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East African Foods

Eastern Africa is as diverse as it is vast. With the largest subpopulation on the continent, it has over 460 million people speaking over 200 languages. With such myriad influences, each country has its own distinct culture which is reflected in its food.

Here, we hop through a few of the countries in the region giving a taster of what each has to offer on their menus.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia boasts the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world and is a wonder in itself, being the home to coffee, the Rastafarian movement, and arguably the first human skeletons.  

With 13 months to the year due to its own calendar, why not enjoy the rich history and culture, sunshine, and amazing Ethiopian food a little longer. If you have to pick only one country in Africa to visit, Ethiopia may just be the one.

1. Doro Wat 

Doro Wat 
Photo Credit: Piluki Cooking

Doro wat is a type of stew made with chicken in a deep red and extremely flavorful sauce. The sauce contains the uniquely Ethiopian berbere spice, made with a mix of coriander, ginger, chilis, holy basil seeds, and more.

Fresh chicken is soaked in water, salt, and lemon juice, and then cut into pieces for cooking. Just before the stew finishes, shelled boiled eggs are added in take on the flavor and color of the dish. Doro wat can be found at every festive occasion and holiday and is a favorite dish for breaking fast. What do you want for a special meal? Doro wat, that’s what!

2. Tibs

Tibs

Tibs is a kind of Ethiopian stir fry. There are many varieties using a range of meats, vegetables, spices, and differing quantities and proportions of each. It is usually served at festive occasions and holidays, or simply as a sign of respect for someone special. Whenever you have it, it is a feast of flavor. 

3. Kitfo 

Kitfo

A super treat for Ethiopians, and a good hangover cure, kitfo is essentially minced meat that is warmed with butter and spices. While typically and best served leb leb (warmed), you can also ask for it betam leb leb (translated as very warmed, but meaning cooked). 

Great on its own, it can also be served with side dishes such as spinach and cottage cheese for an even tastier and filling meal. Pass the beer, and the kitfo, please!

4. Injera

Injera

Injera is a unique kind of spongy flatbread made from the super tiny supergrain teff. It has a slightly sour flavor, a bit like sourdough, due to the fermentation time during preparation. It is shaped into a large circle, then either rolled and cut into pieces, or used as a base topped with a variety of dishes at once. Rip off a piece and dip it or use it to scoop up any of the delicious sauces or stews.

A testament to the integral place in Ethiopian culture, people greet each other by asking “Did you eat injera today?” You will know that life is fine if they answer yes. You should always say yes to injera!

5. Spris

Spris
Photo Credit: Icon Adventures

While not technically a food, this Ethiopian delight needs to be mentioned. Spriss is a variety of fruit juices layered in a cup. Using fresh fruits such as avocado, papaya, orange, mango, watermelon, and other fruits in season, the thickest is found at the bottom and layered to the least thick at the top.

I’ve never seen anything like it during my travels; this refreshing drink is as delicious as it is beautiful.

Kenya

When in Kenya, expect the utmost hospitality. “Mgeni ni baraka” means that a “guest is a blessing”. What better way to welcome guests than to offer food?

There are several customs you should follow when eating in Kenya, but most of all it’s important to know that refusing food is considered an insult. Who would dream of it? 

6. Nyama Choma 

Nyama Choma

Roasted meat is any Kenyan’s favorite dish. Swahili for meat, nyama is usually goat or beef roasted over an open fire. 

Traditionally the dish of hunters cooking game meat, it was brought to urban areas and is now found everywhere, from street food to festive occasions. Served with a tomato and onion relish called kuchambari, and ugali, it is a hearty, communal dish.

7. Ugali 

Ugali

Ugali is one of Kenya’s staple foods made from maize flour. Kenyans love ugali and will debate endlessly about its superiority to other African starches, such as fufu and pap.

It is a culture in itself and can be served in a variety of ways, such as with sour milk, soups, stews, or meats. Always enjoy it with your hands though!

8. Mutura

Mutura
Photo Credit: The Goodwill Butcher

If you love sausage, or street food, then mutura is a must. An authentic Kenyan sausage made from goat’s intestines stuffed with ground meat and, here’s the kicker, goat’s blood.

It is boiled to nearly done, then grilled to dry out the meat and give it a smoky flavor. It’s bloody tasty!

