East African food has had a lot of outside influences from the days of missionaries to the Arab slave traders and now, even more, with different cultures settling in the region. Indigenous Kenyan cultures have, over centuries, merged these outside influences with their authentic cooking methods to create interesting cuisines. Here are several regions to visit for the delectable treats that are unique as they are delicious.
Boutique Hotel Restaurant, Food Kiosk, Food Stall, African, $$$
Mombasa is synonymous with luxury holiday resorts, pristine beaches, and clear turquoise water, making it a mix of the diverse cultures of holidaymakers. This has deeply influenced the food offerings in the areas which already had a distinct Arabic flair. Arab traders came into the port city via the Indian ocean in the 14th century and mingled with the locals, influencing their cuisine, religion, and way of life. Local Swahili cuisine is mildly spicy with a lot of coconut infusions for flavoring. The street food in Mombasa includes mbaazi ya nazi (pigeon peas with coconut), mahamri (African donuts), samosa (a fried dish with a savory filling), mshikaki (beef skewers), and the strong kahawa chungu (bitter and spiced coffee brewed in brass kettles). Seafood is also a huge part of the cuisine at the coast, with daily fresh catches from the Indian Ocean readily available. Be sure to try the succulent Achari, a favored snack which is made from dried mango.
This is a vibrant town found in the Great Rift Valley. It is home to the Kalenjin community, whose cuisine is dairy- and plant-based. The region is well known for its impressive dairy farms, so milk is an integral part of their cuisine. The local delicacy is known as mursik. It is a mix of fermented milk and fresh blood from a goat or cow. In fact, when welcoming visitors, it is the one drink that will be served without fail. It is also served to famous Kenyan runners from the region when they return home laden with medals. The milk is placed in a gourd known as a sotet and infused with soot from selected trees. In order to ensure the milk doesn’t acquire the bitter taste of the gourd, cow urine is poured into it and left for several days to cure it. For a more cosmopolitan dining experience, visit the Well Irish Pub and Restaurant for steak in whiskey sauce or sample some Indian cuisine at Sunjeel Palace.
The lakeside city of Kisumu is situated near the shores of fish-rich Lake Victoria. As such, the city has become synonymous with some of the freshest fish enjoyed by visitors and locals. There are food vendors with small kiosks along the shores who prepare the fresh catch and serve it with Ugali (the local cornmeal staple). The area is known as Tilapia beach. Popular fish from the lake include Tilapia, Nile Perch, and Sardines. The street food scene in Kisumu offers you deep fried pieces of Tilapia and Nile Perch that you eat with salt and pepper. You can enjoy more fish at formal eateries, like The Laughing Buddha, which give an Indian twist to the fish dishes.
As the capital city of Kenya, there are a lot of influences to the fare served in the city. From Indian and Thai cuisine to Italian, Brazilian, and Chinese, there is nothing that you will not find in the city. When it comes to Kenyan cuisine, the city has lots of restaurants to cater for all tastes. Amaica offers delectable delights from western Kenya, while Kosewe offers people from the lakeside a taste of authentic Lake Victoria fish cooked just like home. Coffee houses with the best brew dot the entire city, allowing you to enjoy the coffee culture that is developing in the city after decades of tea drinking. Fine dining spots in the city are quite numerous and they offer everything you could ever fancy.
If you have had a taste of Kenyan tea you will want to visit Kericho. The tea-growing town is quaint but produces exquisite teas that are usually used to flavor most of the other tea around the world. Tea farm and factory visits are available and during such visits you can see the tea tasters at work, taste some of the brew, and learn a thing or two about what to look out for in “chai.” The scents can be overpowering but your nose will soon become accustomed to the pungent aroma. Once in Kericho, head to Kericho gold for a look at how tea fusions are done and for a cup of tea brewed Kenyan style, visit the Java House or enjoy some Indian and African food at Wessyde Lounge.
Garissa is home to the Kenyan Somali community and representative of the Northern part of Kenya. Their food is savory and cardamom is the predominant spice in most of their dishes. There are very evident Italian, Turkish, and Ethiopian influences in their cuisine. From tasty samosas, triangle-shaped pastries filled with meat or vegetables, to Iskudheh Karis, a dish of rice and meat that is peppered with coriander, garlic, and peppers, among other spices, Somali food is clearly comfort food. For those with a sweet tooth, there is xalwo, a soft but thick confection made from butter, cornstarch, and, you guessed it, cardamom! It can be enjoyed on its own or eaten alongside a cup of tea.
Meat, meat, and more meat! If you are looking to enjoy the perfect roast meat, Central Province is the place to be. There is no part of the animal that ever goes to waste. The meat is perfectly roasted to medium rare or well done. The tongue, liver, and heart are used to make a stew or stuffed into the intestines of the animal with hot peppers and roasted on an open coal fire. The stuffed intestines are actually a delicacy known as mutura. The head and feet are cleaned and used to make soup. Another staple to the region is the basic meal of maize and beans cooked together. You can choose to sauté the mix for lunch or dinner or eat it as it is with tea for breakfast. To add more flavor, butter or margarine can be added to the dish. Great eating spots like Bells and Whistles, Zumpini, and The White Rhino are well known for tasty roast meat and other dishes.
Enjoy a cup of coffee and tasty roast beef at the Narok Coffee House en route to the Mara. Narok is home to the Maasai community, who thrive on food products derived from cattle. Traditional Maasai fare is usually made up of milk, animal fat, meat, blood, and honey. Milk is drunk fresh or curdled and is sometimes infused with fresh cattle blood. The Maasai believe that blood is the lifeline of an animal, so it makes you strong when you take it in. In fact, blood is served up on the table to be eaten with platters of fried or roasted meat. Honey is the dessert of choice and is usually sourced from natural hives. They also use it to make a fermented beverage for the elders only. While this fare is traditional, you will find platters of meat served in restaurants as the staple dish.
Machakos has carved a niche for itself as the emerging economic and educational county in the Eastern part of Kenya. You will find various fine dining spots, like Villa Machakos, Machakos Golf club, and Skylink lounge serving international cuisine. However, for a taste of the authentic Machakos meal, visit a local eatery for some muthokoi, which is beans and dehusked maize cooked in a pot and locally known as mbisu, which locks the flavor into the food. Muthokoi is best cooked on a three-stone fireplace for a long and slow cook. Once the mix is well cooked, ghee is added into it to further flavor it. Another delicacy is chicken raised in the region, known as musukui, which have long featherless necks and tend to be large in size. The meat is juicy and tender. It is usually sauted with onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and other vegetables to form a savory stew that is eaten with ugali, rice, or chapati or is roasted.
Kakamega is well known for its chicken dishes, known locally as ingokho. The chicken from the region is organic, reared in farms where they are allowed to roam around and feed freely. Most homes will keep chicken for slaughter on special occasions or when a visitor comes around. The chicken will be sauteed with the head, feet, and intestines (cleaned out, of course), and served with ugali. In some cases, a hen that is laying eggs will be slaughtered with the eggs still within and served as a delicacy. Before the chicken is cooked, it is grilled on open coals to give the skin flavor and lock in the juices. For a sumptuous chicken dish, dine at the Golf Hotel.
Kisii tend to favor vegetarian meals, since their land is very fertile, although they are not vegetarians. The typical Kisii meal is known as matoke, green bananas that have been cooked in tomatoes and onions until they soften and are eaten with a vegetable of meat stew. This meal is popular because the region grows a lot of bananas and the farmers keep plenty of cattle as well. Fish finds its way to their tables as well because they are close to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake worldwide.