any nutrients. The denser the ugali, the more filling and nutritious, in my opinion.
2. Samaki (Fish)
Fish is samaki’ in Swahili. Tilapia and Nile perch’ from freshwater lakes in Kenya (Lake Victoria and Lake Naivasha) are popular meals in Kenya. They can either be served dry fried or wet fried.
Samaki is popular with specific communities in Kenya, especially the Luo and Luhya in the west, but anyone can enjoy it.
3. Nyama Choma (Grilled Meat)
Nyama choma is Swahili for grilled goat or beef. Kenyans are formidable meat eaters and you will find open grills all over the country. Fish and chicken are also popular choma options.
Nyama choma is slowly grilled over an open fire or using charcoal and is best served with ugali and kachumbari.A nyama choma experience is one you will remember for a lifetime. It creates memories and lasting impressions.
Major decisions such as political and business deals have been brokered at nyama choma joints in Kenya. It is meat that you will feel good eating, especially with an ice-cold beer or your favorite glass of wine. The pairing decision is all yours.
4. Kachumbari (Tomato and Onion Salsa)
Kachumbari takes the accolade of most delicious salad of Kenya. It is made from thin slices of fresh ripe tomatos, onions, green/red pepper, lemon juice, and coriander. Kachumbari is best served with nyama choma or pilau, another popular coastal Kenyan dish.
In Kenya, pilau is prepared for special occasions such as weddings and for visitors. It is considered a celebration meal and is served with kachumbari.
Pilau is attributed to the coastal people in Kenya. It is a special rice cooked with aromatic spices and either chicken or beef.
6. Githeri (Boiled Corn and Beans)
Githeri is a simple, nourishing dish attributed to the Kikuyu community in Kenya. The corn and beans are boiled and then fried to make delicious githeri. It can be served with either rice or chapatis. In Kenya, a favorite ingredient is avocado.
7. Chapati (Flatbread)
Chapatis, like pilau, are prepared on special occasions or when one has visitors. They are soft, fluffy, round flatbreads made from rolled out dough. The rolled dough is fried on a cooking pan under medium heat until they are brownish, crispy, and soft on the inside.
Chapatis can be served with a cup of tea in the morning or with beef or chicken stew.
In Nairobi, you really need to try mukimo. No occasion is complete without mukimo. It is attributed to the Kikuyu people.
Mukimo is a mashed potato dish with added ingredients such as corn, peas, and spinach that elevate both flavor and nutrition. It is best served as a side to any meaty stew. Mukimo is a must-try.
9. Matoke (Plantain Banana Stew)
If you love bananas, this is what you need to order on your visit to Kenya. Matoke is a household meal in Kenya and is prepared using the finest East African highland bananas. You can enjoy it with beef stew or as a wholesome meal on its own.
Matoke is fried with onions and tomatoes and enjoyed with a sauce of your choice. I recommend matoke as a dinner dish.
10. Omena (Silver Fish)
The proper name Silver Cyprinid is unknown by most Kenyans. The majority know it as omena, a beloved delicacy that graces tables across the country. Walk through any food market and you won’t fail to miss the baskets filled with omena ready for sale to eager customers. Omena is rich in calcium, an essential element in forming healthy bones and teeth. It is very popular among the Luo community.
11. Ingoho (Chicken)
In western Kenya, Luhyas will cook you ingoho if they consider you an important visitor. Traditional preparation involves roasting a whole chicken until it is brown and then eating it. The more modern ingoho is braised with onions, tomatoes, and spices and then served.
12. Sukumawiki (Kale/Collard Greens)
Sukumawiki is a Swahili phrase meaning “stretch the week,” especially when accompanied by ugali. In Kenya, sukumawiki is a popular household meal made with locally available ingredients. It is prepared by braising it with sauted onions and tomatoes seasoned with salt.
13. Kenyan Style Stew
Kenyan stew is a favorite dish for many Kenyans and is easy to prepare; many different meats can be used such as goat, chicken, or beef. The aroma of Kenyan stew will tease your nose, and many restaurants in Kenya use it as a marketing dish. You must be wondering how? Well, the beef aroma is a perfect marketing tool. In Nairobi, the battle for customers’ noses is growing fast, especially during lunch hour.
This Kenyan stew dish is prepared with chunky cuts of meat and vegetables cooked to a thick consistency. Base vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and peas can be used in preparing this hearty Kenyan meal.
14. Mutura (Kenyan Sausage)
Mutura is a Kenyan blood sausage with a controversial reputation. It is a fire-grilled delicacy made from the cow, lamb, or goat intestines stuffed with a fresh blood mixture and then grilled.
Mutura resembles Bratwurst, a German sausage, although mutura is richer in flavor than Bratwurst and its European relatives such as the Spanish morcilla and Italian sanguinaccio. Mutura is heavily seasoned. Mutura is only sold when it is dark and is rare to find during the day.
15. Mrenda (Jute Mallow)
Mrenda is an indigenous vegetable popular with the Luhya community. It has the texture of okra when cooked and is very smooth and bitter. It is prepared by boiling the leaves in salty water or with milk. It is best served with ugali.
16. Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice)
Wali wa nazi is a popular traditional delicacy from the coastal region of Kenya. It is prepared using coconut milk, commonly known as nazi. Boiled white rice is cooked with grated coconut meat. It is best served with chicken curry or even Kenyan stew.
17. Viazi Karai
Viazi Karai is a popular coastal dish known for its teasing taste. Sellers of viazi karai find it hard to keep up with demand. It is first boiled until well-cooked, then it is deep-fried. Bhajia can easily be mistaken for viazi karai.
18. Makai (Roast Maize)
Roast maize is an affordable snack found on almost every corner in Kenyan streets. The maize is roasted over charcoal and, once ready, is rubbed with chili and lemon salt. You will be sorely tempted to buy one while in Kenya.
Samosas are triangular-shaped pastries filled with either peas, minced meat, or potatoes and deep-fried. The dish is a perfect snack to have with your evening tea. It is yummy.
20. Chips Mayai (Omelet and French fries)
This list would be incomplete without a mention of chips mayai. It is a combination of omelet, and French fries served with kachumbari and tomato ketchup.
To sum up, the use of local ingredients and spices makes Kenya’s culinary scene unique. On your visit to the country, you will discover various delicious dishes and the diversity of the local cuisine. If you are finding it hard to choose which dish to enjoy, go for one of the 20 dishes listed here as they are the most popular.