How did this culinary collision that defines Kenyan food come to be?
The recorded history of Kenya dates back over 1 000 years and its cuisine reflects its multicultural past. Sometime during the first millennium, Arab traders sailed their way south in dhows during the monsoon, kicking off a brisk trade with coastal inhabitants in ivory, gold, slaves and timber. Arab-Swahili states sprung up from Mozambique Island in the south to lovely Lamu in the north, and these important centres traded goods between the Kenyan interior and Arabia, Persia and China. Vasco da Gama sailed into Mombasa in 1498 and 200 years of Portuguese rule followed. The Omanis sent the Portuguese packing in 1730 and settled in until British rule replaced them in 1895.
The trade of slaves and ivory was, thankfully, replaced by the trade of spices. Kenya’s beautiful coastal areas are planted with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Chillies, vanilla, all manner of spices, coconuts, tropical fruits and fresh fish in abundance still form the building blocks of Swahili cuisine today. A significant influence on Kenyan cooking was brought by thousands of indentured labourers recruited from India between 1896 and 1901 to construct the Uganda Railway.
Into this Arab-Portuguese-British-Indian potpourri of cuisines add the beloved dishes of all Kenyans — nyama choma, ugali, irio, githeri, mandazi and chai — and bingo… happy Angama guests.
Let’s kick off with a Nyama Choma. You may know it as a barbeque, I know it as a braai, but for Kenyans, it’s the beginning and end of all celebratory food. Heaps of grilled meat — goat, lamb, beef and chicken — are eaten by hand using ugali (a local polenta) as a mopping utensil scraping up every morsel of kachumbari (Kenyan salsa), sukuma wiki (collard greens) and githeri or irio, both delicious local vegetable dishes. At our Angama Forest BBQ we grill ribeye steaks, jumbo prawns or kingfish fresh from the coast, sticky pork ribs and pili pili kuku kebabs. Pili pili is the addictive Kenyan version of Tabasco. And of course, kuku is chicken. But you knew that already.
The beloved Kenyan chapatti pops up on every Angama menu: Kenyan Quesadillas; Rolex for picnics; a base for the Middle Eastern Breakfast; Indian Crisp Flatbread Parcels stuffed with vegetable curry; and deep-fried for Kenyan Nachos served with Guacamole. Amazing what can be done with a simple unleavened flatbread.
Which other Kenyan-inspired dishes delight our guests? Maasai Honey Biscuits probably tops the list with close contenders being chai, Swahili Rice Pudding, Kenyan Dawas (mojitos taken to another level), crispy Ugali Sticks for a little sundowner biting (my absolutely favourite Kenyan word for a snack — isn’t it perfect?), and chilli-spiked Chocolate Pots.
Using garden-to-fork ingredients harvested daily from our Shamba — Swahili for farm or garden — the cooks prepare Green Shakshuka; Chilled Beetroot Soup; Courgette Flower Fritters; Tropical Fruit Carpaccio with Mint Lime Sugar; and Pineapple Chilli Ice Cream.
Pastry chef Kina can reinvent the ubiquitous mandazi — the adored Kenyan doughnut — into Turkish Doughnuts spiced with cardamon; Muhamri stuffed with Coconut Ice Cream; Beignets with star anise sugar; cream-filled Choux Puffs; Koeksisters doused in cinnamon syrup; and Date & Almond Stuffed Mandazi dipped in chocolate. Surely that must be a world record?
And wrapping up this Kenyan feast of feasts, let us honour those early settlers from India who brought with them what is surely one of the great cuisines of the world. Our guests discover flavours like never before: Pilau Rice spiced with cumin, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves; feta and coriander-filled samosas; Goan Fish Curry (using tilapia from Lake Victoria — we cannot serve this often enough); Aloo Masala topped with a fried egg for brekko; Paneer & Sweet Potato Curry; and to finish, the queen of ice creams, Kulfi, studded with saffron, pistachios and almonds.
As our chefs say:
Eating Never Ends.
For a quirky anthology of recipes, reminiscences, anecdotes and stories from our kitchen set high up on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, go to Angama Mara's Safari Shop and pick up a copy of Out of an African Kitchen
Filed under: Inside Angama
Subscribe for Weekly Stories
6 May 2022
This has made me very hungry and keen to return to angama to all the delicious food! The varied Kenyan cuisine is reflected in the history. Fascinating. Thank you, Nicky!
The Angama Shamba
7 May 2022
Nice food content...i hope to sample someday