Kenya is a very fertile country with two rainy seasons per year that provide a chance to plant food crops that are consumed locally. Other than the food crops, Kenyans love meat and keep a lot of livestock for this purpose. Hence, most dishes made in Kenya are a combination of the locally produced food.
There are 44 tribes in Kenya forming different communities each with it’s own culture and traditions. This has brought about formation of different dishes from these communities and with intermarriages happening in this modern times, the delicacies have also spread nationwide becoming household names.
There is also the influence of the Asians especially in the coastal region who used to come to the country through the Indian Ocean as traders with some finally settling in the country and bringing some of their delicacies.
The Indians who were brought in by the British colonists as workers also brought in their foods and had such an impact in Kenya where they finally settled after independence to the point of being added as the 44th tribe in Kenya.
There are some common Kenyan dishes popular throughout the country while there are other dishes that are specific for certain regions. Though due to urban to rural migration, we have a lot of entrepreneurs moving to urban areas and popular towns and setting up restaurants offering unique delicacies not found in that region.
Below are some delicacies to try when visiting Kenya especially when on safari.
Major Delicacies Common Countrywide
There are those meals that you can find in any local restaurant throughout the country and are considered a must try when you want a nice Kenyan meal. They can either be taken for lunch or dinner and in some communities, some are taken for breakfast before a busy day.
Kenyans generally love meat and meat products and you can’t miss a meal without meat in it. The major meat eaten include; beef, chicken, goat meat, mutton, fish, pork, rabbit and at times bush meat. The meat is normally slaughter locally and sold off while still fresh with no preservation. The interesting bit about Kenya is that all animal parts are consumable and are used to make different dishes.
Nyama Choma means roasted meat. Freshly slaughtered meat is cut in big chunks and charcoal grilled while you wait. The meat is let to burn over the open fire and it cooks with no added flavors other than it’s own fats with smoke brewing out giving it a smoky taste.
The most common type of nyama choma is goat meat though you can also request for beef, chicken or pork and in some places even fish. The meat is always accompanied by Ugali, Kienyeji and Kachumbari.
This is the most common staple food in Kenya. It is made from corn meal (maize flour) which is added to boiling water and mixed up to make a stiff and firm dough or paste. This is a starch that is served with vegetables or meat stew and really goes well with the nyama choma mentioned above.
In some instances, the ugali can be made with millet flour or sorghum flour sometimes mixed with cassava flour.
This is flattened bread that has it’s origin from the Indians who came to East Africa for trade in early years. The Kenyan version chapati is made from wheat flour turned into a dough then flatten into a circle and cooked on a skillet with enough oil to burn it to a crispy yet moist bread.
It is considered a starched and is served with different type of stews and vegetables. It can also be taken as a snack or breakfast with tea.
This dish was the staple food of the Kikuyu but has now spread across the country. Mukimo is made with green peas, maize, potatoes and pumpkin leaves boiled and mashed up to form a thick paste. Some variations skip the maize or pumpkin leaves or use different type of beans.
It can be served with different stews, nyama choma and vegetables as it is considered a starch. It can also be eaten on it’s own as a snack or for breakfast.
This is taken as a salad or a garnish for most meals and goes very well with nyama choma. It is made of diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro with an option of adding chili peppers or avocado mixed together and served raw.
With the high population of people always on the move in most towns, there are always big consumers of food on the road in Kenya. Hence, the need to always have something to snack around while on the move. Most of Kenyan street foods are prepared naturally and are highly preferred compared to the processed food.
These are soft maize combs (sweet Corn) that are normally harvested fresh from the farm and roasted on a charcoal grill to a fine brown to almost black color and sold while hot from the grill in different sizes per request. They can be garnished with ground chili pepper and lemon for added flavor.
This is one of the original Kenyan delicacies. It is made from goat intestines that are emptied and cleaned up, they are then filled up with either cooked minced meat/meat peaces or cooked meat mixed with blood and stuffed in the intestine. The long sausage is then charcoal grilled and served when hot.
It really goes well with a garnish of kachumbari and is a favorite for beer drinkers and can at times be addictive. However, you ought to be careful where you buy the mutura in terms of hygiene and the meat stuffing.
Potato/Cassava/Arrow roots crisps
Potato crisps is a junk food found in many shops but the Kenyan street version is freshly prepared from scratch on the street. It starts with potato/cassava/arrow root peeling, slicing then they are deep-fried in a big pan on a smoky fire.
It can be served warm or you wait for it to cool and can be garnished with ground chili pepper and lemon juice per your choice. This used to be a Coastal delicacy but it is spreading to other towns.
This is an Indian influenced snack that is normally available not only on the street but in most restaurants in Kenya best served with a cup of tea.
A samosa is made from outer triangular folded pockets made from white flour dough flatten same way as chapatis. The pockets are then filled with either cooked meat, chicken, vegetables, pea, lentils etc. They are then sealed and deep-fried till golden brown.
Also, known as a Swahili bun or Swahili doughnut, mandazis originated from the Swahili people and soon spread to the rest of Kenya. It is now one of the most popular snack and in most low income areas taken for breakfast. Mandazi can also be eaten with other meals as a starch.
A typical mandazi is made from a mix of flour, baking powder, sugar dough that is flattened then cut into smaller pieces and deep-fried to golden brown. There are various variations made by adding extra ingredients like milk, coconut milk, cinnamon, yeast, eggs, ground peanuts, almonds etc.
Coastal Kenya Delicasies
Coastal Kenya foods also known as Swahili cuisines are normally thought to be unique and different from the rest of the Kenyan foods. This is because most of the coastal dishes have a lot of Asian influence from the Arabs and Indian who were involved in East African trade with some finally settling here. Though the dishes have penetrated to other parts of Kenya, the ones made in the Coast always have a distinctive taste.
