Life in Kisii, Kenya: Of Ugali & bananas

This is the third post in my series Life in Kisii – my three months volunteering placement with Balloon Ventures ICS in Kenya. The series wouldn’t be complete without me talking about food because food is pretty much one of my favoruite pass times. Nom nom nom… What are some of the dishes my little tummy cannot get enough of here in Kenya and what could I definitely go without?

Before I arrived, I really wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of food. I thought the closest I’d come to tasting Kenyan food was eating from an Ethiopian street food vendor – lots of greasy stews, lentils, beans, etc. Far from it…

The Kenyan staple is Ugali – maize flour boiled with water until it’s got a dry, doughy consistency and which will be formed with one hand into a spoon to scoop up the other dishes on the plate. It’s pretty tasteless but it does fill you up. I prefer eating rice or chapati instead! Chapatis here are simply delicious and really easy to make. My host mum made me do them for dinner once, from scratch, all by myself… There’s also cooked green bananas sometimes; but really, nothing can compete with chapatis.

Ugali – tastes as plain as it looks…

Making chapatis at home

All dishes are normally accompanied by some kind of green vegetables like kale or the traditional Managu (African Nightshade), sometimes you may get cabbage of which there seems to be loads in Kenya. My family eats mostly vegetarian due to budget constraints and I actually enjoy that a lot – it means beans, vegetable stews, sweet potatoes, and sour milk. Sour milk is actually super delicious, I think I’ll try making it back home.

The meat I have eaten here is mostly below average. Chicken is cooked or fried on the bones and the meat is the chewiest I’ve ever had plus there is hardly any meat on these things to begin with. If you order meat in restaurants, you always need to be careful because you can never be 100% sure it’s been entirely cooked. The safest option is going veggie or ordering dry fried.

I’ve had the luck of traveling to Lake Victoria which meant fabulous fresh Tilapia for me! The best way to order it is whole, cooked in fresh tomatoes and onions. The fish from here have plenty of meat and they’re so cheap: KES 550/ £4.26 for a whole fish with rice/ugali and green veggies.

Fresh whole Tilapia from Lake Victoria – traditional Kenyan style

And now on to my very favourite: fruits! Kisii is said to be the banana growing capital of the country and you will always see plenty bananas in all forms: green, yellow, small, big,… They’re dirt cheap (one banana for 5 KES/ £0.04) and the ripe fruit is so deliciously sweet. I’m also super lucky to be here during mango season meaning you can get one mango for 20-40 KES/ £0.15-0.31 and they’re the best thing on this planet! Kenyans also grow avocados though they are a different type here, some are much sweeter and most have a yellowish tint to their green flesh but they’re all super creamy. And who can complain about a price of 10-30 KES/ £0.08-0.23 anyway?

I’d love a fruity breakfast every morning but here it’s mostly about white bread and sweet tea. So I’ve bought myself some oats to swap the bread for. On a lucky day, we’ll get boiled sweet potatoes (by the way, they’re white or yellow here instead of the orange ones we get back in Europe) or fruit. Have I mentioned that the pineapples here are the best I’ve ever eaten in my life?

I’m really contemplating starting a fruit import business in the UK because how am I going to survive without those Kenyan mangos and pineapples??? But apart from that, I can hardly wait being back in the UK and feasting on a big plate of roast veggies with feta cheese. Okay, okay, that may not sound so appealing to all you meat lovers but I really do crave some cheese and most of all more variety and dishes seasoned with fresh herbs… Oh, I’m dreaming already… 

What have been your experiences with the food in Kenya? Have you been to other African countries where you’ve had similar food? I’d love to hear from you.

By the way, Kenya is also amazing for safaris and you have plenty of options. Check out and book some great safari offers here.

Read the all posts about Life in Kisii:

Life in Kisii 1: Of drop hole toilets, bucket baths & cockroaches

Life in Kisii 2: Of microenterprises, slippery roads & wild traffic

2 Comment

  1. I’m so happy to find your blog. My Kenyan friend tells me about his family and how they live and what they eat. Reading your descriptions from a UK point of view has really given me a better understanding of them. They are building a small house near Kisii and your words have taken me closer to them. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m really glad you found my blog and enjoyed reading my posts about Kisii.

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