Kenyan Food: 25 Most Popular Kenyan Dishes to Try Out
When people think of visiting Kenya, they typically aim to experience the unique wildlife and spectacular environment. However, not many people realize that Kenyan food is among the most delicious you’ll find anywhere. Ask any Kenyan who lives away, and they will tell you how much they miss Kenyan cuisine!
The country boasts 42 distinctive tribes, and as almost every community has its unique dishes, the culinary scene varies throughout the country, and the fact is you will never taste all of them. Ensure you try the following dishes before leaving Kenya – they’ll make you want to return!
Read on and enjoy!
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 mixing and heating maize flour or cornmeal with hot water 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 heavier flour made by grinding maize in a mill – this retains all the nutrients so the denser the ugali, the more filling and nutritious it will be.
2. Samaki (Fish)
Tilapia and Nile perch from freshwater lakes in Kenya (Lake Victoria and Lake Naivasha) are a delicacy in Kenya. They are usually served dry-fried or wet-fried.
Samaki, which means fish in Swahili, 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 nationwide. Fish and chicken are also popular choma ( grilled) options.
Nyama choma is slowly cooked over an open fire or using charcoal. It’s best served with ugali and kachumbari. A nyama choma experience is one you will remember for a lifetime.
Major decisions, such as political and business deals, have been brokered at nyama choma feasts in Kenya. The meat goes exceptionally well with an ice-cold beer or your favorite glass of wine – the pairing decision is all yours.
4. Kachumbari (Tomato and Onion Salsa)
Kachumbari deserves the accolade of Kenya’s most delicious salad. It’s made from thin slices of fresh ripe tomatoes, 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’s a delicious rice dish cooked with aromatic spices and either chicken or beef, and is served with kachumbari.
Pilau is believed to have been created by the coastal people in Kenya. When you’re in the country, don’t miss the opportunity to try pilau – it’s unforgettable!
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. Avocado is also a favorite accompaniment.
7. Chapati (Flatbread)
Chapatis are soft, fluffy, round flatbreads made from rolled-out dough. Like pilau, they’re prepared on special occasions or when one has visitors.
The rolled dough is pan-fried until brownish, crispy outside, and soft inside.
Chapatis can also be served with a cup of tea in the morning or beef or chicken stew.
In Nairobi, you really need to try mukimo – no occasion is complete without it. Initially developed by the Kikuyu people, Mukimo is a mashed potato dish with added ingredients such as corn, peas, and spinach that elevate flavor and nutrition.
It’s typically served as a side to any meaty stew.
9. Matoke (Plantain Banana Stew)
If you love bananas, this is a must-try dish on your visit to Kenya. Matoke is a traditional dish prepared using the finest East African highland bananas.
Matoke is fried with onions and tomatoes and enjoyed with a sauce of your choice. You can enjoy it with beef stew or as a wholesome meal.
10. Omena (Silver Fish)
The proper name Silver Cyprinid is unknown by most Kenyans. Instead, the majority know these tasty fish as omena. This much-loved delicacy graces tables nationwide and is especially popular among the Luo community. Walk through any food market, and you won’t fail to miss the baskets filled with omena ready for sale to eager customers.
In addition to being delicious, Omena are extremely rich in calcium, an essential element in forming healthy bones and teeth.
11. Ingoho (Chicken)
In western Kenya, Luhyas will cook you ingoho if they want to honor you as an important visitor. Traditional preparation involves roasting a whole chicken until it’s brown and then eating it. The more modern take on ingoho uses chicken pieces braised with onions, tomatoes, and spices.
12. Sukumawiki (Kale/Collard Greens)
Sukumawiki is a Swahili phrase meaning “stretch the week.” In Kenya, sukumawiki is a popular household meal made with locally available ingredients, especially when accompanied by ugali. It’s prepared by braising it with sauteed 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 types of meat can be used, including goat, chicken, or beef. The aroma of Kenyan stew will delight your senses, and many restaurants in Kenya use it to tempt customers to enter, especially at lunchtime.
This Kenyan stew dish is prepared with chunky cuts of meat and vegetables cooked to achieve a thick consistency. Essential vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and peas can be used in preparing this hearty Kenyan meal.
14. Mutura (Kenyan Sausage)
Mutura is a Kenyan blood sausage that may be considered an acquired taste. This flame-grilled delicacy is made from cow, lamb, or goat intestines stuffed with a fresh blood mixture and then grilled.
Mutura resembles Bratwurst, a German sausage, and its European relatives, such as the Spanish morcilla and Italian sanguinaccio. However, it’s heavily seasoned and richer in flavor than these alternatives.
Traditionally, Mutura is only sold when it’s dark – so it’s rare to find it served during the day.
15. Mrenda (Jute Mallow)
Mrenda is an indigenous vegetable popular with the Luhya community. It has the smooth texture of okra when cooked and is very bitter. It’s prepared by boiling the leaves in salty water or milk. You’ll typically find it 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’s prepared by boiling white rice and coconut flesh in coconut milk (nazi). Boiled white rice is cooked with grated coconut flesh. It’s typically served with chicken curry or Kenyan stew.
17. Viazi Karai
Viazi Karai, spiced fried potatoes, is a popular coastal dish. Viazi karai sellers find it hard to keep up with demand for this delicious snack.The potatoes are first boiled until soft, then deep-fried. Bhajia can easily be mistaken for viazi karai, but they are fried without being boiled.
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. This mouthwatering street food is simply unforgettable.
Samosas are triangular-shaped pastries filled with either peas, minced meat, or potatoes and deep-fried. They’re a perfect snack to have with your evening tea but they’re yummy at any time of day.
20. Chips Mayai (Omelet and French fries)
This list would be incomplete without a mention of chips mayai – a luscious combination of omelet and French fries, served with kachumbari and tomato ketchup.
Kenyan bhajias are crispy potato fritters coated in a batter of gram flour and a mix of spices before being fried. They can be made from other vegetables, but potatoes are by far the most popular.
They are flavored with garlic and typical African spices such as, ginger, paprika, and green chili, but each cook will have their own special twist.
22. Kenyan Madras Chutney
Many Kenyan foods are Indian-influenced, due to the influx of Indian workers who were sent to the county to help build the railroads. An example of this is the Kenyan take on Indian Madras chutney. This yummy side is often served with the wildly popular street food Bajias (see above).
It can be made with mangoes, papayas, carrots, coconuts – whatever the cook has to hand – and the result is always delicious.
23. Kuku Paka
This East African Kuku Paka dish, with its Swahili, Indian and Arabic influences, is a must-try when you’re in Kenya. It’s especially popular in coastal towns of Mombassa and Lamu.
Chicken cuts are marinated in spices until tender, then grilled. They’re served in a delicious coconut sauce.
24. Urwagwa – Kenyan Banana Beer
Made from the fermentation of banana puree, Urwagwa is the oldest and most popular beer in Kenya. It’s made from mashed bananas (East Highland Bananas from the area) and either sorghum, millet or maize is used as the yeast component.
25. Beef Mishkaki
Mishkaki is a famous East African meat delicacy, cooked on an open grill. Cubes of steak are marinated in grated papaya (which acts as a tenderizer) and a mixture of characteristic spices, such as chili (of course), oil, vinegar, garlic, tamarind paste turmeric – and more!
The chunks are then placed on skewers and grilled. The end result is a succulent and delicious barbecued feast! Enjoy!
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.
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