Food in Kenya is taken very seriously indeed, as you would expect of a nation where famine is still a common occurrence. Polite conversation at mealtime is not a requirement and you’ll often find a group of Kenyans eating in appreciative silence before getting round to chatting after the meal is over.
Rising early and often traveling long distances to get to work, most people have a hearty breakfast. Nor do they subscribe to the Western habit of “missing lunch”: lunch is a major meal of the day. As for supper, most Kenyans will eat early, firstly because they go to bed relatively early; and secondly because they are firm believers in the importance of the family, and regard mealtimes as family occasions.
In the cities, however, long working hours, traffic jams, and “meeting up for a drink” after work mean that many people don’t get home until late, so the evening meal tends to be light. Fast food is a concept that has adapted well to Kenyan life. Busy Kenyans may often pick up a pizza from the fast-food outlet at the gas station, or grab a bag of fries, a hot sausage or a hamburger from a street vendor, and eat them “on the run.”
Kenyan parties or family gatherings will often feature “bitings” (snacks), which may range from potato chips and peanuts to samosas and fried chicken legs.
Eating customs vary throughout the country. Among the Samburu of Northern Kenya, for example, warriors will not eat in the presence of women; elsewhere, men are often served first, and children often eat separately from adults. Traditional food is usually eaten with the right hand (the Swahili word for “right” is kulia, which means “to eat with”), while a knife and fork are usually used with Western cuisine.
Traditional Food in Kenya
An acquired taste for the visitor, the traditional staple food of Kenya is ugali (thick maize dough) or uji (porridge), made from yellow maize meal, millet, or sorghum flour. Ugali is eaten with a stew of beans, goat, beef, lamb, chicken, or fish. Rice and chapati are also eaten, particularly on the coast. The all-time winner as far as most Kenyans are concerned is the national dish of nyama choma (roasted meat). This carnivorous marathon features hunks of goat (the preferred choice), beef, mutton, or (rarely) chicken served flanked by traditional clay pots of githeri, a rich vegetable stew; irio, a Kikuyu dish made of creamed peas, maize, and potatoes; ugali; or sukuma wiki, a spinach dish (cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, and coriander) whose name, roughly translated, means “to get you through to the end of the week.”
Kenyan Food – For the Love of Goats . . .
Goat meat is a universal favorite and goats will be slaughtered (often at home by the man of the house) for all feast days, celebrations, and holidays. Traditionally the whole goat is roasted over a brazier of hot coals. Specific cuts are reserved for honored guests, others for men, women, young girls, and young men. Nothing is wasted: the blood and entrails are made into savory dishes, the head and hoofs boiled. The ultimate compliment when eating goat is to say that it is “very soft” or “very sweet.”
Kenyan Food – Other Creatures
Beef, preferably with plenty of fat and usually halal (suitable for Muslims) is popular, as is chicken (known as kuku), and “up country” in Molo (a sheep-rearing area) lamb is prized. Game meat (crocodile, giraffe, impala, gazelle, and ostrich) is served in tourist restaurants, and sometimes as “bitings”with sundowner”cocktails.On the coast, crab, crayfish, lobster, prawns, king fish, parrot fish, tuna, sailfish, and marlin make excellent choices but it’s worth checking that they’re fresh—that is, just caught, and not what Kenyan .salesmen sometimes term “fresh frozen,” which means recently defrosted. Kenyan brown and rainbow trout (introduced from Scotland by the early settlers) can be caught in mountain streams and freshwater crayfish are a delicacy around Lake Naivasha.
Kenyan Food – Hot Snacks and Fast Food
Around the cities it is common to see street traders cooking maize cobs on a simple brazier, which are bought as a between-meal snack. Close to large factories and building sites makeshift kitchens spring up serving cheap bean stews with ugali, and fresh fruit. Kenyans have a very “sweet tooth” and will often heap two or three spoonfuls of sugar into their tea, which they like to drink with mandazi (triangular deep-fried sweet doughnuts), biscuits, or cakes. They also love fries, often making them a meal on their own (with plenty of ketchup or fiery chili sauce). Kenyans are great fruit eaters; favorites are bananas, pineapples, mangoes, oranges, and papayas (served with a wedge of fresh lime). Sweet potatoes and avocados are also popular.
