Nairobi News

LifeWhat's Hot

10 Kenyan food you didn’t know had English names

By HILARY KIMUYU September 13th, 2015 3 min read

How many times have you gone out and ordered for one of your favorite Kenyan cuisines in Kiswahili or in vernacular? But you known that all those local dishes that Kenyans love have English names?

Here are 10 of the most popular Kenyan dishes that you often order for in Kiswahili/vernacular but which you can also order for in English:

1. Ugali (Cornmeal mush)

Made from cornmeal that is added to boiling water and heated until it turns into a dense block of cornmeal paste, it is undeniably Kenya’s staple, but chances are that you’ll never hear anyone ordering for “cornmeal mush” in a restaurant.

Still, for many Kenyans, ugali accompanied by small portions of cooked vegetables or saucy stew is a daily meal.

2. Irio (Mashed peas and potatoes)

Yet another staple food for some communities in Kenya, Irio is made from green peas and potatoes boiled and then mashed up before whole kernels of maize (corn) are added to give the mash some extra starch and texture.

For many Kenyans, Irio goes down well with Nyama choma (roast meat) or just some Kenyan style stew.

3. Sukuma wiki (Kales)

Collard greens or kales is the most popular Kenyan vegetable dish, which is simply known as sukuma wiki (isn’t it strange that a vegetable’s name should loosely translate to “pushing the week” in English?)

The nutritious green leafy vegetable is often cooked in oil with a few diced tomatoes, onions, and flavored with spices and served with ugali, rice or meat stew.


A plate of Sukuma wiki garnished with tomato and onions.
A plate of Sukuma wiki garnished with tomato and onions.

4. Chapati (Flatbread)

Unlike ugali and irio, chapatis, which trace their origin from the influence of the Indian population, are considered more of a special form of Kenyan food, a treat for most people. Kenyan style chapatis are made with a flour dough that is wound into a coil before being rolled into a flat round circle.

The dough is then fried on a skillet accompanied by plenty of oil that gives it crispy edges and a moist and doughy interior. Chapatis are best served with vegetables, green grams, beans, meat stew or even just with a steaming cup of tea.

5. Mandazi (Kenyan doughnut)

Considered more of a snack than a main course meal, mandazi’s distinctive characteristic is an unmistakable scent that can be smelled from a kilometer away!

Made from deep fried blobs of dough, mandazis make a great snack or a light breakfast with a cup of tea or coffee.



6. Chips mayai (French fries and eggs)

Chips mayai is a combination of French fry and omelet. It’s made by placing potato chips in a frying pan and then covering them with a generous amount of beaten egg and cooking them through.

Served with generous portions of chili or tomato sauce, Chips mayai is one of the Kenyan dishes that is also popular in Tanzania.

7. Matoke (Plantain banana stew)

Matoke is a staple food in Uganda which is also popular among some communities in Kenya.

Plantain bananas are cooked up in a pot with oil, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, meat (optional), and lemon juice until they are soft and begin to form a thick sauce with the other ingredients. Matoke is best served with rice or chapati.

8. Pilau (Spiced rice)

A favorite among the coastal communities in Kenya, pilau is a combination of rice and chucks of meat cooked together with spices such as cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves. A serving of pilau is often garnished with a few slices of fresh tomatoes and onions.


A plate of pilau
A plate of pilau

9. Wali wa nazi (Coconut rice)

This is yet another popular dish in the coastal region of Kenya that comprises white rice cooked with grated coconut that has a distinctive aroma and taste. Wali wa nazi goes down well with fish, chicken curry, vegetables or even bean stew.

10. Omena (silver cyprinid)

Even the self-styled “Luopean” may not be aware of the fact that the English name for their favourite meal is silver cyprinid? Yeah that’s right. The ray-finned fish is a delicacy among some Kenya communities around Lake Victoria. Ideally, omena is best served with plain ugali with an option of vegetable or salad for garnishment.