Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenya’s Best Dishes

Here is a list of 20 Kenyan favorites to help you get excited about eating Kenyan food!

1. Ugali (Cornmeal Staple)

The undeniable most common Kenyan food staple is ugali – usually made from cornmeal that is added to boiling water and heated until it turns into a dense block of cornmeal paste. Ugali has the consistency of a grainy dough and the heaviness of a brick.

For many Kenyans, ugali along with a small amount of cooked vegetables or saucy stew is a normal meal.

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Kenyan Food – Ugali

2. Irio (Mashed Peas and Potato Mix)irio Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

Irio is one of the most famous dishes in Kenya, a food that originated as a Kikuyu staple and spread throughout the country.

Green peas and potatoes are boiled and then mashed up before whole kernels of maize (corn) are added to give the mash some extra starch and texture. This hearty and heavy Kenyan food is famous to eat with roasted nyama choma meat (nyama na irio) or just some Kenyan style stew.

photo credit kiplagat

3. Githeri (Beans and Corn)githeri Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

It’s not too complicated, a Kenyan dish that consists of boiled beans, corn kernels, and possibly mixed in with a little bit of vegetables.

The combination of Githeri is a filling, highly nutritious, and can be quite good when complimented with salt, pepper, chilies, and even a chapati!

photo credit cimmyt

4. Kenyan Pilau (Spiced Rice)

Pilau is a glorified combination of rice cooked with flavor bursting spices like cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves. The fragrant rice is fantastic to eat with a form of meat stew and a few slices of fresh tomato and onions.

Biriyani is another form of spiced rice that is a popular Kenyan food on the coast.

Even though it’s in Tanzania, I’ve enjoyed some of the best pilau and biryani I’ve ever eaten on the island of Zanzibar!

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Kenyan Food – Pilau Rice

5. Wali wa Nazi (Coconut Rice)

Coconut rice is a popular Kenyan food mostly along the Indian Ocean coast. White rice is cooked with grated coconut meat to create a fragrant twist on plain boiled rice. Wali wa nazi is best enjoyed with a serving of fish or chicken curry, some vegetables, or even bean stew.

6. Sukuma Wiki (Collard Greens / Kale)5735687549 8f85d0acc0 o Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

One of the most popular vegetable Kenyan dishes is sukuma wiki (known as collard greens or a form of kale in English).

The nutritious green leafy vegetable is often cooked in oil with a few diced tomatoes, onions, and flavored with a sprinkle of mchuzi mix (Kenyan food secret flavoring salt – MSG) or stock cube flavoring.

 

7. Kenyan Stew

Kenyan stew can include a number of different meats: beef stew, goat stew, chicken stew or any other animal stew. Kenyan stew dishes might also include a few other base vegetable ingredients such as carrots, peppers, peas, or potatoes. The sauce is usually formed from a light tomato base and accented with onion, salt and pepper, and that essential mchuzi mix!

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Kenyan Food – Beef Stew

8. Nyama Choma (Roasted Meat) – Pride of Kenyan Food

Any Kenyan food list is not complete without a mention of nyama choma, also known as roasted meat. Goat and beef are the 2 most common forms of nyama choma, but chicken (kuku choma) and fish (samaki choma) are also valid choices.

Fat and the grizzle from the meat is the choice part of the animal, and is often consumed with a quick dip into a pile of salt for extra flavoring! It’s also possible at many places to get the “fry,” – the fried meat variation.

Find the best places to eat nyama choma in Nairobi right here.

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Kenyan Food: Nyama Choma Mixed Platter

9. Matoke (Plantain Banana Stew)5736239250 d5b93dccfd o Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

Matoke is originally a dish from Uganda, though it is widely available and popular in Kenya as well.

Plantain bananas are cooked up in a pot with some oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, meat (optional), and lemon juice. The bananas are cooked until they become soft and begin to form a thick sauce with the other ingredients.

The result is a delicious dish that is reminiscent of boiled potatoes in sauce and excellent to eat with rice, ugali, or a chapati.

10. Chapati (Flatbread)

Chapatis in Kenya can trace their origin from the influence of the Indian population. 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 so it becomes crispy on the edges but remains moist and doughy on the interior.

Chapatis can be considered more of a special form of Kenyan food, a treat to eat. Chapatis go well with fried cabbage, beans, or even just rolled up with a cup of tea!

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Kenyan Food – Chapati

11. Kachumbari (Tomatoes and Onions)

The simple formula of diced tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, and sometimes avocado, is a natural power combination of vegetables that cultures all the way from Mexico to Kenya have discovered. Kenyans enjoy kachumbari as a garnish, a side salad that accompanies things like nyama choma or beans.

