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Local Cuisine

There are a few different national influences on Kenyan cuisine, the biggest being Portuguese (Portuguese explorers introduced potatoes, chillies and maize – three Kenyan staples), Indian (where biryani and chapatis have both been “Kenyanised”) and Arabic (through the introduction of oils and spices.) Staple dishes are rice or maize, served with roasted meat or meat stew, and some kind of leafy green.

An African fruit marketKenya’s unofficial national dish is nyama choma, which is barbecued meat usually served with vegetables and greens. It can be prepared using various meats, although goat is probably the most common. Another ubiquitous dish is ugali – a thick, starchy food made from the set porridge of boiled maize. It’s eaten with your right hand (and we mean your right hand – eating with the left hand is considered very unhygienic, unfortunately for all you lefties!), rolled up into little balls used to scoop up whatever you’re eating it with. It’s bland and heavy, but very filling, and a lot of east Africans swear by it.

Coastal food, however, can be quite different. Here, the Indian influence is rather more pronounced, with spiced rices and curry-like dishes. Coconut is often used in coastal cooking.

With the humid climate and the hot temperatures, fresh fruits and vegetables are readily available. Depending on the time of year, you can get bananas, tangerines, passion fruits, pineapple and guavas (note: it’s generally recommended that you only eat fresh fruits and vegetables that are cooked or that you’ve peeled yourself.) Vegetables include potatoes, kale, spinach, yams, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and onions, and there is a wide variety of beans and pulses.

For a snack on the go, try some of Kenya’s street food. The most common snacks are sambusas, a pastry triangle stuffed with mincemeat not dissimilar to a samosa, mkate myai (bread eggs), a thin pancake spread with mincemeat and egg then fried, or mishikakSambusas, which are grilled meat kebabs. Other common snacks include deep fried yams, roasted corn on the cob and sugar cane.

Kenya is of course renowned for its teas and coffees, and coffee houses where you can enjoy these fine exports are starting to spring up in bigger cities. Chai tea, prepared by boiling up the tea blend with spices, lashings of milk and plenty of sugar, is readily available.

The most well-known beer is Tuskers, which comes in three different varieties. Named after the elephant, it’s really quite something raise a glass to this mighty animal and sip a cold Tuskers after a long day on safari. Kenya also has a burgeoning wine industry, so take the chance to try a local wine should the opportunity arise. Similarly, if you see anywhere selling dawa, give it a try! This is a tasty cocktail made from lime, honey and vodka, and the name means “medicine” in Swahili – enough said!

Note: It’s generally not recommended to drink the tap water in Kenya, as your stomach won’t be used to the foreign bacteria. Bottled water, however, is readily available, so you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping your hydration levels up – so important in Kenya’s hot climate.