October 09, 2012

What I Ate in Kenya

Hello again! In case you missed my last post, the reason I've been absent for the past couple of weeks was that I traveled to Kenya for a workshop and then stayed on for a short safari vacation.  I had the greatest time - I can't even describe how amazing it is to observe wild African animals up close in their natural environment!

I won't spend this entire post describing my safari experience, because I know you are all here for the food!  Instead, I thought I would do another "What I ate in..." post to share some of the dishes that I sampled in Kenya.

As I found in Zambia, a lot of the food offered at our hotels was Western style, especially at the place we stayed in Nairobi.  We did get to try some of the local dishes though, and there also seemed to be a lot of Indian food available too, which was great for me!

Luckily, I never really had a problem getting vegetarian meals.  There were a few places where the vegetarian options were extremely limited, but at least I always had something to eat!  And the lodge we stayed at on safari served all the meals buffet-style, with plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from.

I always looked forward to breakfast because of the variety of fruits available.  The bananas, mangoes and pineapple were always perfectly ripe and juicy, and I even tried a new kind of fruit - tree tomato.  Even though I didn't enjoy it at all, at least I can say I've tried it!

The rest of my breakfast would typically include toast, yogurt, tomatoes, potatoes, and sometimes mushrooms or baked beans - nothing special but I always ate a lot of it because we would wake up early and needed a big meal to keep us going until lunch time!

Of course, my breakfast would always include plenty of juice - while it wasn't always freshly squeezed, I loved the tropical flavours: mango, pineapple, and passion fruit (which I liked to mix sometimes too).

Looking at this photo of the mango juice I enjoyed by the pool makes me wish I was back someplace warm again!

Other than juice, it seemed that soda was very popular in Kenya.  At lunch, we were usually offered a choice of Coke, Sprite or Fanta (they even had a pineapple flavoured Fanta, which I'd never seen before).  I tried a couple of locally made sodas from the brand Krest.  One was a gingerale, and the other was this unique bitter lemon soda - it reminded me of club soda but with a nice lemon flavour.

As I mentioned, I ate quite a big variety of food while I was there, from Western to African to Indian, but I'll try to only share the local dishes because I know you've all seen stir-fries, salads, and curries before!

One of the foods that I was a bit surprised to learn was a Kenyan specialty was samosas.  I tried two different versions, and both were served with a bit of a twist on the Indian samosa.

The version on the left was filled with feta cheese and vegetables, with a tomato chutney.  I liked the filling and sauce, but they were too greasy to finish.  The ones on the right, however, were some of the best samosas I've ever had - the vegetables were done perfectly and they had lots of spice.  Instead of eating them with chutney, they were served with a squeeze of lime - a nice way to highlight the flavours of the samosa.

Two of the local specialties that are commonly eaten as staple foods in Kenya are ugali and various types of cooked greens.  Ugali is a side dish made from maize flour and cooked to a thick dough-like consistency.  There were two types - brown and white - and you're supposed to eat it with your hands together with vegetable or meat stews.

I first tried the ugali at a local restaurant that served authentic dishes.  Pretty much all of the options on offer were meat or fish, so my dinner consisted of the side dishes - ugali and lots of cooked greens! They offered three types of greens - I'm not actually sure what each one was, but they typically use kale, spinach, and collards.

Each one was slightly different - the one on top was called sukuma wiki and was mixed with onion and tomato, and the one on the left (my favourite of the three!) was more thick and liquidy.

I found them to be a bit on the bitter side, and they certainly didn't look very appetizing, but they made a tasty and filling meal combined with the ugali.

Another type of Kenyan dish that I found interesting was their versions of mashed vegetables.  I tried a dish of mashed potatoes that contained spinach and chewy corn kernels - it tasted good, but it was a bit odd eating chunks of corn in my mashed potatoes!

Another version that I really liked was the dish on the right above - I never figured out exactly what was in it, but it tasted like mashed potatoes with peas and actual pieces of cooked potato. The colour was definitely interesting!

Most of my meals also started with a vegetarian soup, usually cream-based.  I tried spinach, mixed vegetable, mulligatawny, asparagus, carrot-orange, and onion soups, but two favourites stood out.  First was this spiced pumpkin soup that I ate at a restaurant outside Nairobi.  It was a smooth and creamy soup with lots of squash flavour and I could really taste all the spices.

My other favourite soup - and possibly my favourite thing that I ate altogether on my trip - was a creamy peanut soup.  It was slightly on the sweet side, and had just the right amount of peanut flavour.  It was delicious on its own, but even better when I dipped my thick chapati in it!

Luckily for me, it was offered twice as part of the lunches served during our week-long workshop!  Here are a couple of pictures of what the lunches typically consisted of - a soup, beans, rice, and sometimes greens or other vegetables.  One day we got to try the brown type of ugali (on the left), and on the right is the rolled chapati - it was thicker than the chapati that was served at other restaurants I went to, but personally I liked it that way!