12. Kenyan Bajias

There are multiple forms of what is commonly known as bajias. The Kenyan variety (sort of borrowed from India) is normally what can be described as glorious spruced-up plate of awesome french fries (chips).

Potatoes are sliced up and battered with seasoning, deep fried, and served with a Kenyan tomato salsa that is worth boasting about.

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Kenyan Food – Bajias

13. Masala Chips (French Fries Masala)5736240272 5c8df95654 o Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

The dish starts with a greasy plate of freshly deep fried french fries (chips).

Tomato sauce, chili sauce, herbs, cilantro, and whatever else the chef decides are all added to the fries, coating them in a luscious sauce that will have you licking your fingers and the plate!

 

14. Chips Mayai (French Fries and Egg)chips mayai Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

Chips mayai can be described as a French fry Kenyan omelet.

It all begins with a plate of famous Kenyan chips that are placed in a frying pan before being covered in a generous amount of beaten egg and cooked through.

Lather it up with a generous portion of chili tomato sauce and it’s a snack that will provide calories of energy for a few days!

Chips mayai is a one of the Kenyan dishes that is also popular in Tanzania.

photo credit mwilliamrice

15. Mandazi (Kenyan Doughnut)mandazi Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

They can be smelled from a kilometer down the street, that lovely familiar scent of a blob of deep frying dough.

The smell is enough to entice anyone to make a mandatory mandazi stop.

Mandazi’s make a great snack or a light breakfast with a cup of sweet chai.

photo credit pareshjai

16. Mutura

Mutura is the real Kenyan sausage, a protein rich meaty snack that could be the envy of every beer drinker.

Goat intestine wrappers are stuffed full of the alluring combination of ground meat parts and goat blood. The sausage is boiled until it is almost cooked through and then thrown on the grill to dehydrate the meat and give it that sensational smoky taste.

If you are searching for that truly authentic Kenyan food street meat experience, mutura will go above and beyond your expectation!

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Kenyan Food – Mutura Sausage

17. Kenyan Burger

Though it’s not a traditional Kenyan food staple, there’s something about the burgers in Kenya that have the power to make one smile with happiness.

Some restaurants choose to grill their burgers while others choose to deep fry their burgers, adding that extra grease to the meat for super calorie deliciousness.

This particular burger from Burger Hut Nairobi is the double hut, a burger that’s so mouthwatering it could spark a world burger pilgrimage (if it was a little more famous).

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Kenyan Food – Burger Hut

18. Grilled Maize

One of the most popular on-the-go snacks in Kenya is a cob of roasted maize. The corn is picked when it has become mature, so it’s a dry starch that is perfect for roasting over hot embers.

As the maize roasts, some kernels pop like popcorn while others blacken to a crunchy crisp. Some street stall vendors will supply a chili lime salt garnish for the grilled maize.

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Kenyan Food – Roasted Maize

19. Samosas5736239432 0f26af60b3 o Kenyan Food Overview: 20 of Kenyas Best Dishes

Another Indian snack turned Kenyan food are samosas – small triangular pockets of spiced meat or vegetables put in a pastry wrapper and deep fried to a golden brown.

Squeeze a sprinkle of lime juice on a samosa for ultimate enjoyment.

These golden snacks are available everywhere from sit down restaurants to Nairobi street food pushcarts.

 

20. Chai (Kenyan style tea)

Kenyan coffee is one of the more famous varieties on earth, yet it is tea that is the popular hot drink of choice for many locals. Kenyan tea is brewed dark, mixed with plenty of whole fat milk, and sweetened up with a few heaping tablespoons of sugar.

As for myself, give me a kilo of mubuzi choma sliced from the hind leg, a side of kachumbari, and a warm Tusker or bottle of Stoney Tangawizi and I’m a very, very happy man.

What’s your favorite Kenyan food?

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Comments

  1. says

    I don’t know why but I was expecting to not really be interested in many of the foods on your list. Surprisingly almost all looked great! I love polenta and cornbread but the Ugali seems a bit dry. Both french fry dishes sound amazing. Great list, thanks for sharing.

    • says

      Great Debbie, glad you enjoyed it!
      You are right about ugali, it is a bit dry, but it does go will with soupy stew and vegetables. The main thing about it that it is very filling!

      • says

        You are right Mark Ugali is very filling but I loved. I was in 1990 for nearly a year in Kenya and travelled around but the food is just stunning if like the way they cooked.And especially when you are in the Rural areas.When you go to the Shebines and eat that lovley freshly grilled meat with a Taska Beer.

      • Elizabeth says

        Mark, those are great foods, Ugali may be dry but it goes so well with Sukuma or meat-stwe or the roasted meat with kachumbari ,,,u know they ryme, i miss roasted maize and they are everywhere on kenya roads as well as roasted Fish, ever came across that?

