Drawn from diverse ethnic cultures and traditions fused with tastes absorbed from foreign countries, food and drink in Kenya are in a league of their own. They are also central in consolidating the collectivist nature that Kenyans are known for by bringing family and friends together.
The way foods and drinks are prepared and presented in Kenya greatly attest to the long-standing links and contacts Kenya has had with Arabian, European and Indian settlers. However, the Kenyan flavors are not eroded, with each of the 42 local tribes boasting of their own traditional cuisine.
Common Kenyan Foods
An agriculturally fertile country, Kenya is not short of all sorts of vegetables and fruits. Although when visiting certain restaurants, the menu may read like an international menu featuring foods such as French fries, hamburgers and macaroni and cheese as well as rice, pizza, chicken nuggets and fish fingers.
The more traditional foods of Kenya include:
- Irio – Also known as ‘Mukimo‘ or ‘Kienyeji‘, a dish originally from the Kikuyu tribe. It’s a combination of maize and beans, mashed with cooked bananas or potatoes.
- Ugali – Corn cake made by stirring boiling water with grounded maize flour until it is hard to the touch. This is perhaps the most common staple food across all the Kenyan ethnic groups. Cooked vegetables, fish, fried chicken and beef are the main accompaniments.
- Githeri – Common across the Kenyan tribes, it is a mixture of boiled beans and maize. Peas are sometimes used in place of beans to enhance the taste.
- Wali – A dish from the coast, white rice cooked with coconut milk
- Ingoho – A popular dish among the Luhya tribe, Ingoho is fried chicken cooked with traditional herbs and spices. Usually served with Ugali (the corn cake).
- Biriani – A favorite dish on the coast consisting of white rice cooked with cinnamon, parsley, garlic, onions, chopped carrots and tomatoes, beef or chicken and raw paw paws. Mashed potatoes and vegetables usually accompany the dish.
- Chapati – Often eaten with stew, chapati is pancake-like bread made on a griddle.
- Kachumbari – A very common side dish: a mixture of sliced raw tomatoes, parsley, green pepper and onions.
- Nyama Choma or Nyam Chom – Perhaps the local favorite, nyama choma is charcoal grilled meat (beef or goat) and eaten as party food or a meal among friends during weekends and night outs. Kachumbari (the side dish made from tomatoes) is the most preferred accompaniment.
- Maandazi – These are golden brown doughnuts served with drinks, especially tea.
- Samosas – Often taken with tea or kachumbari, these are triangle-shaped, deep-fried dough filled with minced meat.
Coffee is to Kenya as wine is to France and vodka is to Russia country’s symbol.
Cultivated, harvested and processed in mass production, coffee in Kenya, especially Arabica coffee, is perhaps the best quality grown worldwide. Although international coffee brands such as Nestle have significant market share in Kenya, Kenyan coffee dominates the local market.
The majority of Kenyans are torn between coffee and tea given that both products are high quality and easily available. For coffee, the preference is to take it black (“kahawa chungu”) and it’s often mixed with ginger and a small amount of sugar.
Despite many years of using Kenyan coffee beans to make their signature coffee in its shops across the globe, Starbucks has not set up shop in Kenya. High-end coffee is sold at supermarkets and for those who savor its great taste outdoors, they go to shops such as Java and Dormans.
Although modern drinks such as fruit juices, canned energy drinks and international soft drinks are accessible and affordable, there are traditional drinks that are served in Kenya.
- Uji – Porridge made from grounded millet or sorghum. Grounded amaranth, groundnuts, pumpkin seeds, fish fillets etc., are mixed in to enhance nutrients and taste.
- Mursik – Originally from the Kalenjin community, it is made from fermented milk mixed with ground charcoal and special roots.
- Madafu – Fresh coconut milk. Popular at the coast.
- Wines – Often imported from- France, Italy, Chile, South Africa
- Beer – Other than international brands, there are numerous local brand of beers, the most popular being Tusker beer.
- Spirits – Local and international brands.
- Local Brews – Popular in rural areas and among the urban poor, local brews include Mnazi; made from sap of coconut trees, Muratina; made from honey, Busaa; fermented barley, millet and maize, changaa and Mongare.
Especially in rural areas, excessive use of alcohol and consumption by minors is considered immoral and disrespectful.