When I hear American Cuisine I immediately picture juicy burgers and greasy curly fries; British Cuisine is an instant reminder of classic tenderloin steaks and pasty pies with subtle spices. On hearing Kenyan Cuisine, however, I draw a blank.
Kenya, rather Africa, creates images of regal lions and herds of elephants in a wild life safari in my mind. Kenyan Cuisine never crossed my mind, and, I call myself a foodie!
Laced with shame and curiosity I set off on a virtual exploration of Kenyan Gastronomy and was in for a great surprise and A LOT of hunger pangs.
To begin with, it is very difficult to associate or rather limit Kenyan Cuisine to one dish or flavour. Just like it’s diverse terrain and varied tribes, Kenyan food is a delicious representation of their rich culture and history.
The food of Kenya is deeply influenced by the Swahili Culture and also shares close ties with the Indian palate. For instance, their staples too, are dominated by fundamental grains and pulses, not to forget flat bread chapati which is our Desi roti! Kenyans also enjoy samosas and bajias as common street food. Surprising, right?
Coming back to the Swahili influence, a number of basic Kenyan dishes have a Swahili base.
The Kenyans largely consume Sukuma Wiki, a green leafy vegetable, which literally translates to ‘push the week’ in Swahili. Sukuma Wiki is similar to kale and collard and is used to prepare simple dishes like strew or salads and is consumed with yet another Kenyan staple called Ugali.
Ugali to Kenyans is like rice is to us Indians. A doughy preparation, Ugali is prepared by cooking cornmeal in boiling water or milk, till it reaches a uniform consistency. Ugali is usually consumed with vegetable and meat stew or can be pressed and consumed like a flat bread with roasted meat.
The scrumptious and super healthy Ugali. Photo Courtesy: Ingredient Matcher
Please do not forget that pan roasted left over Ugali and tea make for a scrumptious breakfast. And a healthy one too!
Speaking about healthy, Githeri is another must have Kenyan delicacy. A balanced and mouth-watering meal, Githeri is a mix of maize and pulses, cooked in one pot with ample spices. The dish has recently gained momentum for it’s obvious health benefits.
Githeri another mouth watering Kenyan Delicacy! Photo Courtesy: Food Network
For the curious, Githeri originated in Central Kenya and is mainly consumed by the Gikuyu, Meru, and Embu tribes, who often spice it up with sweet potatoes or meat.
Inching towards slightly heavier meals, Nyama Choma which literally translates to burnt meat caught my attention. A traditional Swahili Barbeque, Nyama Choma is lip smacking grilled meat – usually beef, goat or chicken – skewered till it’s juicy and tender. Me being a hardcore non-vegetarian took an instant liking to Nyama Choma and have made it my life’s mission to recreate it at home! (Stay tuned in for success stories)
Isn’t that just the juiciest meat you’ve seen? Photo Courtesy: Nyama Choma Fest
Meanwhile, if you’re in Nairobi, the clean stalls of Kenyetta Market are the best for some lip-smacking Nyama Choma. City Park hawkers too will serve you meat, so well done and packed with flavours, making Nyama Choma very hard to forget.
The Kenyans sure are serious about their meat! Photo Courtesy: Migrationology
The Global Cuisine
The Swahili entered Kenya in the first century and shaped the Kenyan Cuisine with a balanced palate. Nonetheless, if you’re the kind of foodie who prefers global cuisine with regional traces, Kenya has a lot of that too!
You can always dig into delectable pilao, a Kenyan version of the Indian pulao. Pilao is a rich combination of fragrant rice, meat, and aromatic spices including cumin, cloves, and cinnamon. Then there are rich curries and stews often prepared with abundance of spices and meat, consumed with pilao or fluffy paranthas.
Mmm looks doesn’t it! Photo Courtesy: Kaluhi’s Kitchen
If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, Irio is your dish! Potatoes and peas boiled in one pot and mashed to a consistent creamy texture form the base of Irio. It is then garnished with corn kernels, cheese or heavy cream – I am craving it already! Irio is paired best with Nyama Choma (mashed potatoes and grilled meat! Come on, obviously!) Or traditional Kenyan stew.
Looks really appetising and healthy! Photo Courtesy: Buzz Kenya
Kenyan or rather African cuisine is incomplete without the mention of Matoke. Originally from Uganda, Matoke is widely consumed in Kenya. A stew by nature, Matoke is prepared with plantain bananas cooked in a mixture of tomatoes, garlic, and spices, occasionally with meat. Matoke is cooked till the plantains are soft enough to mix with gravy and form a thick mixture.
Matoke is quite the favourite amongst Kenyans!
Another absolute must try from the Kenyan food guide is Mandazi or deep-fried love, as I like to call it.
Some delectable deep fried love!
Deep-fried dough infused with milk and cinnamon and garnished with extra ordinary amounts of powdered sugar, Mandazi will satiate your sweet tooth like nothing else. Wash it down with a cup of steaming sweet milk tea or chai, and you’ll realise that Kenya is indeed a foodie’s paradise.
The Kenyan virtual food exploration however, isn’t over yet! Did you really think I’d miss out on street food?
Street food is a real life saver and major source of grease addiction in the Kenyan cuisine.
Battered potato slices, pocket samosas with a filling of minced meat or veggies and garnished with lemon juice, chilli laden French Fries and roasted corn cobs, occupy most of the appetising street food menu in Kenya.
As healthy as can be! Photo Courtesy:Transit Hotels
You will also be greeted with hawkers serving crunchy Plantain Crisps and Bombay Mix also known as Chivda.
If you manage a trip to Nairobi do not miss out on Burger Hut. Succulent beef fillets oozing with cheesy sauce, and garnished with tangy pickles and fresh vegetables, all wrapped in a soft bun, these are no ordinary burgers.
How meaty is that burger! Photo Courtesy: Farm 6
Nairobi also has a burger festival every year. This is the place to find burgers that dreams are made of. Bad news, you missed this year’s burger festival which happened in May. Good news, you can start saving up for next year! At least I am.
Kenyan streets also boast of their native coffee which will keep you moving and if you’re a coffee lover or know one, do not forget to bring some back home.
The famous Kenyan coffee that you can smell a mile away! Photo Courtesy: AFK travel
A country’s Cuisine says a lot about their culture. Ingredients, flavours, and subsequent dishes all narrate a story. The Kenyan Food Story managed is immensely tantalising for me. I hope it’s the same with you.
Neither a wordsmith, nor a traveller! Saloni is an inquisitive soul with a knack of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But, that’s how memories are made, she believes! An ardent Ruskin Bond fan, she discovered her love for mountains in his words. When not making travel plans, she is hooked to the world of TV series or Googl-ing conspiracy theories. To the world, she is known as Head – Content at Social Samosa. Follow her @SaloniSurti.