Monday, October 08, 2007

Kenyan Cuisine

Ugali, meat, and sukuma wiki (kale) is one
of the most common meals to eat in Kenya

I have been learning throughout this year to prepare traditional Kenyan food. I don’t think I have, or will ever have, what it takes to slaughter an animal, but beyond that I have gotten some education in the Kenyan culinary arts and have developed a taste for African cuisine.

A fruit stand in Nairobi

Kenyan food is, no doubt, based on what’s available. In Nairobi, while there is no McDonald’s, there are fast food restaurants and hamburgers, fried chicken, and pizza can be easily be found. However, in the rural village of Malava, much of what is eaten is grown locally in shambas (small farms) and many people are able to live off the land. Those that own enough land to plant more than they need can sell what they grow in the market. The main staple crops are maize, sugar cane, tea, and sukuma wiki (kale). Some villagers also raise cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats for meat, milk, and eggs.

Mama Aizan sells vegetables in the market

This mama sells dried tilapia and omena

At the market, some of the best food are the fruits and vegetables. Fruits such as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, oranges, papayas, and passion fruit are grown without chemicals, and sold for pennies on the dollar. Cabbage, eggplant, maize, beans, potatoes, rice, carrots, onions, tomatoes, squash, kale, and garlic are also for sale.

The Furaha "Happiness" Butchery in Malava

Chickens sold live in the market

In the city, meat can be found frozen and packaged at the supermarket, but in the villages beef and pork are sold in the local butcheries. Although the meat is inspected by a government health official it is not packaged and hangs all day in the sun of the open-air shop windows and typically has flies on it. Chickens are, for the most part, bought and sold live and slaughtered at home. The thought that all of the germs and bacteria will be killed when the food is cooked gives me a lot of comfort. Beyond that, it’s “Out of sight, out of mind!”

A sufuria (pot) is placed over a wood fire on three stones for cooking

The most traditional way of cooking Kenyan food is on a wood or charcoal fire built between three large stones, on which a sufuria (pot) is placed. Although this is method is rarely seen in Nairobi, it is still somewhat common in the rural villages. I, however, have never cooked this way. I use the most convenient way, which is on a propane stove.

Ugali is a main food of East Africans. It is made with maize flour and water and is cooked until the mixture is hard. It is served in large brick-shaped pieces and is usually eaten with meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables.

“Sukuma wiki” is Swahili for “push the week.” Sukuma wiki is kale, cooked with fat, tomatoes, onions, salt, and beef flavoring. This is also a main food of East Africans because it is inexpensive and easy to grow. The locals can eat this many days in a row on very little money and it gets them through the week.

Chapattis are flat bread, similar to a tortilla, made with baking flour and water and fried with vegetable oil. They can be eaten alone or with meat, chicken, rice, or vegetables.

Pilau is a swahili dish made with rice, meat, and spices

Githeri is a mixture of beans and maize cooked
with onions tomatoes, and beef flavoring.


Samosas are a deep fried thin pastry filled
with meat, vegetables, and spices

Generally speaking, Kenyan food is very hard, bland, and contains a lot of carbohydrates. In Malava, and many other villages, the people are used to hard, laborious work from sun up to sun down, so they eat food that is very hardy to give them the energy to do such work. Most Kenyan food has very little seasoning aside from salt, pepper and the natural flavors of beef, chicken, and fish. Surprisingly, it is very difficult to find simple condiments such as ketchup and mustard. Some available alternatives are tomato sauce and hot chili sauce.

Omena are small sardine-like fish that are sold in the market.
They can be boiled or fried and eaten with ugali and sukuma wiki.

In many Kenya families one chicken must feed many people so no
parts go to waste. Chicken heads don’t have much meat on them,
but can be given to small children.

In Kenya, washing before and after meals is particularly essential because most Africans eat everything with their hands. Although utensils are somewhat available, the people feel that a fork or spoon gets between them and the food.

Fish soup contains whole fish heads, skin, scales, bones and all

After the meal, fruit is typically served for dessert and then toothpicks are offered. Following dessert, chai tea is taken to complete the evening.

Matoke is made from green bananas and
potatoes cooked with onions and tomatoes.

Matoke served with rice and cooked cabbage

One day I was having a conversation with a Kenyan about salad. I was telling him that I sometimes enjoy eating salad, but I haven’t seen much of that kind of food in Kenya. “Do you have lettuce here?” I asked. “Sure,” he said, “We feed it to the animals!” “Hmm,” I said scratching my head. Soon the conversation shifted and we began to talk about maize. Maize is similar to sweet corn, but it’s not sweet and the kernels are very hard. I said, “In America we eat corn, not maize. He said, “Well, do you grow maize at all?” “Sure,” I said, “We feed it to the animals.” “Hmm,” he said, scratching his head.