9. Matoke

Matoke

Matoke is fried bananas with onions, tomatoes, and a savory sauce and is a common household meal in Kenya. A perfect blend of sweet and savory, it can be served as a side or a main dish. I go bananas for matoke; any kind of banana or plantain is a yes for me!

Tanzania

With influences from the historic Indian spice route, many Tanzanian dishes include a lovely variety of tasty and aromatic spices, including coconut, turmeric, and cardamom. Beware though!

It is considered offensive to sniff your delicious food before eating it. That seems a bit unfair.

10. Wali Wa Madodo 

Wali Wa Madodo 
https://www.instagram.com/rukias_kitchen/

Swahili culture pervades most of Tanzania, and wali wa madodo is one of their favorite dishes. This dish, which translates as rice with beans, is spiced up literally and figuratively by first boiling the beans, then frying them with onions and spices.

What makes this special is that coconut water is used to cook the rice instead of water, resulting in a thick, creamy stew. 

11. Mshikaki 

Mshikaki
Photo Credit: Miss T’s Kitchen

You can find mshikaki at bars, on the street, at groceries, just about everywhere, it is so popular. It is a grilled meat kebab made with beef, and spiced with ginger, lemon, and chili peppers. Enjoy it on its own, or, better yet, with roast potatoes, which is known as chips mshikaki. Who doesn’t love a good meat and potatoes meal?

12. Mandazi

Mandazi

While it looks like a donut, it’s actually fried bread. It’s a go-to treat for locals since it’s easy to prepare and deliciously tasty. Don’t leave Tanzania or Kenya without trying mandazi! You will thank me later!

Mauritius

Perhaps the most eclectic in its culture, this island paradise has been touched by various outside influences such as French, Chinese, and Indian, and this is seen in their cooking.

13. Rougaille 

Rougaille

Rougaille is a typical Creole dish representing the French influence on the island. Its versatility makes it a favorite for a quick home-cooked meal.

This tomato-based sauce is made with garlic, onions, chilies, coriander, and thyme. You can either eat this sauce plain with rice, or add your favorite vegetables and meat such as beef, chicken, sausage, seafood, or, Mauritians’ favorite, salted fish. Bon appetit!

14. Dholl Puri 

Dholl Puri 
https://www.instagram.com/cooks_hideout/

Influence from Indian shores brought this delicious flatbread made with yellow split peas, turmeric, and cumin. Fill it with bean or potato curry, rougaille, and don’t forget the chili and special Mauritian coriander chutney and pickles for the full flavor experience.

Equally ubiquitous at special events and street corners, this delicacy is a favorite for Mauritians and tourists, for a cheap and filling, yet delicious meal.

15. Bol Renversé 

Bol Renversé 
https://www.instagram.com/ceto.club/

If you translate it directly, this means upside down bowl, and that is exactly what it is, and what makes this a little delight. Although the name is French, it is a Chinese inspired dish known as Magic Bowl, and can be ordered in most Asian restaurants.

It is a rice-based dish with stir-fried vegetables and meat, together with a soy and oyster sauce, topped with a fried egg. Place the egg at the bottom of the bowl, followed by the sauce, vegetables and meat, then the rice. Flip it upside down on the plate, and voila! Magic!

Popular Foods in Zanzibar

www.chefspencil.com

Zanzibar is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Tanzania. Known as “Spice Island”, Zanzibar is famous for its cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and many more spices, and these islands offers some truly special food.

From the historical, maze-like streets of Stone Town, to the white sand beaches of Nungwi in the north, Zanzibar cuisine is a journey through Swahili culture. Authentic Zanzibari dishes provide the opportunity to experience tropical East Africa, with all the influence of India and the ancient Arab world, mingling seafood, fresh tropical fruits and rich spices for a taste adventure.

Dinner Time in Stone Town

In the heart of the tourist sector of Old Stone Town are waterfront gardens, where you will find lazy cafes along the sea wall and sporadic seating in the shade along the garden’s edge. As soon as the sun begins to set, this area transforms: first, acrobats perform on the sand or off the sea wall, fueled by onlookers’ cheers (this is technically not allowed, but they do it regardless, chased constantly by local security), then more and more local Zanzibaris close their shops, or depart their offices, and begin to stroll along the waterfront of Forodhani Gardens.

