Kenyan foods are among the best you will ever devour. Kenya’s cuisine takes on its own unique personality through the use of native spices and local ingredients. You will discover a balance of different flavours cooked in healthy dishes. Kenya offers a variety of delicious foods in a variety of cultures practised by different communities. Wherever you visit, you will discover the ethnic heritage of Kenya in their local dishes.
There is no singular dish that represents all of Kenya’s wide cuisine. Different communities have their own native foods. The foods that are universally eaten in Kenya are ugali, sukuma wiki, and nyama choma. As you travel around the country, distinct differences are noted based on what foods are locally available in each area. Staples are maize and other cereals depending on the region. As you move towards the city, foods eaten by working families vary according to preference and ethnicity.
Here are the top 20 most popular foods in Kenya.
1. Ugali (Cornmeal mush)
Ugali is made from cornmeal (maize flour) that is added to boiling water and heated until it turns into a dense block of cornmeal paste, it is undeniably Kenya’s staple. For many Kenyans, ugali accompanied by small portions of cooked vegetables or saucy stew is a daily meal.
2. Sukuma wiki (Collard greens or kales)
Sukuma wiki is the most popular Kenyan vegetable dish. Sukumawiki is a Swahili phrase meaning “push/stretch the week”. The nutritious green leafy vegetable is often cooked in oil with a few diced tomatoes, onions, and flavored with spices and served with ugali, rice or meat stew.
3. Chapati (Flatbread)
Unlike ugali and mukimo, chapatis, which trace their origin from the influence of the Indian population, are considered more of a special form of Kenyan food, a treat for most people. Kenyan style chapatis are made with a flour dough that is wound into a coil before being rolled into a flat round circle. The dough is then fried on a skillet accompanied by plenty of oil that gives it crispy edges and a moist and doughy interior. These soft, fluffy, small round and flat breads are best served with vegetables, green grams, beans, meat stew or even just with a steaming cup of tea.
4. Mandazi (Kenyan doughnut)
Considered more of a snack than a main course meal, mandazi’s distinctive characteristic is an unmistakable scent that can be smelled from a kilometer away. It’s a deep fried pastry that has a combination of wheat flour, sugar, milk, margarine and some spices. Made from deep fried blobs of dough, mandazis make a great snack or a light breakfast with a cup of tea or coffee.
5. Chips mayai (French fries and eggs)
Chips mayai is a combination of French fry and omelet. It’s made by placing potato chips in a frying pan and then covering them with a generous amount of beaten egg and cooking them through. Served with generous portions of chili or tomato sauce, chips mayai is one of the popular Kenyan dishes.
6. Matoke (Plantain banana stew)
Matoke is a staple food in Uganda which is also popular among some communities in Kenya. Plantain bananas are cooked up in a pot with oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, meat (optional), and lemon juice until they are soft and begin to form a thick sauce with the other ingredients. Matoke is best served with rice or chapati.
7. Pilau (Spiced rice)
A favorite among the coastal communities in Kenya, pilau is a combination of rice and chucks of meat cooked together with spices such as cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves. A serving of pilau is often garnished with a few slices of fresh tomatoes and onions.
8. Nyama choma (Roasted meat)
Nyama choma is one of Kenya’s most beloved dishes. It’s usually served with kachumbari salad and ugali. Only salt and pepper are used to season this dish. It’s one dish that should be purchased from a Kenyan street vendor in order to enjoy it to the fullest.
9. Kuku (Chicken)
Kuku is a popular food among all communities in Kenya. Traditional preparation involves roasting a whole chicken until it is brown and then eating it. The more modern way of preparing chicken is braising with onions, tomatoes, and spices and then served. Nevertheless, Kenyans love chicken whether roasted, grilled, boiled or fried.
10. Samaki (Fish)
Fish stew is one of the most popular dishes in Kenya. The stew is mostly served with ugali, and can come as either wet fry or dry fry. It is also popular with specific communities in the country, but can be enjoyed by anyone.
11. Omena (Silver cyprinid)
The ray-finned fish is a delicacy among some Kenya communities around Lake Victoria. Ideally, omena is best served with plain ugali with an option of vegetable or salad for garnishment.
12. Githeri (Boiled corn and beans)
It is a combination of maize (corn), beans, potatoes, and a green vegetables (optional). The corn and beans are first boiled until soft then fried to make a delicious meal. You can also add beef into the mixture. It is mostly popular with specific communities even though it can be enjoyed by anyone.
13. Kachumbari (Tomato and onion salad)
This is a mix of red onions, red tomatoes, green/ red pepper, coriander and lemon juice. It is a sort of salad and can be prepared with a combination of all the above ingredients or a few of them. It is normally an accompaniment for nyama choma or pilau, another popular Kenyan dish.
14. Mukimo (Mashed potato with added ingredients)
Mukimo, also called irio, consists of mashed soft corn/maize, peas, potatoes, and green pumpkin leaves or fig-leaf gourd leaves. The mix of all these is brought to a boil and then mashed with margarine or butter once the potatoes are soft. It’s then fried with some onions and tomatoes (optional).
15. Mahindi choma (Roast maize)
Mahindi choma is an affordable snack found on almost every corner in Kenyan streets. The maize is roasted over charcoal and, once ready, is rubbed with chili and lemon salt.
16. Mutura (Kenyan sausage)
Mutura is mostly a street food. It’s a fire-grilled delicacy made from cow, lamb, or goat intestines stuffed with a fresh blood mixture and then grilled. It’s then served with salt and kachumbari.
17. Wali wa nazi (Coconut rice)
Wali wa nazi is a popular dish in the coastal region of Kenya that comprises white rice cooked with grated coconut that has a distinctive aroma and taste. Wali wa nazi goes down well with fish, chicken curry, vegetables or even bean stew.
18. Mrenda (Jute mallow)
Mrenda is an indigenous vegetable popular with the Luhya community. It has the texture of okra when cooked and is very smooth and bitter. It’s prepared by boiling the leaves in salty water or with milk. It’s best served with ugali.
Samosas are a popular snack popular in most Asian and African countries. It is a special one in Kenyan homes too. The snacks are easy to make using wheat flour and minced meat. Potatoes are a great substitute for meat. Wheat flour wraps are used to coat the minced meat or mashed potatoes. They are then deep fried till they turn brown and crispy.
Bhajias originated from India and spread through Kenya thanks to the close links between the nations, so it’s like an Indian-African fusion dish. You make it by frying ultra-thin potato slices with a mix of spices until they’re nice and crispy; then, you serve them hot with ketchup or chutney.