East African Cuisine Facts and History

East Africa consists in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. It is also known as the African Great Lakes area, due to the high number of lakes present in this part of the continent. The Rift Valley lakes, like Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and Lake Malawi, are some of the largest.

East African cuisine

The people in this area are accustomed to growing herds of animals, such as cattle, but also sheep, goats and pigs, so meat will be quite present in this cuisine. Still, you will be surprised to see that in some parts, where people still respect the ancient traditions, the blood and milk of the cattle will be consumed, but not the meat. There can also be felt some Arabic influences in the East African cuisine, due to the settlement of merchant from Oman and Yemen. The Swahili cuisine, found on the Swahili coast, reflects Persian influences the best. Spices like clover, cinnamon and saffron will be found in many recipes, together with pomegranate juice.

East African Cuisine Menu

• Breakfast

For breakfast, if you are in the African Great Lakes area, you will have backed bread, called chapati or ahooh, depending in which region you will be. This bread is served with various stews made out of vegetables, or a type of sour porridge, like the uji served in Kenya. Uji has as ingredients millet flour, corn flour, and sorghum flower sometimes, which are all combined and boiled. Ground cereals and sour milk can also be served for breakfast, being meals that are more commonly met at the nomadic tribes.

• Lunch

Being served mostly in the afternoon, the lunch is considered to be the most important meal of the day. This meal will be consistent, always containing rich starchy foods, made out of different tuberous plants, which are boiled and mashed. But rice is also used in some regions, white or brown, which is boiled, and served with vegetable or fish stews, or meat. Ground corn meals are also present, which are mixed with potatoes, the result being a different kind of starchy meals, such as ughali.

• Snacks

It is a common sight in East Africa, as in most African regions, to see street food stalls everywhere. People like meeting on the streets for chat, so food is present there as well, in case they feel the need for a snack. Such a snack can be the chipsi mayai, in Tanzania, which is a hot chip omelette. Samosa is another snack, borrowed from the Indian cuisine, which are pastry produces, in the shape of a triangle, filled with various ingredients, such as veggies, meats, or fish. Chapatis, a type of flat bread, served with various ingredients, or just plain with a cup of tea, is another snack that can be found almost everywhere. Also, there is a chance to find plantain chips as these food stalls, as this is a popular snack throughout the entire Africa.

• Dinner

Dinner is pretty much the same as lunch in East Africa, so consistent dishes will be served again. An example would be kuku paka, which is a chicken coconut curry, served with rice. Cambuulo is another dish, consisting in beans cooked with butter and sugar, served with rice or flat bread, according to preferences. Also, what East Africans eat for lunch today, can be served for dinner tomorrow, if there are any leftovers. Almost all meals for dinner are often served with veggies, salads or fresh fruits.

• Desserts

East Africans appreciate fresh fruits as dessert, but will also prepare various types of pastry products. Mandazi would be one example of dessert, being the East African version of doughnuts. It consists in dough made with yeast, coconut milk, spiced with cardamom and fresh coconut flakes. It is deep fried in oil, being best served warm and fresh, with a cup of tea. Pineapple salad is popular in Tanzania, consisting in fresh pineapple cubes, improved with a sauce made out of cream, honey and rum, and seasoned with fried cashew nuts and coconut bits.

• Drinks

Tea is a common beverage in East Africa, together with milk. As an alcoholic beverage, banana beer is quite common in this part of the African continent, because bananas are highly appreciated. Thus, it is only natural to find banana wine as well. Also, Uganda has “waragi”, a type of homemade gin.

Holiday Menus


• Christmas

Just like in the case of Christmas being celebrated anywhere else in the world, in East Africa it is a period in which you get together with family and friends. Goat meat is highly preferred during this period of the year, the most used cooking method being roasting. If you are celebrating this holiday in Uganda, Rwanda or Kenya, you should know that people prefer to eat the meat hot, right off the charcoal grill, in just one sitting. An interesting fact is that tribes like the Maasai and Kikuyu eat the goat after certain rules, as some parts of the animal are for boys, while others are for girls.

• Easter

Easter is another celebration in East Africa, when people go to Church for the specific service and return home to enjoy a rich meal. Chicken is most commonly used for these meals, stews being prepared that are served with rice. The starchy foods are also present, together with soft drinks and beer, and fresh fruits.


Most Popular Dishes

• Nyama choma – this means “roast meat”, very much appreciated by East Africans, and served with a starchy food and veggies;
• Nyama na irio – made out of mashed potatoes, beans, onions and corn, and served with spiced roasted meat;
• Sukuma wiki – prepared using kale or collard greens, which are cooked with spices and onions, this recipe being a preferred side dish for ugali, the East African maize porridge.

 Most Used Ingredients

• Meat / Fish: goat, fish, and chicken;
• Veggies: beans, onions, kale, plantain, potatoes, tomatoes;
• Fruits: bananas, pineapple, oranges, lemons, limes;
• Other: rice, maize, millet, coconut milk, spices curry

Street Food – What to Eat when You Travel to East Africa

Food stalls will be present on almost any street in East Africa, so you won’t have trouble finding something to eat if you travel here. In fact, it is the best way to get the local taste of this cuisine. Mahindi choma, or roast corn, is popular in East Africa, being a whole corn cob roasted on a charcoal grill. Egg pasua, or egg break, is a common street food sold in Kenya, consisting in boiled eggs with a salad made out of tomatoes and onions, to which pepper and lemon might be added. Mshikaki, which is slightly roasted marinated beef skewers, a very delicious food, slightly pricier than what you may normally find. Bhajia is another popular street food, consisting in potatoes slices which are dipped in a paste chose by the customer, then deep fried and served hot.


Are you from East Africa? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on South African ethnic food.

Desta R.