15 Must-Try Kenyan Dishes

A big part of any vacation to a new place is getting to enjoy the culture, and of course, the food. If you’re headed to Kenya and looking to add a new dimension to your palate, you’re in luck. Read on for 15 must-try Kenyan dishes.

Pilau (Alpha alvxyz / Flickr)

Pilau (Alpha alvxyz / Flickr)

1. Pilau

Popping up around the world, pilau (known in some places as pilaf) is a rice based dish known for being a spicy delight. Made by cooking rice with spices such as turmeric, meat, onions, garlic, and tomatoes, pilau is easy to personalize. With the option of including cashew nuts, raisins or sultanas, chilies, cinnamon and so on, this easy to make dish is easily found in many restaurants throughout Kenya.

Ugali (Paresh Jai / Wikimedia Commons)

Ugali (Paresh Jai / Wikimedia Commons)

2. Ugali

Ugali is made by boiling maize flour in water to a thickened consistency capable of being rolled into a circular lump, pressing an indentation into it, and using it to scoop meat or dip into stews. This inexpensive meal is also one of the most common staple meals across Southern Africa, going by ‘pap’, ‘sima’, ‘posho’ and other regional names.

Mutura (ayustety / Wikimedia Commons)

7. Mutura (ayustety / Wikimedia Commons)

3. Mutura

A common street food in Kenya, mutura is a type of blood sausage generally made by stuffing bits of meat from a cow or goat into the (thoroughly cleaned) intestines of the animal, along with spices for enhanced taste. The sausage is then boiled and roasted. Modern incarnations are made without adding blood collected from the slaughtered animal, and served with an onion based salad known as kachumbari, often alongside the ubiquitous ugali.

Chapati (cyclonebill / Wikimedia commons)

Chapati (cyclonebill / Wikimedia commons)

4. Chapati

Inherited from the Indo-Portuguese visitors to Kenya’s shores, chapati is a flat bread often made of wheat flour, usually mixed with butter/margarine, salt or other seasonings to taste. Fried on special customized pans, chapati are a common side dish to many stews and are generally consumed at any time of day as a snack on their own or alongside a hot cup of Kenyan tea (chai).

5. Matoke

This thick and delicious food made of plantains, chilies, onions and garlic is sure to fill you up, especially since its often eaten with ugali. Although it originated in Uganda, it has grown to widespread popularity in Kenya

Spicy Roasted Maize on the cob (Pp391 / Wikimedia Commons)

Spicy Roasted Maize on the cob (Pp391 / Wikimedia Commons)

6. Mahindi Choma

As a relatively safe street food you cannot miss in many residential areas, mahindi choma is maize that’s roasted over an open flame, then seasoned with a special mixture of chili and salt, (usually applied onto the maize using a lemon).

7. Nyama Choma

Nyama Choma is often described as the national dish. The dish is often served with the aforementioned kachumburi or ugali and a local brew.

(Amy / Wikimedia Commons)

(Amy / Wikimedia Commons)

8. Samosas

What do you get when you wrap minced meat, flavored with onions, chilies and spices (or  vegetarian options, if you like) in a delicious fried or baked bread casing? Samosas! Often a triangular slice of heaven, today’s version of the tasty snack hasn’t changed much from its Middle Eastern ancestor. Available at almost any eatery, I promise you’ll be asking for the recipe.

Plantain (SandisterTei / Wikimedia Commons)

Plantain (SandisterTei / Wikimedia Commons)

9. Plantains

The versatility of the plantain is highlighted in the variety of dishes it pops up in, not just in Kenya, but across Africa. Here, you can have your plantain deep fried into crisps, a fun alternative to the usual potato chips. They can also be fried or roasted and eaten as a snack on its own or alongside a stew of your choice.

Quail eggs (Jon Sullivan / Wikimedia Commons)

Quail eggs (Jon Sullivan / Wikimedia Commons)

10. Quail eggs

As it turns out, you cannot escape fad diets even in the equatorial haven that is Kenya. While you may have kale and quinoa, Kenyans have rallied around the quail egg as a miracle health food and investment opportunity. Inside joke or not, quail eggs are legitimately nutritious and reportedly easy on the palate. Make sure to try one.

11. Mandazi

Guaranteed to make you stop for a quick snack once you’ve smelled it frying, this is Kenya’s answer to the doughnut. Mandazi are deep fried, and can be enjoyed as a snack (who’s counting calories anyway) or a light breakfast.

12. Sukuma wiki

Didn’t your mother always tell you to eat your greens? You’ll have no difficulty with this dish — collard greens are cooked in oil with a few diced tomatoes, onions, and that all important Kenyan secret — mchuzi mix.

13. Wali wa Nazi

Or, as the translation goes, coconut rice. You’ll see this as a popular dish along the Kenyan coast. The rice is cooked with fresh grated coconut, providing a delightful twist on plain boiled rice. It is often teamed with a fish or chicken curry. Enjoy!

14. Githeri

A beautifully uncomplicated dish that is not only filling, but nutritious. It’s also an excellent choice if you’re wanting a bit of a change from meat. It consists of boiled beans, corn kernels and possibly the addition of a few diced vegetables. It can be seasoned with salt, pepper, and chilis for an extra kick.

15. Irio

Originally a Kikuyu staple food, irio has now spread throughout Kenya. You’ll see it everywhere. Basically, it’s green peas and potatoes boiled together, then mashed up before whole maize kernels are added. It can be served with nyama choma or any sort of stew.

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