Category Archives: Food

Three chapatis on a plate.

The Ultimate Guide to Breakfast in East Africa

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Sadly, it doesn’t get as much attention in most homes in East Africa. There’s school to run to before the sun’s rays pierce the sky, there’s a shamba to tend to, there are cows to milk, a bus to catch to work, etc.

Additionally, some homesteads can only afford one meal in a day, while others distribute meager financial resources across three meals. When all of these issues come into play, a hearty breakfast in East Africa might just be a cup of tea and a slice of bread.  Hence, it would be deceitful to parade three course meal set-ups as the breakfast in an average East African home.

Instead, here is a factual display of the most popular foods for breakfast in East Africa.

Chai

Tea

Most homesteads serve chai and bread or chai and traditional foods like arrowroots and sweet potatoes. However, there are homesteads that can afford a cup of tea and nothing more. Spices added to tea in most homes and hotels are cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. Masala chai spice mix has pepper and cloves while to make Ethiopian tea you can add nutmeg too. The tea industry has also revolutionised. Homesteads don’t need sieves anymore if they can afford tea bags.

A glass of tea and a kettle.

Maziwa

Milk

The beauty of East Africa is its range of fresh, organic produce. I envy homesteads that rear milk producing livestock because they enjoy the best milk while city dwellers have to wait for it to be delivered or processed and sold in supermarkets.  There’s cow milk, goat milk and camel milk. You can then choose how you wish to start your day.

A glass of milk on a kitchen table.

Maziwa mala

Butter milk

Maziwa mala is quite popular among livestock rearing communities.  Some call it maziwa lala while others say maziwa mala. It is easy to prepare it at home with even less than a litre of milk. Mala is not a conventional meal served for breakfast in East Africa because more people prefer to have it for lunch, supper or in between.

Mursik is perhaps the most popular variation to the traditional sour milk recipe of East Africa, and it is the signature drink of the Kalenjin community in Kenya.  The Kalenjin community prepares mursik in a guard lined with the fine charcoal of a tree known as itet. In about five days, the pre-boiled milk ferments into delicious cultured buttermilk with an authentic smoke aroma. This drink is served to all athletes of the Kalenjin community as soon as they arrive at the airport after an international athletics meet.

Mala’s best accompaniment is ugali.

An almost full glass of buttermilk in-front of a calabash with pieces of ugali.

Strungi (black tea)

With just water, a few tablespoons of sugar and tea leaves, you can make something to have for breakfast.  Strungi was often perceived as a poor man’s to alternative chai, but it is now a fashionable drink with herbal and flavoured tea options.

An almost full glass of black tea.

Samosa

Samosas are available in most restaurants and from street food vendors in major towns and cities. Options are samosas with pepper or without, samosas with meat or with vegetables and potatoes. What’s your pick?

Three meat samosas on a platter.

Uji

Porridge

You can have it fresh or fermented.  Uji is for everyone from toddlers to invalids. The combination of great foods in uji makes it highly nutritious, and one of the top beverages served for breakfast in East Africa. Some communities have it made of maize flour only while others add sorghum, millet, omena, beans, cassava, flax seeds and dried green bananas. A bowl or mug of uji in the morning, with all those ingredients in there, will have you going until the next meal.

A calabash of millet porridge.

Supu

Bone soup

What do you do when you receive a generous share of meat after a family goat-eating ceremony? You make bone soup. Throw everything in there, boil it in a pressure cooker or in a cooking pot for some hours and you have delicious soup and a few pieces of meat and bones on the side. Bone soup is one of the foods served to new mums as they recuperate.  The mineral content is unquestionable.

A glass of bone soup and a bowl of meat.

Toast Mayai

French toast

Years ago toast mayai was the chef’s choice in all neighbourhood kiosks masquerading as hotels. It would either be chai na mandazi, chai na chapati, chai and toast or chai na toast mayai. If you needed something better than that, you would have to prepare it in your house.  Toast mayai wasn’t something made out of 1 cm bread slices we have today. I guess by then Eliotts and Kenblest had not bought a knife to slice their loaves that’s why we had to do so with our knives, and quarrel over the two crusted edge slices.

