One of the most frequent questions I hear from home is – what do Kenyans eat?
The Kenyan culinary tradition has generally emphasised feeding the masses as effectively as possible, with little room for great creativity or innovation. Most Kenyan cuisine surrounds survival food rather than extravagant masterpieces, relying heavily on starches and staples.
The typical Kenyan favourite staple, ugali is a thick, dough-like mass made of maize flour which fills one up and sit in one’s stomach like a brick. According to particular Kenyan tribes, men must take up the role of cooking and stirring ugali in order to achieve the consistent stiffness of this grainy dough. Ugali is typically served with sukuma wiki – braised or stewed spinach. Sukuma wiki means “stretch the week” implies that its cost is so low that it allows the household to stretch their budget until another week’s pay arrives. The combination of the two are enjoyed best when eaten with the hands – ripping at the ugali and moulding over a mound of sukuma wiki. No doubt, one will agree that eating with your hand is an art which requires practise, particularly with ugali!
Any Kenyan culinary experience is not complete without nyama choma. Literally translated as ‘burnt meat,’ nyama choma is a local delicacy of chicken, beef or goat slow-cooked over hot coals. Most choma places have their own on-site butchery which allows customers to pick and choose their meat by weight. One might expect choma to melt in their mouth, on the contrary nyama choma usually has some serious texture to it. As one chews through the meat, you can almost taste and feel the grains of a goat that’s been running around, munching on grass and grazing. After the intense jaw workout involved with eating nyama choma, another good half-hour is required at the end of the meal to work over one’s gums with a toothpick. I personally enjoy this fried meat with a bottle of cold local beer, Tusker. Interestingly, Kenyans instead like to consume their beer “warm” – at room temperature. This is because Kenyans believe that it’s unhealthy to drink ice-cold drinks.
Whilst a traditional Kenyan meal may be considered simple and wholesome, one would certainly be able to find some memorable treats in Kenya as the food is almost always fresh and delicious!