If you're curious about Kenyan food, this post will help. You'll learn about traditional cuisine in Kenya – including dishes, desserts, and drinks. Which one do you want to try?
21 Kenya Food Guide: Dishes, Drinks, Desserts
Kenyan food is as diverse as the people who prepare it. While there are some cultural staples like grains, greens and tubers, the rest of the country's cuisine draws from many different flavor profiles.
Here are just a few that are worth checking out!
9 Kenyan Dishes
Here are some of the most popular dishes from Kenya. What's the most popular food in Kenya? This is where we begin.
Nyama choma is the closest thing that Kenya has to a national dish. It's grilled meat, usually from goats or cows, and it's tossed with herbs, spices and oils before being served on a platter and eaten by hand.
Getting grease all over your fingers is just part of the experience, so forgot about the napkin. Eat it like the locals do.
You can find nyama choma (grilled meat) at one of the numerous barbeque restaurants, like this one in Nairobi.
Every restaurant in Kenya has some form of ugali on the menu. It's a very simple dish that combines maize and water to create a stiff, dough-like porridge, and it's scooped right out of the pot and served with all kinds of meats and vegetables.
Think of it as the Kenyan equivalent of white rice.
With its mushy green texture, mukimo doesn't always look appealing. However, this is a case where appearances are definitely deceiving.
The mushiness comes from its mashed potato base, and the green comes from its hefty mix of spinach, peas, pumpkin leaves and maize. Give it a try and broaden your horizons past the ordinary!
Cold and fresh, kachumbari is made with onions, tomatoes and green chilies that have been finely chopped and tossed into a bowl with various herbs and spices. If this sounds like a great salsa, you're absolutely right!
Kachumbari is most frequently served as a condiment for meat- or veggie-based meals, though it's also common as a topping.
A thick, hearty stew that would put your grandmother's to shame, karanga can be found year-round in Kenya. You don't have to wait for winter. T
he most traditional kind is made with beef and potatoes, but there are also “lighter” versions that favor combinations of shrimp, scallion, chicken, onion, cabbage and more.
Everyone has their own karanga recipe. Try different ones until you figure out your favorite!
Chapati is more than just a flatbread. The dough is wound, coiled, flattened and pounded before hitting the skillet with lots of oils and spices, so it comes out crispy on the edges but soft and chewy in the center.
You have to try it at least once if you'll be traveling to Kenya.
This is a food that Kenya shares with Uganda. Learn more about Ugandan food.
Pilaf is another dish with endless variations. At its heart, it's just fried rice with various extras, but Kenyans take a lot of pride in the pilaf of their native regions.
For example, people on the coast might like theirs with coconut flavors and seafood fillings while people on farms might prefer theirs with corns and grains. There are even folks who make sweet pilaf with cinnamon and orange zest!
Tilapia is one of the most popular types of seafood in Kenya, especially when it's fried. It's often served as a whole fish on a plate along with sides like ugali and kachumbari.
It can also be added to soups, stews, skewers and anything else that needs a meat base.
Sukuma wiki is a Swahili phrase that means “to push the week.” It's so named because it's a simple, affordable food that never goes out of season, so it's always available for those on a budget in east African countries.
To make it, just slice some collared greens and sauté them with onions, tomatoes, herbs and spices. Serve them with a side of ugali for a full meal.
What is mutura? Mutura is blood sausage. This is a common street food in Kenya and it's made with minced goat or lamb meat with onion, garlic, ginger, cilantro and fresh animal blood. Mutura is a blood sausage and often grilled over an open flame.
What's Most Popular Food in Kenya? (Video)
Learn more about traditional breakfasts in Kenya.
5 Drinks in Kenya
You've probably heard of masala chai. It's one of the most famous brews in the world, and it has many devoted fans in Kenya as well. Folks just love the blend of hot tea and rich, aromatic spices.
Depending on your cafe of choice, you can find masala chai prepared with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, peppercorn and more.
If you're ever wandering the streets of Kenya and you see a group of men crouched together over a pot, they're probably drinking bussa. It's a fermented beer made with water, yeast, and soghurm flour, and it's something of a communal activity to prepare and enjoy it.
People suck it up through long straws from the same pot.
Imported from India, falooda is a sweet, cold milkshake that's perfect for scorching days under the Kenyan sun.
It's built with layers: The heavier ingredients rest at the bottom of the glass while the lighter ones go on top.
It's usually made with things like milk, ice cream, vanilla syrup, rose water, vermicelli and basil seeds.
Urwaga, also known as “banana beer,” is one of the best-kept secrets of Africa. You start by placing a bushel of bananas under big green leaves and ripening them underground for several days.
When they're ready, they can be peeled, mashed and juiced, and their liquid is added to maize or millet for fermentation. The end result is a sweet but filling beer that's consumed all over Kenya.
Made by the indigenous people of the Rift Valley, mursik is a thick, tasty drink that's a cross between milk and yogurt. Part of its preparation involves fermentation in a traditional gourd known as a sotet.
Additionally, the gourd is lined with charcoal and tree soot. It gives the resulting beverage a real kick!
You might also want to try Rwandan food.
7 Kenyan Desserts to Try
From the Swahili word for “little ladies,” vibibi are small, fluffy pancakes that are made with rice flour and coconut milk.
They're considered a snack all on their own, so you won't find them served with syrup or other traditional pancake toppings; it's more common to see them rolled up and eaten by hand when people buy them from street vendors.
If you're making them at home, however, feel free to use whatever toppings that you want!
Though commonly referred to as “African doughnuts,” mandazi tend to be less sweet than their American or European counterparts, and they aren't usually frosted or glazed in any way.
Instead, they're served as a plain pastry along with coffee or tea, or they're dusted with a light topping of honey, cinnamon or powdered sugar. They're a mild indulgence rather than an explosively sugary snack.
Another common street food, makai are ears of corn that have been rubbed with things like salt, lemon juice and chili powder before being charred over the grill.
The dark marks add a juicy crunch to every flavorful bite. They're a quick and easy snack for people on the go in Kenya!
Do you prefer savory over sweet? You can still enjoy junk food in Kenya. One of the best options is chipsi mayai, a potato-based dish that combines eggs with what are essentially French fries.
The whole concoction is kept in hot, bubbling oil until it's crisp and golden, and depending on the vendor, it can be served with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers or kachumbari salsa.
Candy lovers, this one is for you! Mabuyu is a sweet snack that you can eat by the handful. It's made by coating the seeds of the baobab fruit in a mix of sugar and syrup.
Some people also experiment with flavor infusions; you might find recipes for everything from strawberry-flavored mabuyu to chili-flavored mabuyu. Food coloring is often added for pizzazz.
You might know bhajia by other names like “pakora” and “fakkura.” It 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. Voila! You've just upgraded French fries.
Onyoso, Ng'wen and Dede (Fried Insects)
Last but certainly not least, you can't visit Kenya without trying at least one dish outside of your comfort zone. How about munching on some deep-fried bugs? Onyoso are ants; ng'wen are termites; dede are grasshoppers.
All are available in the busy, bustling street markets of Kenya, so if you're brave enough, try a crunchy snack with a lot of protein!
As you can see, Kenyan food offers a broad, diverse range of flavors. The cuisine is a perfect reflection of the country: There are different ideas, recipes, tribes, traditions and customs everywhere. If you're ready to explore whole new worlds of taste, dive in and get started!
Have you had one of these dishes? Which ones have you added to your culinary bucket list?