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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Maji ya matunda
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.
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.
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.
Spice up a basic fried egg with some fresh tomatoes, to make a larger breakfast meal.
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.
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.
With just flour, sugar, a tablespoon of cooking oil and an egg, you have ingredients to make something for breakfast.
When you have leftover injera in Eritrea or Ethiopia, you can spice it up for an East African breakfast with berbere.
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.
Kaimati is a variation of the mandazi recipe.
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.
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.
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.