You are currently viewing The 17 Popular Kenyan Food Dishes

The 17 Popular Kenyan Food Dishes

Kenyan cuisine is all over the place; this is attributed to the 42-plus tribal groups that co-exist in the region. Note that some of the listings are not of Kenyan origin, but are widely popular among the majority of the population. 

However, the Swahili tribes from the coastal region contribute most to this list. Indian cuisine is also heavily assimilated.

1. Ugali

Rich in carbohydrates, it is a filling Kenyan staple and a starch of choice. Made from maize meal or corn meal and water only to form a dough. It’s as simple as it gets; a 2 ingredients meal. 

Served with veggies(esp. collard greens), stews, fish, or meat of choice.Ugali can also be made from sorghum,millet and cassava or a combination. 

Cassava flour is made by grating cassavas or grinding them to produce flour. The different colors of ugali are based on the flour used. The main ones are white from maize meal, yellow from corn meal, and brown from millet and sorghum.

Kenyan Ugali
Kenyan Ugali

2. Swahili Pilau

This is the ultimate occasional or event delicacy; holidays, weddings, funerals, parties… it’s the default menu option, if not the main. 

It is an aromatic rice dish cooked in broth but with a variety of spices and meat added. Pilau is almost similar to the famous biryani, they are both distinct in cooking methods. 

In pilau all ingredients are cooked together, in biryani they’re cooked separately then later layered and steamed. 

Pilau is relatively dry and normally served with soups and salads as sides. Pilau is also known as pilaf in other parts of the world

Pilau Recipe

Kenyan Swahili Pilau

3. Githeri

Served in primary and high school lunch tables, this is probably my most consumed lunch meal at this point in life. Had a ridiculous amount of it, and I have never touched it after school lol. 

The ease of cooking in large quantities is what makes it a good option for schools and gatherings. It is basically a maize and beans delicacy, (I don’t know if I should use the word delicacy). 

Boiled together till tender- that was it for the school version. However, the home/restaurant version is kicked up a notch higher by being sauteed and fried, with a couple of spices thrown in as well, and it is more tender. It goes well with avocado slices or guacamole, Githeri, and Avocado


4. Chapati (Chapo)

Chapatis are so common that they’re a home dish and a street food as well. A chapati is a circular flat bread made by kneading all-purpose flour, salt, and vegetable oil together.

The dough is let to rest for minutes then rolled out on a flat surface with a rolling pin to form the circular shape, and then to a hot iron skillet to cook till golden brown. Layered chapatis are a fancier version with a longer process; they turn out fluffier which is totally worth it. 

Chapatis are served with stews and curries. Beans’ stew is the most common combination of the famous chapo beans.

Other stew choices include lentils, green grams, fish, chicken, beef, and banana. Extra chapatis from diners can be used for breakfast to escort tea or coffee. Recipe

Chapati with Stew: [Image:wirestock on Freepik]

5. Rice & Beans

Yeah Rice n Beans, pretty much. This was the gold standard meal back in school…I remember; Wednesdays and Saturdays. Despite the rice being bottom barrel grade, it was nice having a switch from the 3-day githeri streak discussed above. 

Nothing special or authentic for this meal, just plain steamed rice served with bean stew, the rice and beans are cooked separately and combined on plating.

Rice & Beans
Rice & Beans

6. Mandazi

Our version of donuts but less sugary, doesn’t use yeast to rise, instead baking powder is employed. And instead of a hole in the middle for the ring shape of a donut, mandazis can be any shape you want them.

The classic is triangular. ( Just like sandwiches, the triangular ones taste better). Mandazis use spices such as cardamom and cinnamon powders to enhance the flavor. Used mainly for breakfast to accompany tea or coffee. There’s also a smaller version of bite-sized ones, mandazi bites eaten as a snack.

Puffy Kenyan Mandazi [Instagram @cook.with.manu]
Puffy Kenyan Mandazi [Instagram @cook.with.manu]

7. Uji

Uji is a porridge of thin consistency in contrast to other porridge that are eaten. Uji is so thin that it is served in a cup and drank. 

It is a breakfast to go especially in rural areas. Uji is so filling that it gets you through the day. It is made using millet or sorghum flour, sometimes maize meal flour. The cooking methodology is almost similar to ugali.Recipe

8. Sukuma Wiki

Translates from Swahili as “push the week”. Sukuma Wiki is Collard Greens in English. It is the most common vegetable in Kenya probably due to affordability.

It is sauteed with onions, vegetable oil, and seasonings till cooked. It has a crunchy texture when done. It goes well with ugali

Sukuma Wiki Served with Chicken and Ugali [Img:Instagram@infoods_special]
Sukuma Wiki Served with Chicken and Ugali [Img:Instagram@infoods_special]

9. Nyama Choma

Translates from Swahili as ‘grilled meat’. Meat grilled is not specific it could be beef mutton or pork. 

