Here is a curated list of 20 must-try food from Kenya that will make your culinary adventure truly unforgettable:
1. Ugali (Cornmeal Staple)Ugali, an essential part of Kenyan cuisine, is made from basic ingredients: cornmeal, salt, and hot water. It's a starchy side dish that accompanies almost every Kenyan meal, similar to couscous in Moroccan cuisine. Typically served on a platter, the traditional way to enjoy Ugali is to tear off a piece, roll it into a ball, and create a small hollow in the centre with your finger to use as a makeshift spoon. It's perfect for soaking up rich stews, flavorful soups, and grilled meats or fish.
2. Nyama Choma (Grilled Meat)Nyama Choma is a Kenyan favourite centred around one thing: grilled meat. Often featuring goat or beef, it's seasoned and cooked to perfection. This smoky delight brings people together, served with zesty sauces. Whether you're a local or a visitor, Nyama Choma is a must-try in Kenya's culinary scene.
3. Githeri (Maize and Bean Stew)Githeri, a cherished comfort dish in Kenyan cuisine, consists of a simple blend of maize and beans. It's a hearty stew enjoyed across Kenya, offering nourishing simplicity. The beans and maize are cooked together, creating a satisfying and flavorful combination. Whether you savour it at home or from a street vendor, Githeri embodies Kenyan comfort and a warm, satisfying taste that's perfect for both locals and travellers.
4. Irio (Mashed Peas and Potato Mix)
Irio is a significant element of Kenyan cuisine, comprising a mix of mashed peas, maize, and potatoes. This versatile side dish is often served alongside various main courses. It involves cooking these ingredients together and then mashing them to create a hearty accompaniment.
5. Sukama Wiki (Collard Greens)Sukuma Wiki, Swahili for "stretch the week," is a beloved leafy green in Kenya. Packed with nutrients, it's often sautéed with spices, onions, and tomatoes, making it a healthy and flavorful side dish. Beyond its taste, it's a cost-effective way to provide vital nutrients to Kenyan families and is a versatile accompaniment to various main courses like Ugali and Nyama Choma, making it an integral part of Kenyan cuisine.
6. Mandazi (Fried Doughnut)Mandazi is a popular snack in Kenyan cuisine. Served with a cup of Kenyan tea, it's a sweet and deep-fried doughnut, often enjoyed for breakfast or as a snack. These delicious pastries come in various shapes and sizes and are typically flavoured with spices such as cardamom and coconut.
7. Kenyan Pilau with Kachumbari (Spiced Rice with Tomato - Onion Salad)Kenyan Pilau is a fragrant rice dish seasoned with spices and served with Kachumbari, a fresh tomato and onion salad. Kenyan Pilau takes inspiration from Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, known for their spices. Kachumbari, a tomato-onion salad, adds a fresh, African twist.
8. Kenyan StewKenyan stew is a delicious and filling dish that's an important part of Kenyan food. It's often made with beef or goat, cooked until it's tender, and flavoured with spices like garlic, ginger, and coriander. People usually eat it with Ugali or rice, and it's a satisfying meal.
9. Matoke (Plantain Banana Stew)Matoke is made from plantain bananas, cooked in a rich and flavorful sauce. The plantains are typically simmered with a mix of spices, tomatoes, and onions to create a delicious and slightly sweet stew. Matoke is a favourite comfort food in Kenyan households and is often enjoyed as a side dish.
10. Mutura (Kenyan Sausage)Mutura is a sausage made from meat and spices. It is a famous Kenyan street food, full of flavour. Vendors often grill it to make it deliciously smoky and savoury. Mutura is a popular choice for locals and an interesting find for visitors trying out Kenya's street food. It's a simple but tasty snack that represents Kenyan food well.
11. Kuku Paka (Creamy Coconut Chicken Curry)Kuku Paka is a popular Kenyan dish, featuring chicken cooked in a rich and creamy coconut curry sauce. This flavorful curry combines tender chicken with a fragrant mix of spices and coconut milk. It's a favourite in Kenyan households, often served with staples like rice or chapati.
12. Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice)Wali wa Nazi is Kenyan coconut rice. It's made by cooking rice with coconut milk and some spices, giving it a special, slightly sweet taste. People usually eat it with different Kenyan dishes, and it adds a unique flavour to the meal.
13. Mukimo (Mashed Dish)Mukimo is made by mashing vegetables and legumes like maize, beans, greens, and sometimes potatoes. The ingredients are boiled, then mixed and spiced up. Mukimo usually serves as a side dish with meat stews or main courses. Its name, "Mukimo," means "to mix" in Kikuyu, underlining the local practice of combining ingredients. Mukimo is sometimes called "African Irish," likening it to Ireland's colcannon, which mixes mashed potatoes with greens.
14. Wali wa Kukaanga (Kenyan Fried Rice)Wali wa Kukaanga is fried rice, often seasoned with spices and mixed with vegetables and meat. The name, combining Swahili ("Wali" for rice) and local language ("Kukaanga" for frying), embodies Kenya's rich culinary heritage. Wali na Kukaanga is commonly enjoyed as a standalone dish or as a side, depending on what ingredients are included.
15. Ingoho (Kenyan Fried Chicken)Ingoho is a Kenyan fried chicken dish, marinated with spices, garlic, ginger, and sometimes chilli. It's deep-fried to crispy perfection, creating a harmonious blend of tender meat and a savoury crust.
16. Chapati (Flatbread)Chapati, a staple in Kenyan cuisine, is a simple, versatile flatbread made from flour, water, and salt. It accompanies the main dishes, and its soft, slightly crispy texture enhances the meal. With a history rooted in India, where it's known as "roti," Chapati is a delightful addition to Kenyan meals.
17. Kenyan Bajias (Spiced Vegetable Fritters)Kenyan Bajias are a popular street snack, featuring deep-fried fritters made from vegetables like potatoes and onions, spiced up for flavour. They're often served with tangy sauces. Historically, this snack's roots can be traced to the Indian influence on Kenyan cuisine, particularly the Indian snack called "bhajia."
18. Chips Mayai (French Fries and Egg)Chips Mayai is a unique Kenyan street food that fuses an omelette with French fries. It typically consists of thinly sliced potatoes, deep-fried to make crispy "chips," which are then mixed into beaten eggs and pan-fried to create a hearty omelette. Often served with ketchup or chilli sauce, Chips Mayai is a popular snack for locals and a delightful surprise for visitors exploring Kenyan street cuisine.
19. Samosas (Spiced Pastry Pockets)Samosas, popular in Kenya, are deep-fried pastries filled with spiced potatoes, peas, and sometimes minced meat. They originated in India as "Samsa" and were introduced to Kenya through trade and migration, notably from Indian and Arabian influences. Kenyan samosas have evolved with unique regional flavours and are a beloved part of the country's culinary tradition, often served with chutney.
20. Chai (Kenyan-Style Tea)Kenyan tea, or "chai," is a spiced tea served with milk and sugar. It's a must-try beverage, often enjoyed throughout the day. This distinctive tea preparation can be traced back to Indian influences and the British colonial era. It has become a fundamental part of Kenyan culture, frequently enjoyed during social gatherings and daily life.
Exploring the food of Kenya is an integral part of the travel experience. From the staple Ugali to the exotic flavours of Kuku Paka and Matoke, Kenya's diverse cuisine reflects the country's rich history and cultural influences. As a first-time traveller, embracing the local dishes is not only a culinary adventure but also an opportunity to connect with the heart and soul of this vibrant nation. So, don't miss out on savouring these Kenyan delights as you embark on your journey through this enchanting land. Bon appétit!