Getting a Real Taste of Uganda
Highly nutritious and much-revered staples to must-try on a visit to the pearl of Africa
There is nothing like feeling the true essence of any destination like trying out the local flavours and cuisine. In Uganda, the diet is as rich in earthy and starchy staples as diverse as the savannahs and dense forests. The country has 56 tribes or subcultures that are closely related but they have common dietary preferences. Traditional Ugandan foods have influences from Indian and Arabic cuisines, yet they are also unique in flavour and palate. Popular staples include starchy and root products such as potatoes, yams, cassava, plantain, peanuts, beans and cornmeal mixtures.
Fruits and vegetables like papaya, lemons, pineapples, avocados, jackfruit, capsicums and ginger, as well as meat, fish and poultry are popular foods.
While the country has a distinctive local cuisine, continental and international cuisines are available that cater to the large tourist population that Uganda welcomes.
As is the case with most cultures, there is a list of traditional dishes that you can try when visiting Uganda.
Matoke: Believed to be originated in the Great Lakes region (comprising ten riparian countries including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, as well as Uganda), matoke is a green East African highland banana mashed with its own skin and leaves. There are different ways of preparing this dish. A common way is to steam them in banana leaves and serve it once well smashed. Matoke can be served with a variety of accompaniments such as rice, meat, stew, groundnuts and others.
Luwonbo or Oluwombo: A traditional stew made with chicken, fish or beef wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked along with vegetables and spices. This dish has story behind its being and dates back to the late 19th century in Buganda kingdom. It is believed that the personal chef of Kabaka Mwanga, king of that kingdom at the time, came up with this recipe. It remains extremely popular in Buganda even today, and is mostly consumed during special occasions such as marriages. Rice, sweet potato, cassava, chapati or another Ugandan favourite, matooke, best accompanies Luwonbo.
Katogo: Often served as breakfast, Katogo is considered to be an extension of Matoke. The literal meaning of katogo is ‘mixture’. It is an assortment of foods cooked together and served with fresh salad and avocado. This dish also finds its origins in Buganda and is popular in western Uganda as well.
Ugandan Fish: A little over a quarter of the total area of Uganda consists of water bodies, and hence is a breeding ground for a variety of fish types. The more common types of fish include tilapia, Nile perch, and silverfish. Due to the many lakes in the country, fish is often considered a staple in most parts of Uganda. Dried fish is also a popular delicacy.
Nsenene: Grasshoppers are a delicacy in Uganda. They are eaten as snacks and is a popular choice by most communities. These grasshoppers, or nsenene, are available to catch only during the rainy reasons, during the months of April, May, June, October and November. They are caught using strong lights and iron sheets, and saved in large drums for consumption throughout the year. The process of preparing this snack is tedious, as the wings and limbs of these insects must first be cleaned out before cooking them.
Kikalayi: This fried pork dish is another favourite. It is prepared in a large frying pan called, kikalayi (where the dish got its name from) and is served on a huge platter that can then be shared by a group of people.
Posho: A starchy staple, Posho is made from white corn flour or maize flour. It is prepared by adding boiling water to the flour until it becomes hard and sticky. It can be eaten with a sauce of choice, or steamed in banana leaves and consumed when it is still soft. This resembles an energy bar for those doing work that expends a lot of energy.
Rolex: A funny yet popular pronunciation of ‘rolled eggs’, Rolex is friend eggs wrapped in a chapati (or Indian bread). This is a roadside favourite, and the popularity has grown to such lengths, today there are Rolex festivals. These are organised annually and used to be a huge crowd-gatherer.
Binyebwa or groundnut sauce: The groundnut sauce is perhaps the most favourite of sauces in Uganda. Locally called Binyebwa, the sauce is prepared using groundnuts, tomatoes, onions and salt with paprika for taste. It is served with cornmeal porridge or posho, rice, dried fish, cassava leaves or spinach.
Muchomo or Kuchoma: Roasted meat – goat, beef, pork or chicken. The word comes from the Kiswahili word ‘kuchomo’, which means ‘to burn’ or ‘to roast’. These can be found in both restaurants and roadside stalls and is served with vegetables, fries and/or bananas.
Chaloko: A traditional meal made with pinto beans, red onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. This goes well with posho.
Mandazi: These are pastries also known as puff-puff. The dough is primarily prepared using yeast, cornmeal, eggs, and wheat, and may include coconut milk, coconut flakes, cardamom, groundnuts or other spices. This is best served with a fruit-flavoured dip.
Simsim: These are dessert cookies made using simsim, or sesame, – a flowering plant cultivated for its edible seeds and grown in the north, north-eastern and eastern parts of Uganda.
Kalo (millet bread): This bread is made with millet flour and cassava flour. This is a staple food in northern Uganda.
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