Three slices of toast mayai

Chapati

Chapati is mainly served as an accompaniment to stew but it can also be eaten for breakfast.  This flat bread is another of the Indian influences in East African cuisine, and it is also available as street food in most urban estates.

Three chapatis on a plate.

Chechebsa

In Ethiopia, you can turn flat bread known as kita (chapati in the rest of East Africa) into a spicy breakfast meal. Pieces of the flat bread are mixed with butter and berbere (a blend of spices like coriander, nutmeg, garlic, cinnamon, ginger, chili and cardamom).

Chechebsa(kita bread) in a bowl.

Ndazi

Mandazi is authentic East African confectionery. Prices range from KSh 5 to KSh25 on the streets but it may be more expensive in a city restaurant.

Two mandazi in a glass bowl.

Boiled eggs

This might be the simplest food to prepare for breakfast. As you get ready in the morning, boil an egg for about 15 minutes and have it with kachumbari. If that sounds like too much work, buy it on your way to work. Boiled eggs are among the most popular street foods in Nairobi.

A boiled egg on a plate with salad.

Maji ya matunda

Fruit juice

Since fresh fruits are available at the doorstep in most parts of East Africa, a glass of fruit juice can help you start your day. However, fruit juice requires a blender and electricity so you may not find this breakfast food in rural areas or in low-income homesteads. Instead, a bowl of fruits or just one type of fruit may be served.

Honey pouring into a glass container with mango pieces.

Kahawa

Coffee

East Africa grows a large percentage of the world’s coffee, though most locally grown coffee is for export. Ethiopia takes the trophy for local coffee consumption with its world famous brews. Coffee is also a popular beverage served in offices in major cities in East Africa. You can have instant coffee, or buy beans and brew them the way you like your coffee.

A mug of coffee with milk.

Fried eggs

With about KSh 12, you can buy an egg in most cities. The price is considerably lower in smaller towns and in rural areas. There are also homesteads that keep a few chickens either for income or for subsistence.  Hence, some homesteads serve fried eggs with tea in the morning.

Fried eggs on a plate.

Omelette

Spice up a basic fried egg with some fresh tomatoes, to make a larger breakfast meal.

Omelette on a frying pan.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a healthier alternative to bread in most cities but in rural Kenya where sweet potatoes are grown in plenty, it is the only alternative to bread.

An unpeeled sweet potato and some diced pieces.

Arrow roots

Nduma, as it is called in Kenya, is one of the staple foods for breakfast in central Kenya.  It is mostly served with sweet potatoes and tea/milk.

Diced, and unpeeled arrow roots on a plate.

Pancakes

With just flour, sugar, a tablespoon of cooking oil and an egg, you have ingredients to make something for breakfast.

Honey dripping on a folded pancake.

Firfir

When you have leftover injera in Eritrea or Ethiopia, you can spice it up for an East African breakfast with berbere.

A bowl of firfir.

Ugali

Ugali is great for breakfast as well as for lunch and supper with some stew. Most homesteads serve leftover ugali with tea in the morning.

Pieces of ugali on a platter.

Kaimati

Kaimati is a variation of the mandazi recipe.

Kaimati on a platter.

Bread

Bread is the alternative to ugali, sweet potatoes, cassava and arrow roots. Most people living in urbans areas wake up to tea and bread, which makes it one of the top foods for breakfast in East Africa. Margarine, honey, jam and other spreads are not available in all homes across the region.

Slices of bread with margarine, jam and honey.

Genfo

Ethiopia is one of the largest wheat producers in Africa, and that may be one of the reasons for its high consumption of it. Genfo is not uji like we know it in Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania. It is thick and mainly made from wheat or barley unlike in the counties I mentioned above where the main ingredients are maize flour, sorghum and millet. Genfo is served with yoghurt on the side or a mixture of butter and spices poured into the middle of the mound of uji.

A plate of genfo with berbere sauce.

