Kenyan food : Our selection of favorites

On a trip to Kenya, you will enjoy a great variety of dishes, which reflects the country’s history of British colonization and its long relationship with foreign settlers, as well as its own ethnic diversity. Read more for a selection of the best Kenyan food to try out during your journey.

1. Staple Kenyan food : rice, ugali & chapati

The local staple foods in Kenya are rice and ugali, which is a thick paste made of cornmeal and water. Sometimes, you will even come across chapatis (flat bread), which were brought to Kenya by Indians during the British colonization. Rice, ugali and chapatis accompany most Kenyan food such as vegetable and meat dishes, curries and stews.

2. Matoke (plantain banana Stew)

Stews are very popular in Kenya. Matoke is one that is made with plantain (cooking bananas), peanuts and vegetables. It is one of the main dishes of Western Kenya, and it is widely served in restaurants across the country. If you’ve never tried plantain bananas, they are delicious and also very healthy!

Kenyan food : plantain cooking bananas
Kenyan food : plantain cooking bananas“ – CC0 / Public Domain”

3. Maharagwe (kidney beans in coconut sauce)

If you like coconut you will absolutely love maharagwe. This spicy stew of kidney beans in a rich and creamy tomato, onion and coconut milk sauce is one of the most typical Kenyan food dishes. It is available in restaurants everywhere in Kenya but it has variations, so if it is the rich creamy coconut flavor you’re after, you should head for the coast. Maharagwe is also vegetarian, vegan and gluten free.

4. Wali wa nazi (coconut rice)

Wali wa nazi is actually very simple, but it will make plain rice taste very boring in comparison! Cooking the rice in coconut milk makes it super creamy, rich and tasty, and the lovely coconut flavor is preserved after adding spices. It is wonderful as an accompaniment to any fish, meat or vegetable stew.

5. Kenyan pilau (spiced rice)

Plain rice is ordinarily served in Kenya as an accompaniment, but on special occasions such as festivals and wedding, it is fried with small slices of fresh tomato and onions as well as various fragrant and colorful spices such as cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, or even saffron. Pilau is more popular on the Kenyan coast where the food has been influenced by the presence of Arabs and Indians.

6. Ugali na Sukuma Wiki

This is probably the most common dish of Kenya. Sukuma wiki is a green leafy vegetable commonly mistaken for kale. “Sukuma wiki” actually means “stretch the week” in Swahili, referring to the affordability and availability of this vegetable, which grows everywhere and anywhere in the country. So when other more pricey ingredients are scarce, sukuma wiki allow local people to “stretch the week”. Fried with sweet red onions, tomatoes and seasoning, it is consumed with the aforementioned staple food ugali.

7. Mandazi, Kenyan doughnuts

Also known as Swahili buns, you will find mandazis in most small restaurants (which Kenyans call “hotelis”) and streets of Kenya. They are often flavored with shredded coconut and ground almonds and/or spiced-up with cinnamon or ginger, and topped with icing sugar. These fried doughnuts taste great with coffee or chai (the Swahili word for tea), or you can eat warm for breakfast or as a snack.

8. Burgers

Well, admittedly burgers don’t sound very Kenyan, but the way they make them is definitely Kenyan and worth a try. Deep fried or grilled meat, double cheese for vegetarians, hot spicy sauces and masala fries… You won’t want to be counting calories if you want to enjoy them. And in visiting Nairobi, you absolutely must go to the Burger Hut to try the best burger in the country.

9. Kenyan street food : try mutura

Street food is quite popular among Kenyan food, especially in urban areas. In Nairobi, you mostly find them in modest areas which are called “estates”. Near local pubs or butchers’ shop you will commonly find mutura, a Kenyan sausage made of meat, spices and sometimes even blood. They are best seasoned with kachumbari (salsa) and served along with bone soup, and they taste great with beer!