As we all know, Kenya is magical. Famous for its Olympic runners, stunning beach resorts and safari excursions for thrill-lovers, Kenya has something for just about every traveler that have come made their way to its lands.
But its wide and diverse variety of foods is just as exciting, if not the most exciting part of Kenya. Combining the tastes of the East African Indian railway workers, the spices of the early Arab settlers, and the amazing sweet offerings of the Swahili coastlines, Kenya’s many delicacies are sure to whet the appetite of even the pickiest eater among us.
If you find yourself heading to Kenya, I urge you to try the local food! Here are my top picks of Kenyan cuisine that you shouldn’t miss!
A food that originated as a Kikuyu staple and spread throughout the country, Irio is one of the most famous dishes in Kenya and therefore a must-try for travelers. The dish is made up of green peas and potatoes, which are boiled and then mashed before adding whole kernels of corn to give it some extra starch and texture. This hearty and heavy food is usually paired with roasted meat or any Kenyan style stew.
A delicious blend of subtle Persian and Indian spicing, chicken biryani can be one of the most difficult rice dishes to master. Although it originated from the Middle East, this dish has found its own variations in East Africa at the hands of the early Arab as well as Indian traders on the coastline and is popular not only in Kenya but also in Zanzibar. Mixed in with basmati rice, you’ll find amazing blends of spices, tender chicken and dried fruits in a plate of biryani!
Ugali na Sukuma Wiki
Ask any local Kenyan and you will find that they have all indulged in this quintessential Kenyan staple. Ugali consists of coarse white maize meal, which is mixed with warm water and stirred over a coal fire until a cake is formed. This generous dish is accompanied by the vibrantly green leaf sukuma wiki, which is similar to collard greens and kale, fried with sweet red onions, tomatoes, and seasoning. The traditional way of eating ugali is by using hands, ripping over the ugali and eating it with a mound of sukuma wiki. Surely an African culinary experience not to be missed!
The Kenyan stew can be made using a wide variety of meat; including beef, goat, chicken or even fish. The stew dishes also include a few other base vegetable ingredients such as carrots, peas, potatoes, and peppers. The sauce for the stew is usually formed from a light tomato base, which is accented with onions, salt, and pepper. Perfect for a wet and breezy day especially if you’re spending the night camping among the wildlife!
A sweet, sugar-coated doughnut, mandazi is most often savored at early morning school breaks, and hence has become a favorite amongst Kenyan children. Infused with delicious hints of cardamom as well as sweet coconut milk, these doughnuts are found generously covered in icing sugar. You’ll find that mandazi is available at your nearest kiosk, and these treats are served by the bagful and make the perfect snack to keep your blood sugar levels up during a walking safari.
Mutura is a type of Kenyan sausage. It is a meaty snack that is rich in protein and is ideally paired with beer. The goat intestines are filled with enticing combinations of ground meat parts as well as goat blood. The sausages are boiled until they’re almost cooked through and then put on the grill to dehydrate the meat and give them the sensational smoky and barbecued taste. Mutura will exceed your expectations if you’re looking for a true Kenyan street food experience!
With corn growing abundantly in rural Kenya, you’ll find makai, or roasted corn, on almost every street corner. All you’ll have to look for is a lone vendor standing over a makeshift barbecue, and you’ll find this delicious and simple snack, which will certainly delight your taste buds! An array of white maize is roasted and charred, and then finished by dipping them in a mix of lime, chili, and salt, served to you in a wrapping so that you can devour it while it’s still hot.
A natural power combination of vegetables has roots in Mexican cuisine and infused in Kenyan traditions, Kachumbari consists of a simple formula of diced tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, and sometimes avocados. The locals enjoy Kachumbari as a side salad or a garnish that accompanies dishes like nyama choma or githeri.
Nyama choma is essentially chicken, beef or goat, slow-cooked over hot coals until the meat is so tender that it melts in your mouth. The meat used in this dish is often sourced locally and is deliciously seasoned with a combination of spices. Roasted goat is the local favorite and is served with plain boiled rice and kachumbari.
Maharagwe is a traditional sweet Swahili stew, made up of coconut milk, red kidney beans, and cardamom. There’s an abundant coconut growth in southern Kenya where women are accustomed to making coconut milk by themselves, using a coconut grater to pound the meat, before pounding it to produce a sweet and milky liquid. The stew achieves an incredibly thick and buttery consistency when mixed with kidney beans. Make sure to have several pieces of chapati to wipe up every last bit of the stew left!
Curious about the local tradition that has brought Kenyan food to life? Learn more about Kenya’s rich culture on a cultural safari!