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A Kaleidoscope of Food in Kenya by Colette Weil Parrinello, FACES Magazine, March 2016, Cricket Media, Chicago, IL


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A Kaleidoscope of Food and Drink in Kenya by Colette Weil Parrinello, FACES Magazine, March 2016, Cricket Media, Chicago, IL

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A Kaleidoscope of Food in Kenya by Colette Weil Parrinello, FACES Magazine, March 2016, Cricket Media, Chicago, IL

  1. 1. 20  The food of Kenya is a kaleidoscope reflection of the cultural diversity, foreign influences, and different lifestyles of the country’s ethnic groups. Kenyans eat few processed foods. Each of the geographic regions has food specialties based on the locally grown produce, herded cattle and goats, and lake or coastal fish. Some of the most fertile land in Africa is in Kenya. Kenya produces staple crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, green vegetables, sweet potatoes and many varieties of fruit. About 80 percent of Kenyans work at least part-time in agriculture, livestock, and ‘pastoralism’ activities. Three-fourths of Kenya’s population live in rural areas and are poor. The vast majority are farmers who rely on local markets, or a small A Kaleidoscope of Food by Colette Weil Parrinello plot of land for their limited income and food. The World Bank classified 41 percent of Kenya’s population as undernourished. Maize, bananas, chilies, peppers, sweet potatoes and cassava were first brought to the Kenyan coast by the Portuguese in 1498. The Portuguese also brought oranges, lemons, limes, and pigs from China and India. In the 1800s, Europeans introduced potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, while the Indian workers brought by the British to build the railroads shared chutneys, curries, and chapattis (a flat round bread made from wheat flour). Cattle herding, introduced in A.D. 1000, has a long tradition in arid regions. The Maasai, Rendille, Senguju, and Samburu ethnic groups A variety of spices are used in Kenyan cooking.
  2. 2. 21 rely on the by-products of milk and blood from cattle. Goat and sheep meat are eaten more frequently, while beef may be eaten on special occasions. The coastal areas have a more varied diet including rice, fish, and curries flavored with exotic spices from Asian and Middle Eastern influences. National Dishes There are two common national dishes, ugali (oo-GAL-ee) and nyama choma. Ugali is the traditional main part of a meal. It is filling, inexpensive, and relatively healthy. Many Kenyans eat it daily. Many families rely on this staple. Ugali is a simple mixture of ground corn and water and is cooked until nearly all the water has evaporated creating a stiff, thick porridge. The traditional way to eat ugali is to pinch off a piece, shape it into a scoop by pressing in the middle of the piece with a thumb, and using it as a scoop for meat stews (chicken, goat, or beef) or dipping it into gravy or to wrap vegetables. An alternative to ugali is irio (ay-ree-OH). The Kikuyu and Gikuyu ethnic groups in the highlands grow corn, beans, potatoes, and greens. They cook and mix these ingredients, then mash them to together. Spices and spinach might be added. Irio is rolled into balls and dipped in meat and vegetable stews. Kenyans love nyama choma, Kiswahili for “roasted meat.” The roasted or grilled meat is usually goat and sometimes beef. This is not like barbequed meat in the United States. When someone has nyama choma at a restaurant or Fresh fruits are sold at local markets.
  3. 3. roadside stand, they pick the piece of meat they want and pay by the kilogram. The meat is grilled without any seasoning except salt and pepper and served in chunks to be eaten with the hands, perhaps along with ugali and vegetables. Drink Half of Kenya’s population does not have access to clean water. The government continues to add wells and water systems, but water scarcity has been dire for decades. Women are responsible for collecting water from the closest river, lake, well, or standpipe. They haul the water on their head or back in large plastic containers. Locally grown tea or chai is the number one Kenyan drink. The tea is brewed with milk and sugar and served sweet. The most popular juice is known in English as “passion,” or passion fruit juice that is sold everywhere. Snacks For something sweet, Kenyans will reach for fresh fruits where available and affordable. Smalls farms and local markets may have papaya, pineapple, bananas, watermelon, mangos, oranges, guavas, passion fruit, and coconuts. Sugar cane is always a treat for children. 22  Fast Facts • When a knife and fork is not used, Kenyans require that hands be washed before every meal eaten with the hands. Restaurants post signs to emphasize this necessity. • Snacks sold on the street might include cassava chips, roasted corncobs, and at certain times of the year in the drier areas, roasted termites. • Sambusas and mkate mayai are common snacks, along with grilled corn, sold by vendors on street corners. Sambusas are deep-fried pastry triangles stuffed with spiced minced meat. Mkate mayai is wheat dough spread into a thin pancake filled with minced meat and raw egg, and then folded. A young Kenyan grills meat. A woman and her children grind corn for ugali.
  4. 4. 23 Ugali You Need 4 cups water 3 to 4 cups white cornmeal/maize • Bring water to a boil in a pot. • Add the maize meal and stir to prevent lumps. • Add more maize meal to make a thick porridge. • Keep stirring until the maize meal is well cooked and pulls away from the sides of the pot. • Let cool a few minutes. Put a plate on top and turn pot upside down so the ugali drops out. It should be thick enough to cut with a knife. Irio You Need 2 cups of corn 2 cups of red kidney beans 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered 2 cups of spinach Salt and pepper • Place potatoes into a pot, cover with water and boil until soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside. • In a large saucepan, combine corn, beans, and spinach and cook over low to medium heat until the vegetables are soft. • Add potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and mash the mixture with a fork or wooden spoon. Irio