One delightful element about Kenya’s food is its diverse flavor. Kenyan cooking draws upon a variety of ethnic traditions merged with the seasonings and tastes of outside countries.
Because of Kenya’s long-standing relationship with foreign settlers and its colonization by the British, the taste, cooking methods and presentation of Kenyan foods have been greatly influenced by the Indians, Arabs, Europeans, and Pakistanis as well as some western countries.
Kenyan food is mainly traditional and nearly all of Kenya’s tribes boast a specific meal as their very own staple food. Typical Kenyan cuisine is readily available in almost every Kenyan eatery; you can find it served in restaurants, hotels, clubs and entertainment venues with an African flair. If you’d like to try cooking on your own, here are a few simple and popular Kenyan Recipes you can try at home.
Ingredients in Kenyan Cuisine
The most popular foods in Kenya are fresh foods from the country’s vast resources. Farmland, lakes and the Indian Ocean provide readily available vegetables, fruits, and meats. Often, the ingredients used to prepare a Kenyan dish are fresh, very cheap and easily used to make a quick meal. Common vegetables include kale, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, avocados, and other leafy greens, while beef and goat meat are the common meats served in a Kenyan meal. Fish, chicken, and mutton are available but are more expensive.
Tropical fruits such as mangoes, oranges, pineapples, bananas, papaws, and pears are cheap, plentiful and popular on Kenyan tables, their availability dictated by the season. Other ingredients used in typical Kenyan dishes and recipes include rice, cornmeal, and wheat and millet flour. Kenyans are avid tea drinkers, thus hot beverages such as Kenyan tea and coffee are often served with meals. Cold beverages like soda, juice, and domestic and international beers are also available in restaurants, hotels, pubs and entertainment spots. Tusker, a Kenyan beer, is the relaxing beer of choice for most Kenyans.
What About Other Foods?
Adventurous meat eaters can also indulge in safe wildlife game meat, such as crocodile and ostrich, served in specialized restaurants. Game meat is rarely eaten in Kenyan homes. While most ingredients are used for ethnic food preparations, Western foods such as french fries, burgers, pizza, and pasta are readily available in some restaurants and fast-food places.
Common Ethnic Foods in Kenya
- Ugali – a semi-hard cake made of maize (corn) flour or millet flour. It’s a favorite meal for all Kenyans and usually accompanies fish, meat, nyama Choma, meat stews, sukuma wiki or other greens. See ugali recipe»
- Sukuma Wiki – a vegetable stew made of leafy green vegetables, mainly collards or kale. Sukuma wiki is the foundation of many Kenyan meals. The word ´sukuma wiki´ means ´to stretch the week´, implying that sukuma wiki is a food used to stretch the meals to last for the entire week. See a Sukuma Wiki recipe»
- Nyama Choma – The most popular dish in Kenya is this roasted beef or goat meat meal. It is mainly cooked over an open fire and served with ugali and kachumbari or mixed vegetables. See a nyama choma recipe»
- Kachumbari – a fine mixture of chopped tomatoes, onions, pepper, cilantro, lemon juice and in some cases, avocado. It is usually served with nyama choma and ugali. See a kachumbari recipe»
- Chapati – a round, flat unleavened bread cooked on a griddle to a soft brown color and served with meat stew and vegetables. See a chapati recipe»
- Githeri – a mixture of boiled maize(corn) and beans that can be lightly fried with onion. It is a popular meal among the Kamba and Kikuyu tribes. See a githeri recipe»
- Ingoho – chicken cooked “Luhya style” by the Luhya tribe of Western Kenya. It is their signature meal, which they serve to important visitors.
- Pilau – rice cooked like rice pilaf, flavored with Indian spices. Pilau is a common dish served during Kenyan parties, celebrations and festive seasons. See a pilau recipe»
- Wali – rice boiled in coconut milk. Along the Kenyan coast, wali is a popular meal of the Swahili and Mijikenda tribes. Palm trees are grown all across Kenya’s coastline and fresh coconut is always readily available. See a wali recipe»
- Karanga – a meat and potato stew, usually served with ugali or rice. See a Kenyan beef stew recipe»
- Kienyeji / Irio – potatoes mashed with either beans/peas or maize and pumpkin leaves, then sautéed with onions and served with either beef stew or vegetables. An alternative is mashing boiled maize and beans to make irio. See a kienyeji / irio recipe»
- Mandazi – deep-fried sweets (similar to doughnuts) served for breakfast with tea or coffee. They also serve well as a snack for late afternoon tea/coffee. See a mandazi recipe»
- Chai – tea boiled with milk and sugar. It’s served hot and is the beverage of choice for most Kenyans. See a chai recipe»
- Samosa – a delicious deep-fried, square-shaped, meat-filled dough that is served as a snack or appetizer.
- Uji – porridge traditionally made from fermented millet, cornflour mix or a mixture of millet flour, maize meal, and powdered milk. Because of its high nutritional value, Uji is a popular drink prepared for infants, adolescents, nursing mothers and those who are sick. See an Uji recipe»
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Where Can You Enjoy Ethnic Kenyan Food?
Everywhere in Kenya! In restaurants, hotels, and lodges, elaborate buffets and à la carte menus of Kenyan food are part of the meal offering. If you are new to Kenyan food and want to experience a truly ethnic meal, then you should visit one of the eating establishments frequented by local Kenyans. Nyama Choma and ugali top the list of popular Kenyan cuisine and are a “must eat”.
Where Can You Enjoy other Foods in Kenya?
If you’re not in for Kenyan taste, international foods are available in fast-food restaurants, cafés, hotels and world-class specialty restaurants across the major cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, and Kisumu. You will always find a meal that you recognize and enjoy in the Italian, American, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, European, French, Mexican, Korean, Lebanese and other western restaurants. There are enough choices of food to delight vegetarians, too. The world-famous and one-of-a-kind game meat restaurant in Africa – the Carnivore – is popular for its tasty selection of wildlife game meat. At the Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, you can savor bountiful meals of antelope, crocodile, gazelle and other wild meat.
Top Restaurants in Nairobi
If you are in Nairobi and wondering where to find a good restaurant, take a look at this Restaurant Guide of Nairobi’s best eating establishments. Nairobi offers a number of Kenyan, Chinese, Continental, Ethiopian, French, Italian, Thai, Japanese, and Indian restaurants, serving everything from seafood and grilled game-meat to organic food. International celebrities, including Kenya’s most famous and powerful people, have eaten at these establishments and you, too, can dine like one of them in Nairobi.
**The Restaurant Guide is a downloadable .pdf file courtesy of Business Daily – www.bdafrica.com