Ndengu or green grams is a very popular lentil dish in Kenya. It is a small, green lentil that is easy to cook and very nutritious; it is one of the best ways to get protein in a primarily vegetarian diet besides beans. Green grams are very filling and best served over rice or with a side of chapati, plus some sukumawiki (greens), but I have seen them served with ugali. Generally boiled first then cooked with tomatoes and onions, seasoned with salt. It is also common to find a “stew” that just has the liquid from boiling included. I find that cooking ndengu at home, using the water reserves to make rice ensures all the nutrients are used and not wasted, as well as the water. I add different spices, and as a lentil it can be spiced any way you like.
The closest thing to BBQ in Kenya is the nyama choma (roasted meats) The most common is mubzi (goat), but you also can find ngombe (beef), or kuku (chicken). Many of the hotelis will do special orders for you if they don’t make a certain kind. For instance, the choma grill in my town only does kuku choma, but if I go there before I do my market shopping and request goat or beef they will prepare it for me just in time to either finish shopping and sit down to a meal or take it home and enjoy it a la carte. I hope to eventually see if they will do pork or rabbit because both would be delicious roasted.
Roasty, toasty, and scrumptious! Nyama choma is your best option if you want tender, flavorful cuts of meat. Best served with a side of greens and some chapati and an ice cold beer.
The African variation of chapati is not to be confused with the Indian chapati it is based on. However, like its origin, it is a staple of local cuisine and it is made in the same way; a combination of flour and water to form a dough, rolled out thin, but not as thin as a tortilla, and cooked over a hot flat surface. The difference is one key ingredient : oil.
Unlike the chapati from India, this variety has oil mixed into the dough and is fried in oil on both sides. The result is a less healthy version of the original, which is made with no oil, and generally made with whole wheat flour or millet flour over standard white flour. You can find a healthier, whole wheat chapati, less commonly, called chapati atta. Either way, there is no denying African chapati is delicious, especially right off the fire, slightly crisped, and goes great with the variety of local dishes. Use it instead of ugali to scoop up greens, meats, or just about anything else.
This simple dish of beans and corn is filling and delicious. It is great served with sliced avocado or warm chapati. Unlike the smaller, sweet corn you’d imagine, a larger kernel variety is used and has more of a savory crunch to it. You can typically find this at any hoteli for a cheap meal that will most definitely fill you up.
If you like beer, chances are there is at least one beer in Kenya you will enjoy. There are many foreign imports you know, like Corona or Guiness, and some less familiar like Castle. Kenya also makes a good beer like Tusker, Pilsner, or White Cap. Whether you prefer a dark stout or a pale ale, there is something for everyone!
If you are looking for a lighter beer try the White Cap, Tusker Malt, Pilsner, Pilsner Ice, or Tusker. Want something with a fuller flavor give the Guiness Foreign Extra a try. Maybe you want a stout but don’t like the bitterness of Guiness, Castle Milk Stout is creamy and full-bodied. Not a big beer drinker and looking for something very light, the Tusker or Castle Lite are the best brews around for you.
My favorite brews are Castle Milk Stout, Pilsner Ice, and Tusker Malt.
Ethiopia not only has a great beer selection that is produced locally, but it is also cheap and available on tap. The more common choices include St.George, Meta Premium, Harar Beer, and Hakim Stout.
St.George is a red ale and the only one that I am not fond of. Meta premium is an light ale and an overall favorite, good both bottled and draft. The Harar Beer is also a light ale and Hakim is a dark stout, both coming from a brewery in Harar. I prefer Harar over Hakim bottled, and Hakim over Harar on tap.
You find them everywhere from the bus stages to the side of the road, snack carts. In my time here I have noticed that across Kenya there are certain snack trends you can always find, roasted maize, mayai, smokies, njugu, mandazi, chapati, chips, samosas, muturu, kebabs, bajias, and assorted sliced fruit (usually watermelon, pineapple, or bananas).
Roasted Maize : ears of corn roasted over an open fire until slightly charred, enjoy with lime
Mayai : hardboiled eggs, cut open and served with kachumbari
Njugu: fresh, unsalted roasted peanuts
Smokies : mini beef or chicken sausages served with kachumbari
Chips : french fries
Chips Masala : chips covered in a spicy tomato sauce and other spices
Bajias : sliced potatoes, battered and deep fried
Samosas : fried triangles of chapati dough filled with either green grams, veggies, or minced meat
Kebabs : skewers of meat with veggies or battered, deep fried smokies
Muturu : traditional sausages made with goat casings and stuff with meat parts and goat blood
Other popular snack trends include sesame seed snacks, ice cream cones, random candies and crackers, and various odd trinkets. If you find yourself thirsty from all the snacking you can pick out vendors selling cups of uji or Chai, and various soft drinks and water.
This rice dish isn’t found everywhere in Kenya, but if you happen to find it you need to try it. I would describe it as a fusion of Indian spice and fried rice. The flavor is what gives this dish its unique quality, and this spice blend is (or seems to be) the only Kenya-specific spice creation available to purchase. Found as pilau masala, it is a fusion of cumin, cloves, black pepper, cardamon, cinnamon. The dish, pilau, is made as a fragrant fried rice with bits of onions and tomatoes and beef, served with a side of kachumbari or greens.
Kachumbari is essentially pico de gallo (chunky salsa). It is made with tomatoes, onions, lemon juice, a little oil, and cilantro, sometimes with hot peppers, served alongside many dishes as a garnish, or you can ask for it separately with your meal. It sounds easy enough to make but believe it or not some places just don’t produce good kachumbari. The secret is the daniya (cilantro), not enough makes the chopped tomatoes and onions simply that and very bland.
The common pairing of mandazi and Chai can be found at any breakfast table or tea time in Kenya. Mandazi is essentially a doughnut. It is made with a sweet dough and fried, best served warmed. It is not seasoned with anything, served as is and great to dunk in Chai. When they are fresh, I like rolling them in cinnamon sugar, very tasty. I also eat them with peanut butter, honey, eggs, or dusted with powdered sugar then filled with jam for my version of a jelly doughnut. As is, it is merely a fried sweet bread served in small pieces so what you can do to make it less boring is limitless.
You might be envisioning spicy Chai typically found India or areas of the Middle East, but Chai here simply means tea and is made like the sweet drink you find at chain coffee shops (I won’t name any names). It is made with enough black tea to give it a caramel color, then layered with milk and flavored with sugar. So the result is more like warm sugar milk with a hint of tea. If you are not a fan of your tea this way, you can order strong tea and it is simply hot water served with a tea bag so you can make it your preference. But if you order tea without being specific, or are invited to tea, you will end up with Chai the way they prefer to drink it, very sweet and milky.
Fresh off the tree and either straight to the market or your mouth, tropical fruits are staples in the local diet. You will find many fruit vendors walking around with fresh slices of watermelon or pineapple and other seasonal fruits,. During my time in Kenya, I have noticed the most common selection include oranges, pineapple, purple passion fruit, yellow passion fruit, pawpaw (papaya), mango, bananas, red bananas, sweet mini bananas, watermelon, avocado, and pears. Other fruits make their way to market as well like apples, grapes, plums, strawberries, jackfruit, and coconuts (especially in coastal areas).