Kenyan Food – Typical Dishes
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The staple and most common food in Kenya is a cornmeal starch made into a thick paste known as ugali. It is heavy and hearty and goes down well with fried vegetables or any kind of meat stew.
Where To Eat It: Ugali is available anywhere and everywhere, from sit down restaurants to Kenyan street food stalls around the country.
Along with ugali, sukuma wiki (known as collard greens in English) is a staple vegetable in the Kenyan diet. It is normally sliced very thin, and fried in oil, along with onions and tomatoes. Many Kenyans eat ugali and sukuma wiki as a standard meal.
Where To Eat It: Sukuma wiki is available at all restaurants and street stalls.
Originally from the influence of Indians, flatbread chapatis are popular in Kenya, and all over East Africa. They are rolled out and fried in oil until becoming crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. Sometimes they are eaten as a snack with tea, and other times along with stew or vegetables.
Where To Eat It: Everywhere in Kenya.
Irio is a combination of potatoes, green peas and kernels of corn mashed up into a heavy nutritious starch. It’s often enjoyed with beans, stew, meat or just with some sukuma wiki.
Where To Eat It: Kenyan restaurants.
Maharagwe is a delicious Kenyan dish made with kidney beans in a coconut curry soup. The bean stew is best when eaten with a starch like rice or ugali.
Where To Eat It: Many Kenyan local restaurants will have variations of maharagwe. Closer to the coast is where you’ll find more food influenced by coconut milk and cream.
Nyama Choma (meat) / Kuku Choma (chicken)
Nyama choma is the East African style of roasted meat. Real grazed meat or chicken is freshly butchered and slow roasted over coals with nothing more than salt. The meat is often eaten plain and dipped in more salt or accompanied by chilies and a tomato salsa known as kachumbari.
Where To Eat It: Check out my favorite places to eat the best nyama choma in Nairobi.
Kenyan stews are characterized by chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots and other small vegetables boiled down with a few spices to make a flavorful soupy stew. Stews go great with either ugali, rice or chapatis.
Where To Get It: Most Kenyan restaurants will serve some form of stew on the menu.
Along the coast of Kenya the food has been influenced by Arabs and Indians more than anywhere else in the country. Pilau and biryani spiced rice dishes are common and delicious.
Where To Eat It: Select restaurants in Nairobi and all along the coast.
Not exactly a traditional dish, but burgers and various forms of Kenyan style french fries are common throughout the country. They have a truly unique African taste, and can be super greasy and covered in amazing specialized sauces.
Where To Eat It: Burgers are popular in Nairobi and my favorite spot is Burger Hut Nairobi located in the Westlands district.
One of the most common snacks on the streets of Nairobi is hot roasted maize. It’s cheap, filling and after rubbed with a little lime chili sauce, it’s fantastic!
Where To Eat It: All over the streets of Kenya, and it’s especially popular in Nairobi.
Try East African food at home by buying this cookbook
Kenyans enjoy drinking beer and there are an abundance of good beers available. Tusker, Pilsner, Guinness – you’re covered! Be warned that you’ll need to get used to drinking warm beer right out of the crate as refrigeration (nor electricity) is not always available.
Where To Drink It: Beer is available in all bars and road side kiosks throughout Kenya.
There are plenty of legit liquors distilled in Kenya available at cheap prices. You probably will NOT want to try the local moonshine called “changaa” as it’s often highly unsanitary, and sources of the brew can be questionable.
A popular drink in Kenya is called a Dawa Cocktail – a combination of vodka, honey and lime juice.
Where To Drink It: Bars and clubs.
Sodas / Juices
- Stoney Tangawizi – East Africa’s version of Ginger-Ale on steroids – a burst of ginger that will clear your nostrils!
- Picana – Mango pulpy juice bottled up.
- Passion Juice – Kenya has some of the best freshly squeezed passion juice of anywhere I’ve been.