Katogo

In Uganda, you can always start your day with a heavy meal containing matoke (green bananas), a variety of vegetables and meat.  Katogo’s main ingredient is matoke; everything else added into your plate depends with what’s available.

These are among the top foods to expect for breakfast in East Africa.

 

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A bowl of mabuyu.

Do Digital Age Kids Know this Kenyan Confectionery?

I grew up in various metropolises in Kenya. One of the towns that ignited by adventurous spirit is Nanyuki because it is a melting pot of cultures.  The primary school I attended was, still is, on the periphery of Majengo, and just next to the town council’s market.  These two landmarks were our shopping malls. If pupils weren’t in the market looking for mutura and maembe, they would be in the shops adjacent to the school buying kashata among other Kenyan confectionery.

In those days, a Kenyan cent had value. With a 50 cents coin, I could buy maembe ya pili pili or coin-size biscuits that cost a cent each among other delicacies only an 80s kid could understand.  My green tunic would slump to one side from the mound of bitings, concealed in a polythene bag, in my pocket. This mound made the afternoon under the Equator sun bearable. It also kept me company for the 15 minutes’ walk home in the evening.

In those days, a child belonged to the community, and it paid off to live close to older cousins, aunties, and a grandmother who doted me and would spare a few cents to buy kaimati or other snack.

 My favourite Kenyan confectionery was:

  1. Sukari Nguru (jaggery)

It may sound absurd but for some time, I actually thought sukari nguru was a tortoise’s excrement and that’s why they called it nguru (tortoise in my mother tongue).  I used to wonder what they ate to shit such good stuff.  You would spot children splitting and sharing sukari nguru to the last morsel. The only disadvantage was if I was the one splitting it, I would have to lick the sticky stuff off my hands because at best, there was only one running tap in the school and only the class 8 pupils would live through the pushing and shoving for a sip of water. There was no way to explain the sticky stuff to my mother.

A glass bowl with nuggets of sukari nguru

 

  1. Ukwaju ( Tamarind)

This sweet and sometimes savoury snack has a strange kick in the system. I recently found out it can also make juice and marinate chicken and beef. Maybe, if they had shared such information then, my mum would have bought tamarind in sacks.

A pestle full of tamarind

  1. Mabuyu ( baobab seeds)

Mabuyu was the best of them all. It was packaged nicely, and we could share a packet without the nasty sticky stuff of sukari nguru.  But it would be all fun and games until I got home and my mum saw the red colour on my lips after she had categorically warned me about kula kwa wenyewe. How getting a few mabuyu seeds from a friend I may have given my ukwaju the previous day amounted to kula kwa wenyewe, only an 80s parent can explain.

A bowl of succulent mabuyu.
The name mabuyu is derived from the seed’s name, ubuyu.
  1. Chevda

Chevda is an Indian delicacy. Some people call it Shefra, others call it chefra but all names refer to a spicy and crunchy mix of cereals, potatoes and noodles made of flour. Some of the cereals in the mix are peanuts, lentils, chickpeas. The chilli was sometimes too hot.

  1. Kashata

Most of the retail shops next to our school stocked kashata. In retrospect, I didn’t know it was actually something I could prepare at home with just coconut, sugar and food colour.

Whenever I see such Kenyan confectionery on the streets of Nairobi, I am taken back to the 90s, when there was so much to explore and experience as a child.

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Pieces of mutura on a chopping board with kachumbari on the side., which is one of the street foods in nairobi

The Most Popular Street Food in Nairobi

Street food in Nairobi refers to the inviting snacks hawked on the streets of Nairobi’s downtown as well as in estates.  It is definitely something you won’t find in the posh neighbourhoods of Karen and Lavington. However, recently, some Kenyan foods like mutura are sitting next to ice-cream and coffee on the menus of high-end restaurants.  But, street food is street food. When you take it to a high-end restaurant, it is just food served in a different ambiance, on expensive cutlery, with an inflated bill.

There are no coins jiggling in our pockets anymore because the tastes and aromas on the streets have taken full control of our wallets. Whether you are waiting for a bus, walking to your mama mboga or just strolling to a supermarket in the estate, there is always that mutura or smokie at the corner. If you ignore him, the mahindi guy will draw your attention as he fans his charcoal grill with roasted cobs pointing to the sky. Personally, I gave up on ignoring chips mwitu.