When it came to desserts, the choices were pretty similar to what you would find anywhere - fruit salad and various types of cake. I usually stuck to the fruit because I'm not a huge cake fan, but I occasionally gave one of the other options a try too!

One of the local specialties that I tried were the Kenyan donuts, called mandazi. I found them pretty plain - to me, they just tasted like fried dough - but I liked to dip them in my coffee!

Another more unique type of dessert that I came across a couple of times were baked goods made with pineapple.  One restaurant offered a pineapple pie, which was just like apple pie but with a pineapple filling.  I also got to sample these pineapple crumb squares shown below.

I loved both desserts - I don't know why they're not more common in North America!

That's all for the food highlights of my trip, but for anyone who is still interested in the safari portion, I'll end with a few highlights of the animals I saw during the few days I spent in the Maasai Mara reserve!

Since we were there during the end of the migration season, there were literally millions of zebras and wildebeest around.  We also got to see many giraffes, including lots of babies!  I loved watching the giraffes walk around - they are so beautiful and graceful.

We also came across a mother cheetah with her four cubs - the cubs were adorable and the mother was so sleek and gorgeous!

Out of the "Big Five" animals, we managed to see four of them: cape buffalo, leopard, lion, and elephant.  The only one we missed was the black rhino, which was really difficult to find, but the fact that we were lucky enough to see the elusive leopard made up for it!

I loved every minute of being out in our van searching for wildlife and being able to see so many beautiful animals right in front of my own eyes.

And now that I'm back to reality, I'm excited to get back into Fall cooking and baking and catch up on everything that happened in the blogosphere while I was away!

If you're still reading, thanks for following along with my Kenyan experience and I'll be back with an actual recipe as soon as I can!


  1. wow, lady! what an amazing trip! i love that you were so detailed in the food you ate. one of my favorite things to see and read about is the types of food different countries eat. i'm so glad there was such an abundance of vegetarian food available. the peanut soup sounds delicious!

    1. Thanks! I always like to document everything I eat on trips because food is such a big part of my memories of the places I travel to! I wish I had a recipe for that peanut soup!

  2. Sounds like a wonderful trip! I'd love to hear more about the non-food stuff... but I love hearing about travels. ;)

    I had a tomato in Colombia and I wonder if it is a tree tomato? I know it grew on a tree. We mainly had it as fresh juice which was ok, but nothing compared to the lulo or guanabana juice. ;)

    1. I believe tree tomato is the same thing as tamarillo, just with a different name, so I bet you've tried it! I also saw tree tomato juice while I was there but I wasn't brave enough to try it (especially when I could get mango and pineapple juices instead)!

  3. So cool! I would have loved those fruit spreads at bfast! And seeing all those animals!

    1. Thanks! The animals were definitely the best part of the trip :)

  4. Looks like you had lots of fun!!! And you tried quite a lot of dishes even though you were limited to vegetarian options. Although I missed some more information on those "tree-tomatoes"... Do they taste like normal tomatoes?? Do they look like normal tomatoes??

    PS: Really loved the pictures of the animals!

    1. Thanks! Too bad I didn't get a picture of the tree tomato...I think they are related to tomatoes (in the same family) but these are a smaller fruit grown on trees, with an outer skin and the edible fruit inside. It kind of reminded me of how an unripe green tomato might taste - not sweet enough for me!

  5. Your safari photos are beautiful! And of course, I loved seeing the food pictures too. It looks like you ate well! When I was a kid, I used to always put corn in my mashed potatoes, so I think I'd like that mashed veggie dish. :)

    I'm glad you had a good time!

    1. Thanks so much :)
      I did eat pretty well, although its still nice to get back into my regular eating routine...I can't handle those buffets for too many days in a row!

  6. Looks like you had an amazing time! And I love mixing corn with my mashed potatoes.

    1. Thanks! That's funny that a couple people have commented about the corn in their mashed potatoes...it still seems strange to me haha

  7. What an amazing experience - teh tree tomato sounds interesting....was it the yellow fruit on the buffet?

    I love reading about your trips - it is so fun for me to see other parts of the world!

    1. Thanks - I'm glad to have people to share my experiences with :)
      I never tried the yellow fruit with the seeds, but I think it was a granadilla - the tree tomato was more of a dark red colour.

  8. I adore your travels posts!!!! :) They are so inspiring! All of the food looks really neat. The safari sounds incredible. I adore all of the photos! They are fantastic! What was it like seeing a real lion!? It's a dream of mine!

    1. Thanks so much Courtney :)
      It was pretty cool seeing lions up close...I found they weren't as scary as I thought they would be - probably because they were usually sleeping or relaxing when we saw them! I never actually heard one roar...

  9. Nicole (MyLoveForCooking)16 October 2012 at 10:03

    Hi there! I am Nicole from MyLoveForCooking. I usually follow your sister Natalie and came across your page. I love it! What an amazing trip that must have been. Gorgeous photos! Take care! Nicole

    1. Thanks for visiting :)
      It was a pretty amazing trip and I'm glad it's inspired both new recipes (from my sister) and new readers!



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