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