Kenya’s culinary tradition has a rich and fascinating history that beautifully represents all the diverse ethnic groups that call this magical country home. As you travel throughout Kenya, whether you’re in the Great Rift Valley or on Kenya’s charming coast, you’ll see how the regional cuisine is symbolic of the local people, traditions, and geography, which is why tasting food in Kenya is one of our favorite ways to experience this country. In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into our 20 favorite Kenyan dishes that highlight Kenya’s unique cultural and regional diversity.
The 20 Best Kenyan Dishes You Need To Try
1. Nyama Choma
No visit to Kenya is complete without trying some Nyama Choma, one of Kenya’s most popular dishes and a unique culinary experience. Nyama Choma stands for “barbecued meat” in Kiswahili and is generally prepared with goat meat, although beef is regularly used as well. For the most authentic Nyama Choma dining experience, we suggest ordering it lightly seasoned with a little salt and pepper, then putting the knife and fork down and eating it with your bare hands! For the full Kenya food experience, we recommend pairing it with a traditional side of kachumbari and ugali.
Another dish you have to try in Kenya is the main staple dish, Ugali. Although this simple food doesn’t look like much at first glance, it packs a hefty punch and is the one Kenyan staple that is an essential part of daily life. Ugali is made by boiling cornmeal in water, which then forms into a dense cornmeal paste that you can eat with your hands. Other variations are made with millet or sorghum flour, which are a little more time consuming to cook but worth the effort!
Githeri is a nutritious Kenyan one-pot dish that consists of boiled beans and corn kernels that are combined in a pot and cooked in water until it’s finished. Some locals also mix it up and turn this healthy Kenya food into a stew by adding vegetables, potatoes, and even meat. Githeri is also one of the most popular staple foods in Kenya, with the Gikuyu, Meru, Mbeere, Embi, and Kamba people all incorporating this nutritious dish into their diets.
Kachumbari is a refreshing Kenyan salad that’s prepared with fresh tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, cilantro, coriander, lemon juice, and salt. Although Kachumbari is more common in Kenya, you can also find it throughout Tanzania and Uganda. We suggest pairing it as a side dish with Nyama Choma or Kenyan Pilau for a unique Kenyan food experience.
6. Mukimo (Irio)
Mukimo (also known as Irio) is a traditional staple food for the Kikuyu people in Central Kenya that consists of mashed green peas, potatoes, whole kernels of maize, pumpkin leaves, or spinach. Although this classic Kenyan food has its origins in the region surrounding Mount Kenya, it’s enjoyed today by different communities throughout Kenya and best served with nyama choma as a dish called “nyama na irio.”
Pilau is a traditional Kenyan food that is the centerpiece of many Kenyan celebrations such as weddings or festivals and is a dish you’ll commonly find on the Swahili coast. This fragrantly spiced one-pot rice dish consists of a blend of aromatic spices such as cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, garlic, and ginger that is fused in a pot with rice and meat or chicken broth. For the full Kenyan experience, we suggest pairing Kenyan Pilau with a side of Kachumbari.
Kenyan-style Chapatis are among the many delicious Kenyan foods that can trace it’s origins back to Indian cuisine. Chapatis are prepared by mixing flour, salt, and water into a soft dough that is then weaved into a coil before being pressed into a smooth flat circle. Chapatis are then fried in oil so that the outside becomes crispy while the inside stays moist and juicy. Although chapatis pair well with just about any Kenyan food, we suggest dipping it a Swahili curry!
Mandazi is an “African doughnut” that originated on the Swahili Coast of Kenya and Tanzania and is a Kenya street food staple. This tasty treat is made by frying sweet dough in cooking oil, with the dough being infused with water, flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and sometimes coconut milk for a sweet little kick!