Finally, tables are set up all along the grassy areas of the gardens, each illuminated by several lanterns for a romantic aura. The mouth-watering aroma of freshly-grilled seafood rises from various mobile grills, which are stationed throughout the gardens. As the evening grows darker, a feast appears in Forodhani Gardens: fresh seafood and meat skewers, piles of thick-cut fries (“chips”), handmade flatbreads, prepared soups, and freshly-squeezed juices.

This garden-front buffet is offered every evening, year-round, for locals and tourists alike. This dinner is best eaten while listening to the Indian Ocean lap against the sea wall, watching far-off boats bobbing on the waves, a perfect ending to a day in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

 

I hope you enjoyed this brief culinary journey through a few of East Africa’s interesting and colorful countries. This is but a glimpse of the delicious dishes that you can find through the whole region. I highly recommend working up a hunger and eating your way through the cuisine of the rest of the region as well! 

Armchair travelers wanting to satisfy their wanderlust, or foodies looking for ideas on how to incorporate spices with tropical flavors, please check out below the top 20 most popular foods in Zanzibar. Many of the dishes mentioned are readily available at Forodhani Gardens any night of the week, but you’ll probably have to visit three or more times in order to have enough stomach-space to try them all!

Soups

1. Urojo Soup (Zanzibar Mix)

Urojo Soup
Credits: will.yum89

This orange-colored soup gets its vibrant hue from an unexpected ingredient: mango pulp, which is thickened with flour. Zanzibar Mix, however, gets its name from all the add-ons, or “mix-ins” that increase the flavor, texture and spice of this Zanzibar staple.

Some include: boiled potatoes, bajhia (chick-pea flour fried dumpling), crispies (fried cassava or potato strips), mishkaki (marinated beef skewers, see below), hot sauce, and tamarind Sauce.

At first glance, these ingredients may seem very random, but they add so much flavor, and make it very filling too. Anyone visiting Zanzibar should try this traditional soup.

Don’t be shy when it comes to all the extras. They are what make Zanzibar Mix, or Urojo Soup so fabulous.

2. Octopus Soup (Supu ya Pweza)

Supu ya Pweza
Credits: rosys_cafe_moro

This distinctively purple-hued soup is unlike any other. Often eaten for breakfast across Zanzibar, this simple soup is made with octopus meat, garlic, onions all boiled together.

As the octopus comes fresh from the ocean, it lends plenty of salt to this dish, and one should definitely have a few spoonfuls before considering adding any more salt. Usually, it is served with wedges of lemon or lime, an ideal combination with any form of seafood. It is often eaten with soft, fresh bread called Boflo (more about that later).

The freshly cooked octopus provides several different textures; crunchy tentacles, soft, calamari-like bits of white meat, all in a vibrant violet-colored, salty and flavorful sauce. A great way to start your day in Zanzibar.

Curries and Stews

3. Coconut Fish Curry

Coconut Fish Curry
Credits: swahiliafrodelicious

A common dish found in local Zanzibar homes is coconut fish curry. While on the mainland it is often made with tilapia fish from Lake Victoria, in Zanzibar, it is prepared with freshly-caught ocean fish. If you would like to try preparing your own, follow along with this excellent video, which uses King Fish.

Many Zanzibari homes have a strange-looking stool with a large, spiky knife protruding from one end. This is actually a tool for grating a coconut: the cook sits on the stool and has an easier task of rubbing a half of a coconut against the upward pointing knife. Once the inner, white flesh of the coconut has been scratched out with the serrated knife, the small bits are then squeezed into a pot or jug to extract all the ‘milk’ possible. This fresh, hand-prepared coconut milk is used for the sauce, lending a sweet and subtle flavor to the onion-based curry. But don’t worry if you can’t manage freshly-squeezed coconut milk. A can will also do fine!

Typically, the sauce includes tomato paste / pureed fresh tomatoes, minced garlic, and ginger. This curry is delicious with plain white rice or flatbreads (chapatis).

4. Octopus Curry (Mchuzi wa Pweza)

Octopus Curry

Visitors to Zanzibar may find Octopus Curry offered at any time of day – including breakfast! If you’re never sampled octopus before, Octopus Curry is one of the most delicious ways to experience this unique seafood, even as part of your first meal of the day.

 

 

 

 

 

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