Kenyan Pilau version is basically fried curry rice which is prepared with a mixture of natural spices like cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper to give an authentic aroma. The rice is also added big pieces of beef, goat meat or mutton and some pieces of potatoes. It can be served with vegetables, salad or the common kachumbari.
This is also another form of spicy rice with Indian origins and common among the Muslim community. Rice is prepared separate and added some turmeric powder to give it two different colors. Spicy stew is prepared separate which consists of fried onions, meat (beef/chicken/mutton/goat meat/prawns/fish) mixed natural spices, potatoes and can be added sour milk to tenderize the meat.
It can be mixed after cooking to be served from one pot or just served in separate pots. Some recipe version do include boiled eggs. It is served with vegetables or kachumbari for a balanced diet.
Samaki wa kupaka
This is considered a sea food exotic meal synonymous to the Kenyan Coast, it generally means coated fish. It consists of a whole fish marinated with lemon juice, salt and garlic/ginger. It is then charcoal grilled and let to cook in the smoky fire. The coconut sauce is then prepared that consists of different spices, onion, tamarind sauce, coconut milk and turmeric to give it color and pasted on the grilling fish.
The fish can be served with rice, ugali or chapati.
This is gaining moment as a street food in the streets of Mombasa and is mainly eaten for breakfast with mahamri (coastal mandazi version). Mbaazi is generally pigeon peas soaked overnight, boiled then fried with onions before adding in natural coconut milk to give it a creamy taste. When served, more coconut milk is garnished on top to add more flavor.
Wali wa nazi
This is generally coconut rice very popular in the coast region due to the availability of coconuts. Fully mature coconuts are broken up then the coconut is grated out, the rice is prepared either using the coconut milk or the grated coconuts flakes to give the rice a creamy coconut flavor.
Most dishes in the coast including samaki wa kupaka are served with this rice.
(video courtesy of Mark Wiens Vlog)
Coastal Street Foods
Due to the Arab/Indian influence, most coast street foods are Asian influenced and is always spicy with a combination of the readily available ingredients to make them unique and distinguishable from the rest of the Kenyan street foods.
This is borrowed from the Indian culture but the Kenyan version involves the use of potatoes. Big slices of potatoes are mildly boiled then coated with a paste made from gram flour, turmeric, coriander with an option of adding other spices and are deep-fried till crispy golden.
They are served with a garnish of salad or kachumbari, coconut sauce etc. Though they are now spreading to other parts of Kenya, the coastal version remains to be unique
This is one of the most famous snack in the coast. Cassavas are freshly peeled and cut to sizable peaces. They are either roasted on a charcoal grill or deep-fried and served when hot. You get to add a garnish of grounded chili and lemon juice squeeze for an added taste.
Some cassavas are also cut into crisps, deep-fried and packed in sizable portion to snack away. You can add in chili pepper and squeeze in a lemon for a sour taste.
This is Swahili for mshakaki another Asian influenced food. These are meat skewers that are marinated with a mixture of spices before being charcoal grilled. This is another version of the common kebabs skewers. They are sold per skewer but you can order as many as you want with an option of adding a chili flavor on request.
These are baobab seeds that are coated with a sugar syrup to form a nice snack and are quite common with children. The sugar syrup is then added a food color and packed in small portions. One gets to suck the seeds like sweets then spits out the inner hard seed since it cannot be chewed.
This is the coastal version of the mandazis, highlighted above. They are made just like mandazis but with added ingredients that include cinnamon, lemon juice, coconut milk. They are commonly eaten for breakfast or with other dishes as a starch but can also make a quick snack taken with tea.
We are all aware of the common drinks like soda, beer, wine, packed juices and water that are readily available in shops everywhere. But there are some unique drinks served in Kenya that are worth a try.
This refer to a green young coconut that is normally sold on the streets. This is a natural fruit drink, the vendor chooses for you a fruit, chops off the outer layer and inserts a straw for you to drink away. After the drink you can opt to scoop out the young white flesh coconut coating and eat it before throwing away the shell. This drink is popular in the coastal streets and helps one to cool off from the scotching heat.
Locally grown sugarcane is naturally squeezed while you watch together with ginger and lemons. It can be cooled for a while or served fresh from the sugarcane stock. This juice has gained popularity all over Kenya as more people opt for natural foods and drink.
As earlier highlighted, all slaughtered cow and goat parts are normally put in use, nothing is wasted. The cow or goat heads and legs and any other bone not consumed is usually boiled up in a big drum like pot to form thick soup sold while hot from the pot. The soup is flavored with local herbs and salt for a richer taste.
This is generally black coffee popular with the Swahili people. The coffee is made from locally roasted and ground coffee beans then let to brew till it is dark with a strong taste and smell. It is then served with no sugar and can be flavored with ginger or honey.
Tea is one of the main cash crop grown in Kenya for export. However, not all is exported and some is processed locally to make tea leaves. Kenyan tea is made by boiling a mixture of water and milk then adding the tea leaves to boiling for a while. Served when hot from the pot and has a very rich taste. It can be taken anytime of day.
(video courtesy of Mark Wiens Vlog)
Well, if you don’t fancy the Kenyan food there are many international franchise serving the usual available food worldwide. There are number of KFC outlets, Big Square, Dominion pizzas, Burger King among many more you can try. The bigger hotels also serve international cuisines.
Have you tasted any of the Kenyan cuisines or would like to try, kindly share your thoughts and comments in the section below. Any questions on matters Kenyan food are also welcome and will gladly answer where I can.