Grilling is done on an open fire or a charcoal grill, the open fire gives it its distinct smoky flavor, and goes well with kachumbari(a tomato, chilies, and onion salad).

It is also grilled and cooked on the sides of the street as street food

Nyama Choma [Image:Instagram @mapishi_na_hadija
Nyama Choma [Image:Instagram @mapishi_na_hadija

10. Stew

Beef/mutton is sauteed in oil, diced tomatoes, dry spices, and bell peppers, and then water is added. 

Later, beef broth or beef stock cubes are added with vegetables such as diced potatoes and carrots or green peas, and all are cooked together till tender.

Peeled potatoes may be added optionally to thicken the stew. Garnished with fresh aromatics like chopped cilantro leaves.Enjoyed with chapatis, or rice.

Beef stew served with white rice
Beef stew served with white rice

11. Chips Masala

French fries but cooked again in spices (just like bread cooked again to make toast) . The masala is a blend of spice mixes. 

Tomato puree, crushed ginger, garlic, and chopped cilantro are used with the spices to cook the french fries. 

The common spices in the masala mix are; turmeric, cumin, ginger, and chili powder Recipe

Chips Masala [Img:Instagram @ogogojules
Chips Masala [Img:Instagram @ogogojules

12. Matoke

Matoke is cooked East African highland green bananas. These bananas are a special type that is extra starchy. 

Bananas are peeled just like potatoes, cut into chunky pieces,sautéed with onions and tomatoes till soft, and then water added to steam till cooked. 

Cooked with beef and beef broth together. Matoke is the national dish of the neighboring country-Uganda

Matoke with Beef [Img: Instagram @infoods_special]
Matoke with Beef [Img: Instagram @infoods_special]

13. Fish Curry

Fresh fish; mostly Tilapia and Nile Perch, is deep fried first till crispy then simmered in pureed tomatoes with spices (and optionally coconut milk) till covered and infused in a thick sauce.

Finished off with a fresh lemon squeeze and fresh cilantro.Served with rice or ugali

Fish Curry
Fish Curry

14. Matumbo

A dish made from tripe(edible stomach lining) and intestines from cows and goats. It is cleaned sauteed and then simmered or boiled till tender.

It is an affordable option and a substitute for beef or mutton. If you don’t mind the texture, it is delicious and nutritious. 

Matumbo in English is tripe and is mostly served with ugali or occasionally, steamed rice or chapatis.

Matumbo [Img: Instagram @ lynnkitchengallery]
Matumbo [Img: Instagram @ lynnkitchengallery]

15. Omena

A small silvery freshwater fish from Lake Victoria. Omena is known as Silver cyprinid in English. It is sun-dried and has an odor and bitterness. 

However with good preparation and cooking it turns into a delicacy that’ll have you craving for days. This is the one dish not everyone can master cooking it perfectly. 

The pro cooks are the Luo tribe from the lake region. It is soaked in a water and vinegar mixture to eradicate odor and its raw bitter taste, then fried dry or with vegetables and coconut milk(if you want the stew version). 

Served only with ugali(from what I know) Recipe

Omena with Kachumbari and Ugali  [Img: Instagram @jikoni_kwetu ]
Omena with Kachumbari and Ugali [Img: Instagram @jikoni_kwetu ]

16. Mukimo

This is a traditional food originally from central Kenya. Made from shelled soft(green) maize, pumpkin leaves, green peas, and potatoes as the main ingredients.

Cooked till tender and mashed with a wooden spoon till homogeneous. 

Classic mukimo is green in color; the color is derived from pumpkin leaves. However, color can differ depending on the ingredients used. Served with a stew of choice on the side

Mukimo [Image:Instagram @theefoodcartel ]
Mukimo [Image:Instagram @theefoodcartel ]

17. Irio

Similar to mukimo above since they use almost the same ingredients. Peas and potatoes are cooked and mashed up together before corn is added. 

Potatoes and peas make the mash while the corn adds texture. Served with a stew of choice on the side

Irio [Image: Pinterest @Imaculate_Bites]
Irio [Image: Pinterest @Imaculate_Bites]

You Might also love;

15 Popular Kenyan Street Foods Compilation |Nairobi Street Food

The Ultimate Mega Guide To Snacks In Kenya: Candy, Chips & More

Site Navigation

Is this content useful? Consider checking out more of my articles from the following categories:

Grocery Items Guides & Reviews

Appliance Reviews

Snacks, Fast Foods & Street Food

Kenyan Recipes

Global Recipes

Beverage & Drink

Leave a Reply