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AU Nairobi | Food

A fully stocked grocery store in Nairobi

Nairobi grocery stores are filled to the brim with various food items.

In Nairobi there are a large number of food options that you might expect to see in America. Most of the brands carried are from Kenya, South Africa, different parts of Asia, and even America. You might pay a little bit less (flour, milk, sugar) or a little bit more (cheese, pickles, etc.) for the foods you would normally eat in the United States.

Kenyan woman cooking with a bio-gas heated stove

Kenyans love carbohydrates! There are many English foods incorporated into Kenyan life from colonial times that include chips (french fries) biscuits (cookies), etc. Kenyans usually cook their food in oil for long periods of time before being eaten and use lots of salt. Unless they are eating South Asian food not many other spices are used. Kenyans usually never eat alone or ‘on the go’ as we are used to in America.

Kenya is known for several well-known dishes in East Africa.

Common Foods in Nairobi

Kenyan roasted leg of goat meat

Nyama choma. In this case, roasted goat leg.

Nyama choma – (roasted meat in Swahili) Kenyan staple; heavily roasted goat and beef are most common choices, usually eaten with hands and every bite dipped in a bit of salt.

Kachumbari – Kenyan version of salsa. Tomatoes and onions, and possibly garlic, carrots, and spicy pepper. Typically a side dish with ugali, sukuma wiki, and nyama choma.

AU Nairobi student learning to cook

Learning how to make chapati.

Chapati – Kenyan version of a heavy tortilla, made with flour and fat, fried and best eaten hot.

Chai – Kenyan style tea, made with black tea leaves, whole fat milk, and sugar (sukari).

Mandazi – Kenyan version of a heavy donut, typically eaten with a cup of hot chai.

Chips – French fries.

Masala chips – French fries coated with a tomato base and plenty of spices.

Maize – Street food; unsweetened corn roasted over hot coals, most commonly served with chili lime salt.

Pilau – Indian origins; rice, typically with goat meat, with lots of spices that might include cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.

Inside of a passion fruit

Passion fruit are fun to eat!

Fresh Fruit – bananas, mangos, passion fruit, and other deliciousness is colorful and plentiful.

Irio – Kikuyu staple; mashed peas and potato mixed together with maize.

Githeri – Kikuyu staple; beans and corn mixed together, with our without another vegetable.

Sukuma Wiki – (push week in Swahili) Kenyan staple; originally named when used to push through the week because there wasn’t enough money to afford anything else. Kale boiled and fried with tomatoes, onions and oil. Commonly eaten with ugali and meat if available.

Ugali – Kenyan staple; made with corn meal and boiling water into a heavy paste with the consistency of play-doh, only eaten with another dish such as sukuma wiki, nyama choma, or another vegetable or meat.

Kenya roadside kiosk with Coke sign

Dukas make for an easy shopping experience.

In Nairobi there are many kiosks (roadside stands) where local people sell fruits, vegetables, and legumes on the street that are grown within the region. Not only are these foods inexpensive to buy, but by buying them one is promoting the local economy and directly helping someone to support their families. Small dukas (roadside stores with a permanent structure) sell things like toilet paper, phone cards, eggs, and soda.

A shallow sisai basket full of avocados

Being Vegetarian

While it is not impossible to live on a vegetarian diet in Kenya (there are many people descended from South Asia who are vegetarians), expect to see meat in many Kenyan diets. If you know that you are going to visit someone’s house for lunch, it is advisable to warn them beforehand so they do not go to the expense of purchasing meat. Cooking at home, you will have no problems finding enough proteins to supplement your diet. Tofu is available at health food stores and sometimes at larger grocery stores.

Popular Nairobi Restaurants

There is an abundance of international restaurants including Italian, Indian, Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, as well as American and European style coffee shops in Nairobi. They can be comparatively as expensive as restaurants in Washington, D.C.

Kenyan coffee sign
Kenyans are known for growing coffee and tea, and coffee houses are very popular hang out spots