Kenyan Food – Outside Influences
Kenya’s cuisine has also been influenced by its immigrants. The Indians who built the railway made curry, chapatis, and samosas part of the staple diet; Arab and Persian traders created the traditional coastal Swahili cuisine, redolent of fresh ginger, spices, chilies, coconut cream, lime, and crushed tamarind seeds.
The colonial British made “curry lunch” a traditional Sunday fixture, and also introduced the “full English breakfast” (bacon, eggs, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, kedgeree, fried potatoes, toast, and marmalade), particularly popular in safari hotels and lodges. Vegetarianism tends to be viewed as a decided oddity by the average Kenyan, who delights in eating meat. Not by many Asians, however, many of whom are such committed vegetarians that they do not like meat to be brought into their business premises or homes.
Kenyan Food Eating Out
The choice and quality of cuisine in Kenya is great. Most hotels serve an international menu, which is usually presented as a broad-choice
Kenyan Recipes – Kenyan Food Recipes
Communities in Kenya have over the years since independence abandoned most their traditional foods and turned to more Western lifestyle, especially in urban areas. Rural areas have mainly adopted the habit of onion frying most of the local foods, which were previously roasted, boiled or baked in hot ash.
Traditional African Kenyan recipes are not found in many big restaurants and hotels but in small hotels and in many homes. However some meals have gained popularity across Kenyan cultures.
Kenyan Recipes – Kienyeji
Food made of potatoes mashed with either beans/peas or maize and pumpkin leaves.
Kenyan Recipes – Irio or Githeri (maize arid beans)
This is a mixture of maize and beans boiled together, and salted to taste. Today this meal is made and served with fried onion and tomatoes, and more often now is accompanies by vegetables or beef stew.
Kenyan Recipes – Ugali or Sima: (cooked maize meal)
This is a mixture of the maize flour and boiling water. It has gained popularity in most Kenyan communities and is often served in entertainment places with roast meat. It is popular among revelers and in African Restaurants.
Kenyan Recipes – Nyama choma
A national obsession, nyama choma is, as its literal translation suggests, “burnt animal,” usually goat. Adored by all strata of society, it usually consists of a selection of prime cuts, purchased by weight, cooked in front of you over hot coals, and brought to your table where it is sliced into bite- sized pieces by your waiter. Traditionally served with vegetables, these days nyama choma often comes with fries and large amounts of ketchup or chili sauce. Highly flavored, preferably chewy, it is a dish for “real” men (and women) and not to be contemplated by those with vegetarian leanings.
Kenyan Recipes – Pilau (spiced rice)
It is common among the Swahili of the Kenyan coast. It is mainly spiced rice in beef or chicken. It has become very popular among many Kenyan communities and is served during weddings and mostly on Fridays especially among the Muslim community.
Kenyan Recipes – Biriani (special spicy rice)
It is common among the coastal communities increasingly appearing on restaurants menus. This is come bination coloured rice, chicken or beef, marinated in special spices.
Kenyan Recipes – Matoke (Banana)
It is a mixture of green bananas and potatoes fried in onions, tomatoes and some spices. It is often served with beef or chicken.
Kenyan Recipes – 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
Kenyan food Recipes – Chapati
A round, flat unleavened bread cooked on a griddle to a soft brown colour and served with meat stew and vegetables.
Kenyan Food Recipes – Sukuma wiki
A vegetable stew made of leafy green vegetables, mainly kales, but can constitute cassava, pumpkin and other edible African green vegetables. Sukuma Wiki is the foundation of many Kenyan meals. The Word ‘sukuma wiki’ means ‘to stretch the Week’, implying that sukuma Wiki is literally eaten throughout the week.
Kenyan Food Recipes – Maandazi
Deep fried cakes (similar to doughnuts) served at breakfast with tea or coffee. They are also served as a late afternoon snack.
Kenya Food Recipes – Chai
Tea boiled with milk and sugar. It’s served hot and is the beverage of choice for most Kenyans, even in very hot Weather.
Kenya Food Recipes – Samosa
A delicious deep-fried square-shaped meat-filled dough that is served as a snack or appetizer.
Kenya Food Recipes – Uji
Porridge traditionally made from fermented millet, corn ﬂour mix or a mixture of millet and sorghum ﬂour. Because of its high nutritional value, uji is a popular drink prepared for infants, nursing mothers and the elderly and convalescents.