Kenya is a melting pot of various cultures and traditions. From the trade relations between the Kenyans and Arabs to the Portuguese colonisation and the British Rule, as well as the multiple merchants that arrived from places such as India, Persia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and China; all have influenced the culture and food present in modern Kenya.
Let us take you on a discovery of Kenya through their ever-popular street food. As you read this blog article, you will learn about a few of our favourite dishes. We hope you give these meals a try during your next visit and if you have already tried a few, share your thoughts in the comments section below.
So, without any further ado, and in no particular order, let’s jump right into our first meal:
This dish might look like a standard chip dish, but it is so much more than that! The Kenyan Bhajia is a thick potato slice coated in chickpea flour batter and deep-fried. These taste best when they are served piping hot and with a delicious tomato relish or chutney.
The Chapati is a form of roti or rotta. Chapatis, along with rotis, were introduced to Kenya by immigrants from India. The Chapati is a chewy, unleavened flatbread that can be eaten by itself or with toppings and dips such as Nyama Choma (barbecued meat), Mshikakis (meat skewers or kabobs), Maharagwe (beans in gravy or sauce) and Kachumbari (fresh tomato and onion salad).
Ugali is a doughy ball of cornmeal (or as the South Africans would say – Pap). This mouth-watering side dish is often used to mop up stews, savoury meats, and other proteins. Ugali can be compared to polenta, which is popular with Westerners.
Nyama Choma is the name used for roasted meat in Kenya. Goat and beef are the most common forms of Nyama Choma, however, chicken (kuku choma) and fish (samaki choma) are also an option. The fat and grizzle is the most coveted part of the animal and is often consumed after a quick dip into a pile of salt for extra flavouring. The meat is so tender and juicy that it is eaten by hand along with sides such as ugali, chapati, and kachumbari salad.
Mshikakis, otherwise known as Kebabs, are very popular in Kenya. Skewered pieces of marinated meat such as beef, goat, or mutton are slowly cooked over hot coals. The mshikaki, sold by street vendors, are made entirely of meat. Mshikakis are often served alone, however, they taste wonderful when accompanied by a kachumbari salad, baked potatoes or masala chips.
Mandazi is a semisweet, coconut-flavoured, triangle-shaped doughnut usually eaten for breakfast. They are great as a snack or a light breakfast with a cup of sweet chai. Mandazi is usually not as sweet as the typical United States style of doughnuts and they are usually served without any glazing or frosting. The smell of fresh Mandazi is enough to entice anyone to make a quick pitstop.
Whether you call them fries, chips, French fries or even slap chips, one thing we can all agree on is that deep-fried potatoes are yummy! The Kenyans have innovatively come up with various ways of eating these golden spuds. They have elevated the humble potato to a whole other level simply by adding a mixture of garam masala, turmeric, and cumin along with a host of other flavours and spices to create Masala Chips. Once you have tasted this mouth-watering feast, you’ll never go back to eating chips any other way!
Pilau is a meal that consists of rice cooked with flavour-bursting spices. This dish is served at almost all Kenyan social gatherings as it is a signature dish. The difference between Pilau and Biryani is that Pilau rice is cooked with meat and vegetables in a harmonious pot, whereas, Biryani rice is cooked separately from the meat and vegetables and then combined after cooking. Pilau is an incredibly flavourful dish regardless of if you choose a meaty or vegetarian option.
Maharagwe is a vegetarian dish made from red kidney beans cooked in coconut milk along with onions, tomatoes and a host of heavenly spices. It is best when served hot and pairs well with ugali, rice or chapati. This is a very nutritious and tasty meal that all visitors to Kenya should try at least once.
Matoke Ya Nyama
You probably won’t believe it, but we swear it is true – Matoke Ya Nyama is a staple dish in Kenya made up of green bananas, meat, tomatoes, onions, capsicum, spices such as cayenne pepper and salt, and is garnished with coriander. There are many health benefits associated with this dish, and the affordability makes this a popular dish with the locals.
Do you enjoy chicken and curry? Then this dish is perfect for you! Kuku Paka is a mouth-watering smoky dish made of chicken in a coconut-based curry. To get the smoky flavour, chicken is grilled over an open flame before being added to the curry. This dish has aromatic Arab, Indian and African influences. Kuku Paka is usually served with either rice, chapati or ugali.
We bet your mouth is salivating right about now?!
Kenyan Street Food is becoming increasingly popular with international tourists who are looking for an authentic Kenyan experience. What could be better than experiencing Kenya through the various flavours that have merged through Kenya’s colourful history?
Have you tried any of these dishes while exploring beautiful Kenya or are there any you are looking forward to trying during your next Kenyan vacation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Here are a few reads we think you’ll find interesting:
7 Tips to Make the Most of Your Kenyan Holiday Experience
Three Typical Days in the Belly of a Kenyan