        • says

          Hey Elizabeth, thank you so much for checking this article out and for the comment. I agree, ugali goes so well with meat and stew and sukuma! I haven’t seen fish too often in Nairobi, but really enjoy roasted fish on the coast. I miss maize too! Are you living in Nairobi now?

  2. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler says

    All of these dishes sound really interesting. I especially like the Plantain Banana Stew.

  3. says

    There is nothing better then a cup of chai! However, the chai I had while I was in Kenya was different from the recipe you stated. The chai I drank had cinnamon, cardamom, and maybe even some black pepper. It was so tasty.

    Great list. There are many items on it that I haven’t tried!

    • says

      Hey, thanks so much for the comment Mary,
      Sounds like what you are describing is masala chai. It’s the same tea and milk mixed with a spice masala blend. The extra spice (instead of just sweet) is really good – I agree with you!

  4. The Dropout says

    Yum-o-rama!
    I know if I stick with you, Mark, I will never starve, no matter where in the world I am!

  5. Steph says

    Wow, that burger is out of control! I have to say my tastebuds probably aren’t Kenyan, although the stew looks delicious and a few other things sound good – the tea, definitely. Nice post. Loved the photos!

  6. Joram says

    wa… markus, i had even forgooten about roast maize..mahindi choma! u guy have to update and show how we use the sliced lemon to dip it into chili powder and apply gently on the maize!

  7. says

    it’s 2 in the morning and this post made me so hungry.
    i know india and kenya shared trades in the last centuries, but I was actually surprised to see a lot of indian influence in the cuisine even u to now.

    now im excited to go to nairobi!

  8. Jecinter says

    I love our kenyan foods and yeah Mark I love the way you even know the swahili and you really make my day when I look at all the places you’ve been. Good work brother.!!God Bless you. my best food is Porini chicken and sima. next time you should come to boko boko farm in porini in mombasa about 25km from the town, place called Kikambala. and you will Enjoy our food.

  9. says

    I am from Kenya and my favorite is Nyama Choma it is Soooo good. If you ever go to Kenya you have to bring this list and go for all that food. Just looking at it makes me hungry i’m going to eat some Samosas.

  10. Jacque says

    Hi Mark,

    I was searching for the ‘nyama fry’ recipe and came across your blog – it’s awesome and takes me down memory lane… :)

    You have certainly covered lots of the Kenyan favourites but i also recall some dishes that mom used to whip… probably for a quick meal to feed fussy kids! We still enjoy these dishes to date!

    Maziwa mala (sweetened natural yoghurt) with ugali, matumbo with ugali or mashed matoke and fried rice – Kenyan style ( usually rice cooked together with vegies, brought to a boil and cooked till all the water is evaporated)…I guess all the foods are all so yummy and the list would be endless.

    Thankx for sharing! :)

    • says

      Hey Jacque, glad you enjoyed it, thanks for taking a look! Yes, I’m a big fan of the Kenyan yoghurt as well. Indeed so many good tasting things!

  11. MM says

    Na Mbazi Je? Ina kwenda vizuri sana pamoja na mandazi!!!
    Hata mabuyu, achari, bungo, madafu hiyiko kwenye listi hiyo

  12. Erica says

    Thank you for this! My husband is from Kenya and his siblings are coming in to surprise him for his 40th birthday. I will definitely be making some of these dishes! I know samosas originates in India, but our family loves them and could eat them everyday!

  13. MalaysianinKenya says

    Not gonna lie, I find Kenyan and East African food in general to be EXTREMELY insipid. Any time grilled maize shows up on a top 20 list, you know you’re really stretching. Also never met any mzungu with a favorable opinion of ugali. Tasteless fluff. Difficult to handle when burning hot and fills you up way too quickly (which I guess is the point).

    The dishes from the Coast are more flavorful though. It seems the spices only made it that far inland. I live in a small town in Western Kenya and all I have for lunch everyday is boiled beans and sukuma with rice or chapo, which I douse in pili pili to add flavor. My Kenyan friends think I’m crazy. Anything fancier than beans and sukuma takes at least 2 hours to prepare. On the rare occasions that I do have meat, it’s usually stringy, hence I always insist on dry fry instead of stew or choma.

    If I could add anything to your list, it’d probably be:
    1) Mashed-up matoke. It looks and tastes like mashed potatoes. Just yellower.
    2) Fried tilapia from Lake Victoria.
    3) Garlic chips.
    4) Brown chapati. Also, brown ugali >>>>> white ugali but that’s not saying much.
    5) Seafood from the Coast
    6) Rolex. Technically, this is Ugandan. But then I feel chips mayai is more Tz than Kenyan. I had chips mayai almost daily when I lived in Tz. I’ve only seen chips mayai once in the 2 years I’ve been in Kenya. Where do you get it from? Anyways, chapo + nutella + banana = WIN. Or chapo + avocado + chips + vegetables. Kenya really must get more creative with their chapos.