Kenyan Food on Nairobi Streets

Here’s a list of the most popular street food in Nairobi. Which of these are you addicted to?

Mahindi choma

A variation of mahindi choma is mahindi boilo (mutungo). I think the lemon and chilli rub over roasted maize makes it tastier than boiled maize.

Half a piece of a roasted maize cob.

Chips Mwitu

We like French fries, a lot. More so because the countryside supplies tonnes of potatoes to the city. But we don’t call this snack French fries because there’s nothing French about how it is prepared and served on our streets. 🙂 An affordable solution to the craving for something deep-fried. Then there’s a mob that jams the queue because there’s no kachumbari left and for them chips mwitu must have kachumbari.

A handful of potato chips washed in tomato sauce.

Pop corn

Popcorn is a another European snack that’s masquerading as street food in Nairobi. But, we like it, so it stays. Popcorn vendors are stationed strategically at the exit of most supermarkets in Nairobi. As you exit with a handful of coins, the crackle of the popcorn machine will make you spend to the last dime. The worst comes when shopping with a toddler and as you walk out you find him/her camping next to the popcorn stand waiting for you to fork some money. How you handle such a tantrum tests the very core of your parenting skills.

Popcorn in a polythene paper.

Mutura

Mutura is in every way the signature African sausage.  What was once a traditional sausage is now one of the most popular street food in Nairobi, albeit now available in uptown restaurants.  Traditional mutura had a mixture of blood and meat stuffed into an intestine from a cow’s entrails but presently, it contains minced meat, pepper and spring onions. You pretty much don’t know what’s in our mutura, and as much as you love it, there is always that thought at the back of the mind telling you there might be endless trips to the toilet and a stomach ache.

Pieces of mutura on a chopping board with kachumbari on the side.

Samosa

This deep-fried spicy snack costs between KSh 5 and KSh 30 depending with the hood. Meat samosas are of course more popular but you can also get lentil and potato samosas. You can buy a few samosas to have them with tea for breakfast.

Three meat samosas on a platter.

Maembe ya pili pili

Mango season starts from around November to June in most parts of Kenya. I learnt this from years of maembe ya pili pili sold outside my primary school in the late 90s. That’s where all the coins I made out of my cousins and grandma went. Now, I can enjoy this street food in Pumwani, Eastleigh and some other few estates of Nairobi.

A sliced mango with a later of chilli powder.

Njugu Karanga

If you have used the city commuter trains, you must have come across njugu karanga vendors. I was hooked to this snack for years because I would get to the train by 5 p.m. and wait for the Kahawa train that would leave the station at 5:30 p.m. A train ticket was KSh 35, and a cone of njugu was KSh 5. But some njugu sellers in Nairobi take the hustle too far by wrapping peanuts in recycled paper from God knows where.  You may laugh it off now, but when you unwrap your peanuts cone to see a curriculum vitae, it won’t be funny anymore.

A handful of roasted peanuts.

Fruit salad

Fruits are perishable. It makes more sense to have a pudding when living alone as opposed to buying a whole melon or pineapple to have a piece daily. Once you slice it open, vitamins decrease gradually. That’s the rationale I use to justify the KSh 50 I spend on fruit puddings once in a while.

A bowl of a mixture of fruits.

Smokie Pasua

Why buy a smokie only when you can have it with kachumbari? Smokie pasua will be the end of us. It is already milking us dry of coins since the price went up from KSh 20 to KSh 25 but we haven’t given up this street snack.

A smokie with kachumbari.

Mayai pasua

If you overcome the desire for smokie pasua, the boiled eggs sitting in a cart, with a bowl of succulent kachumbari on top will call you over. What do they add to their mayai pasua because mine is never as tasty when I make it at home?

A boiled egg, sliced and stuffed with kachumbari.

There’s also the sugar cane. But for now, let’s not list it in the top street food in Nairobi.

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