Kenyan chai is simply tea made with water, milk, and sugar

76 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to sound spoiled, but YUCK!!!! I don't know how you do it Tim!!

Erin

Anonymous said...

Tim, I know that you wouldn't slaughter a chicken, but I think we both know someone who would. Remember CAP '05?

Tim

Anonymous said...

Mmmm...now I'm hungry (though maybe not for the little fish)... Are you learning how to make these dishes so you can share your culinary experiences with us? :)

Rakhi

Anonymous said...

Some of the foods you have are similar to indian foods like the chai and samoosas

Anonymous said...

Some of the foods you have are similar to indian foods, like the chai and samoosas

Anonymous said...

Dude, there are over 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya, with varying cultural practices. Most of the practices you say are common in Kenya are only common among the Luhya, among whom you lived. Examples of these are eating termites [which most other local ethnic groups find disgusting] and eating all chicken parts including the head and the scaly legs [tha part below the drumstick]. I am a Kikuyu and I recognise most of the practices as being exclusive to members of the Luhya community. You probably need to spend time in different parts of the country to realise that Kenyan is a 'land of contrasts' [this phrase applies to cultural practices, besides physical features in the country]

Anonymous said...

ketchup is called tomato sauce in kenya. you forgot to say the fruits are fresh no chemicals unlike the US. The beef chicken etc has no growth hormones either thats why it doesnt need piles of spices to hinder its natural taste. In the US even he eggs have chemicals hence no taste. If you went to the coast in kenya the food is spicy and has indian and arabic influences. Most kenyans eat alot of carbs but it off coz they walk alot thats why you rarely find obese people there.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this blog. Thank you.
and thsi is not a Luhya cuisine as has been suggested. Githeri is a purely Kikuyu dish( other communities have similar dishes with different names and cooked slightly different) Omena is generally a luo meal, Pilau is traditionally a swahili dish, matole is ugandan ( Malava is near the Kenya/Uganda border).
As you travel in Kenya, sample more of the local dishes and give us your perspective.

Anonymous said...

sorry to bust your bubble tim, but you are wrong, we do scale fish...i dont know if you have tried it but scaled fish isnt so nice on the toungue, throat and all...

joe,

kenyan

Anonymous said...

hi tim!so unbelievable!

Anonymous said...

In response to Erin with the YUCK!!!! Comment.

I would rather eat this kind of food than french fries and burgers of which the potatoes are grown with all kind of pesticides and the meat OMG the hormones in them I can’t even begin to explain what they do to your body..... At least the food you refer to as yucky is healthy and no one will be dying of obesity or cancer any day on that diet but I hope you enjoy your lethal fast foods while we savor in blissfully healthy & flavorful food!!!!

Tim you did a wonderful job, but there are many other parts of the country that have very different cuisine, you were in the western part of Kenya and most of the food on here if from there. Take a trip to coast one day and the food there is decadent, lots of fresh spices and coconut and fresh seafood.

"The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them,
but to be indifferent to them that's the essence of inhumanity."

Wamuku said...

Food is culture and if you do not know anything about the Kenyan culture you YUCK!!! person, you better learn more about it.
Like you have already read from other comments in Kenya we have mostly fresh healthy food and we are very proud of it. Ofcource there is junk food which for you maybe would say yammy!!!!! but do not forget that there is a price to pay afterwards, obesity etc.
Tim, next time try to visit other parts of Kenya and learn more about the Kenyan food culture. One can say that there is no Kenyan cuisine there is a variety of Kenyan cuisine, depending on which tribe we are talking about. Every tribe have it's own culture and food.
Wamuku
Kenyan

CTYME1000 said...

To Erin, the Hater:
I am a Kenyan-American teenager living in the U.S. who regularly eats my mom's "home cooking" and have spent many summers in Kenya visiting family members who cook Kenyan food, (obviously); enough to know that Kenyan food is the most flavorful food I have ever tasted provided you season it. It also depends on how you cook it. Ugali doesn't have to be hard; my family makes it firm, but soft AND last time I checked nobody gets the head or scales or whatever those Luhyas were eating of the chicken or fish or whatever(I'm Kikuyu).Samosas are indescribable. They're about as addicting to a good Big Mac or Double Cheeseburger (minus the guilt you get after eating the whole thing and a super sized fry and soda, not to mention the apple pie you know you bought). So, good Kenyan food is the opposite of yuck and until you try some, you shouldn't be so quick to judge.

Anonymous said...

Well, unlike the previous poster I have nothing to do with Africa, but c'mon.. an American describing all this glorious produce - live chickens, those wonderful tomatoes, glistening samosas, etc. as "bland" and complaining about the lack of ketchup? It'd be rather amusing if it weren't so sad. American food is the NASTIEST food in the world: over-ketchuped, over-salted, over-corn syruped and, apart from chemicals, perfectly flavorless guck.