    • says

      Hey, ok if you’re coming from Malaysia, one of the best countries in the world for food, East African food is definitely plain and more of a filling cuisine. I do like ugali (not better than rice), but I grew up eating it quite a bit.

      Yes, coast dishes are great, and the curries and seafood can be really nice. I’m in Zanzibar now and have had some great food so far. I’ve never had a Rolex, I’ll have to look for that!

  14. SHAY LIZ CAROL says

    I love the nyamachoma in Kenya. having lived and grown there, I must say our food is esquisite! i do love Ugandan matoke and Tanzanian dishes too especially the kitumbua. but KENYA is unique in its own way. UGALI+mbuzichoma+beer=AWESOME!!!!!

  15. rosie says

    You forgot the Tilapia from Lake Victoria either dry fried or with a variety of sauces including coconut or tomato with traditional herbs!

  16. Anderson kongoda says

    Hey, if anyone wants someone to cook these foods let me know. I’m from Kenya my current location is Atlanta. Thanks

  17. gathoni says

    Thanks for this positive description of kenyan food. iam m always amazed when westerners (see Debbie here) appproach african foods expecting to be underwhelmed. We love our food despite lifetimes of negative stereotypes.

  18. Mzee Kidefu says

    Ahhhh, Chapatti, Niama Choma, where are the wonderful Kenyan sausages? the best in the world. haha, how about Mukati with blueband for breakfast? huh, the poor man’s food. I loved Ugali and Matoke. No one makes them in the US. Where African food goes its all Ethiopian here in the west coast of Americano. Tusker Moto.

  19. annah says

    i like this i wish i could pass mukimo to those who love it….but you left out njahi (smashed matoke with njahi ) and meat …they are so sweet..

  20. Naomi says

    Hey Mark,

    Great blog. I have spent the last few hours reading about your food adventures (though I initially came here to learn more about living in Bangkok :). I love food and I love Kenyan food a lot, especially Ugali taken with spicy beef stew and kale. Your pictures are tantalizing to say the least….I long for a spicy mutura right now. Thank you Mark.

  21. says

    Ahhh I love all this food and miss it all massivley. Kenya sure does have some great food. Nyama Choma is a fav with sukuma and chapati!

  22. Kaushik Joshi says

    I am pure vegetarian indian. I will be in mombasa shortly for more than a year. Will I get there pure vegetarian dishes or will I get veg raw-materials so that I can cook something for me? How is food there? Cheaper, reasonable or costly?

    • annah says

      kaushik yeah ..i promise you will enjoy alot infact Kenyans we are vegetarian …the food is cheap and affordable …you are much welcome.

    • says

      Hi Kaushik, thank you for reading, good to hear you’ll be moving to Mombasa soon. I honestly don’t have much experience in Mombasa, it’s been a very long time since I’ve been there. Food is great, with a mixture of local, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes available, and prices are affordable – though maybe not as cheap as in India. All the best.

  23. Collins Orlando says

    Awesome list !! As a Kenyan who’s been out of the country for the better part of the last seven years, I have to say that I’ve missed most of the dishes on the list. Good job Mark for this great article.

  24. says

    I love your website! I am a newer blogger. I explore the world one suitcase at a time to teach kids & parents about world geography & culture. I am coming up on Kenya & found your blog while looking for recipes! So glad I found you!

  25. Kenyan says

    I’m a Kenyan, and your list of foods is very good.
    It makes me miss Kenya so much! Thank you for posting this!

  26. Mtotoo says

    we cant forget Omena little fish also called Kisumu boys i made fish croquette with them and they turned out fine, okra (murenda cooked with dried mushroom and milk) from the western side very satisfying with Ugali. and the Rumba music as it plays when you are eating that Nyam Chom in a restaurant. and you start to shaky leggy.

Trackbacks

  1. […] I often used to tell him that I’d probably have had a whale of a time trying out new cuisines, vegetables and ingredients there! For all his time in Senegal, my father never got to eat much local food – there was nothing close to Indian food and my father was just too tired of experimenting all the while. This is in stark contrast to the Kenyan cuisine, which has a large doze of India-influenced dishes. Pulao, samosa, chapatti, bhajia, chai etc are not uncommon in Kenya and are known by these names! (http://migrationology.com/2011/06/kenyan-food-overview-20-of-kenyas-best-dishes/) […]

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