There is no singular dish that represents all of Kenya’s wide cuisine. Different communities have their own native foods. Staples are maize and other cereals depending on the region, including millet and sorghum eaten with various meats and vegetables. The foods that are universally eaten in Kenya are ugali, sukuma wiki, and nyama choma. Kenya’s coastal cuisine is unique and highly regarded throughout the country.
Sukuma wiki, a Swahili phrase which literally means “to push the week,” is a simple dish made with greens similar to kale or collards that can also be made with cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, or pumpkin leaves. Its Swahili name comes from the fact that it is typically eaten to “get through the week” or “stretch the week.” Nyama choma is grilled meat – usually goat or sheep – while kuku choma is grilled chicken. It is usually cooked over an open fire. It is usually eaten with ugali and kachumbari, maharagwe (bean stew) and mchicha (shredded spinach).
Among the Luhya residing in the western region of the country, ingokho (chicken) and ugali is a favorite meal. Other than these, they also eat tsisaka, miroo, managu and other dishes. In the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin have long made mursik, which they have with kimyet (ugali) and a vegetable relish called isageek. Also among the Kikuyu of Central Kenya, a lot of tubers, including ngwaci (sweet potatoes), ndũma (taro root, known in Kenya as arrowroot), ikwa (yams), and mianga (cassava) are eaten, as well as legumes like beans and a Kikuyu bean known as njahi. Among the Luo residing on the western region around Lake Victoria, “kuon” (Ugali) and “rech” fish is a favourite, as well as “gweno” (chicken), “Aliya” (sun dried meat), “Onyoso” (type of ant), “Ng’wen” (termitoidae), “Dede” (grasshoppers), various birds and green vegetables “Alode” such as “Osuga”, “Akeyo”, “Muto”, “Dodo”, “Dek”, “Apoth” and “Bo”, all consumed with Ugali.
As you travel around the country distinct differences are noted mainly based on what foods are locally available around such areas. Grains are a staple food for groups that grow grains (e.g. Kikuyu, Embu, Meru, Kisii, etc.). Other communities such as the Luo and the Coastal community have fish and seafood for their staple food as available in such areas. In semi-arid areas like Turkana, foods made from sorghum are more common staple foods. As you move towards the city – food eaten by working families vary according to preference and ethnicity. Rice and stew is more common with working families, and other dishes like chapati (parantha), chicken stew, etc.
Kenyan National Dishes
Nsima (also known as ugali and pap) is a type of cornmeal porridge made in Africa. It is also known as ngima, obusuma, kimnyet, nshima, Mieliepap, phutu, sadza, kwon, and other names. Nsima is sometimes made from other flours, such as millet or sorghum flour, and is sometimes mixed with cassava flour. It is cooked in boiling water or milk until it reaches a stiff or firm dough-like consistency.
Sukuma wiki is an East African dish made with collard greens, known as sukuma, cooked with onions and spices. It is often served and eaten with ugali (made from maize flour).
In Tanzania, Kenya and many parts of East Africa, colewort are more commonly known by their Swahili name, sukuma, and are often referred to as collard greens. It is also commonly mistaken for kale.
The literal translation of the phrase ‘sukuma wiki’ is to “push the week” or “stretch the week”. It is a vegetable that is generally affordable and available all-year round in this region. It forms part of the staple dish in this region together with Ugali or Sima.