But anyway, your blog comes up among the first when one looks up "Kenyan cuisine" on google. Congratulations.

Dennis.

Anonymous said...

Please correct the part about us cooking food with the SCALES. That is a big no, no! Growing up our mothers joked about us being sent packing for cooking fish with the scales on. Nice website but the part about the fish scales in the FOOD is NOT TRUE!!!! very misleading!

Anonymous said...

Going back to what erin said u sound spoiled how do u judge food that u have not seen or tasted if u had and had not liked it then we wld have understood. I AM A TEENAGE KIKUYU GIRL WHO IS LIVING IN THIS COUNTRY WHERE PPLE ARE DYING OF OBESITY.I eat my mum's food almost all the time and never get tired of its flavouful taste especially pilau.
Tim good job but as the rest of the kenyans have said u need to travel around the country and see other parts of it but at least u have eaten lots of food from different parts. congratulations.
And by the way we do scale the fish and do not eat the head and feet.
thanx.

Anonymous said...

Kenyan food is great! I was just at a restaurant in Canada having Mishkaki, Ugali, Nyama Choma etc. Gotta check out a bit more of the variety there Tim.

I miss the food as I miss the country! I wonder if Erin would prefer a burger from McDonalds? I don't even want to say what goes into those things.

And yeah that part about chicken heads... Not a very common thing.

Anonymous said...

To those that think the food is yuck! i am speechless!!!! the food in kenya is amazing!!! you have to look at the work and love that goes into preparations and the tradition behind it before you really understand and i quote " how you do it". i am a kikuyu girl living in america and i reallly dont like the american food i LOVE the chapos, pilau, mandazi, matoke, pilau and soo much more, i can go on forever but please learn to APPRECIATE

wawira

CTYME1000 said...

right on, Wawira!

Mwangi said...

The fact that the person may not have tasted or seen that kind of food again may take them a-back. I am a kenyan and very proud to be one.. But hey… you all sound offended because of the Yuck!! Comment. May be we are missing something here..
When i moved to the USA.. it took me 6 months to get accustomed to American food.. i had heard negative publicity about fast food (although they were my only good tasting dish) so i almost survived those six months by cabbage, cornbread and milk..(yes milk which was not fresh from the cow)
Then i decided to try other cultural recipes.. i started with Mexican food and i almost swore to never go back again, i tried Chinese and the i probably said Yuck!! to their food.
NOW...... After almost a Decade
I love American foods, I enjoy Mexican food, the Italian noodles and sauce is my Wednesday dish, oh and am trying out the Chinese cuisine! But then there is nothing like well cooked chapatti’s, mukimo, and that fish and chomma!.
MY POINT- No culture is better than the other they are just different and part of appreciating other cultures begins by appreciating that they are different from yours.
Mwangi

Anonymous said...

Omg Tim, Love this blog! Yes, the food's amazing. Was there for 5 months, and am returning too. Can't get enough of the food, the people, the diversity. Great job man!

Betty said...

When I came to America I weighed 140 pounds 2 yrs later I weighed 246. I can confidently say I hate american food and I love kenyan food. I really don't know which part Tim is but I have been a missionary team leader to kenya for the past 10 years and all of the missionaries have loved kenyan food. Those live chicken my brother are organic. Everything you find in the village is mostly organic. You really don't have to go to an organic store and spend top dollar. We have had a lot of potluck dinners in my kids schools and I always make kenyan food I must say that everyone wants the reciepe.

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manzimax! said...

Chapos, samosas & "sukuma wiki" are my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITES! I've incorporated many of the the cooking techniques from kenyan cuisine in my own meals... Thank you for posting "Matoke" (served with rice and cooked cabbage) I've never tasted it but the combination seems tasty and I'll be trying it soon!

Anonymous said...

Hello,my name is emily vivian.i am 11yrs old and i am also a christian.
I really like your work in Africa!
(by the way, do u know any strange animal over there that i could do my oralreport on. it hAS TO BE IN BY NEXT WEEK!)
God bless
emily

Nana said...

Hello Tim,
Well I am Kenyan living in America...and my home town is malava though i grew up in Nairobi...But cool blog...hope you enjoyed yourself.(i realize it is an old post).....I love kenyan food although you didn't meet a variety of people because clearly I also have salad in malava.... :).........But i know what you mean.....did you try the mushed sweet potatoes mixed with beans (mushenye)...amazing....

Nana said...

ohhh and i love the termites I used to pick them up on rainy day....soak in water to get rid of the wings then fry with onions and garlic...yum

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