10. Sukuma Wiki
Sukuma Wiki is a nutritious and popular Kenyan food made by sauteing collard greens in oil along with diced tomatoes and onions, which make for a simple but delicious meal. In Kiswahili, Sukumua Wiki translates to “week-pusher” as it’s an affordable meal that packs a ton of nutrients along with it. For a traditional Kenyan culinary experience, we suggest pairing it with some ugali!
Bhajias (not to be confused with Viazi Karai) are a popular Kenya street food snack that is made by slicing potatoes into flat slices, then coating them in a seasoned gram flour batter and deep-frying them to dip in a variety of homemade sauces such as Kenyan tomato salsa. This cultural import from India makes for a nice appetizer or street snack while exploring Nairobi!
Samosas made their introduction into Swahili cuisine by the seafaring merchants who traversed the Indian Ocean, bringing this traditional crispy pastry along with them. These triangular-shaped pastries are usually deep-fried and stuffed with fillings ranging from spiced potatoes and lentils to minced meats. You can often find samosas as popular street food snacks in Kenya as well as in Tanzania and Uganda.
13. Wali Wa Nazi
Wali Wa Nazi is a traditional Swahili delicacy that is cooked all along East Africa’s coast in Kenya and Tanzania. This coconut rice dish consists of white rice that is prepared with grated coconut meat, which adds an aromatic twist to the traditional bowl of white rice. You can find this decadent side dish accompanying various types of curry, fish, chicken, and meat dishes!
Although Matoke has it’s origins in Uganda, you’ll find this very popular dish throughout Kenya. Matoke is a traditional meal made up of green and unripe plantain bananas combined in a pot with tomatoes, onions, garlic, capsicum, chili, coriander, and meat (which can be an optional addition). The plantain bananas in Matoke are slowly cooked until they are soft and form a thick sauce along with the other ingredients. You can find various variations of Matoke in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania.
15. Viazi Karai
Viazi Karai is a very popular Kenyan street food dish served in Coastal Kenya that consists of deep-fried batter covered boiled potatoes served alongside ‘Ukwaju’, a tamarind sauce made from tamarind, garlic, onions, salt, and pepper. Viazi Karai and Bhajiya’s main difference is that the potatoes in Viazi Karai are well boiled before being deep-fried in an all-purpose wheat batter. You can find Viazi Karai at almost every street corner in Mombasa and can now find at popping up in cities around Kenya!
Maharagew is a famous Kenyan dish consisting of red kidney beans stewed in coconut milk and seasoned with cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, onions, tomatoes, garlic, chili, turmeric, and coriander. Maharagew is also called ‘maharage ya nazi’ in the Kiswahili language as ‘maharage’ means red kidney beans and ‘nazi’ means coconut. This delicious Kenyan food is best enjoyed alongside a crispy chapati or some hearty ugali!
17. Chips Mayai
Although Chips Mayai are a popular Tanzanian street food delicacy, this simple french fries and egg omelet combination is famous throughout Kenya and sure to satisfy your junk food cravings after a long day exploring!
18. Fried Tilapia
Tilapia is a widely eaten fish throughout East Africa and often comes from Lake Victoria, which supports Africa’s largest inland fishery. This affordable fish is deep-fried and usually served with a side of kachumbari, ugali, or pilau. For a truly local tilapia dining experience, we suggest visiting Mama Oliech which is considered to serve Nairobi’s best deep-fried tilapia!
19. Mbaazi Za Nazi
Mbaazi Za Nazi is a Kenyan delicacy in the coastal region and consists of pigeon peas stewed in coconut milk, which slowly evaporates. As pigeon peas are nutritious and relatively inexpensive, this dish is a great way to feed many people at once and is usually prepared for breakfast alongside a hot and crispy chapati!
20. Kuku Paka
Kuku Paka is a legendary Kenya food from the coast consisting of grilled chicken in a spiced coconut curry. This coastal delicacy’s flavor is made by slowly grilling the chicken over charcoal for a smoky flavor then adding it to the coconut-based curry. In Kiswahili, “kuku” means “chicken.”