I recently got my first Kenyan cooking lesson. A good friend I made in the small town of Sega took me to his home and let me help make a simple lunch of ugali (a thick, sticky mass of carbohydrates, and the foundation of the Kenyan diet) and tiny fish called omena, which are pulled from nearby Lake Victoria, then dried and eaten whole.
So, how did we do it? Easy! First, my friend George fired up his “jika” a small, charcoal burner and began heating a pot of water for our ugali. After the water began to boil, he added a little corn flour. Then, we began to stir.
As the gooey ugali began to thicken, George added more flour to make it the right, play-dough-esque consistency. His experienced hands put in the exact amount, but I’m sure I would need to try several times to get the right ratio.
George plopped the mass of ugali on a plate and covered it to keep it hot while we started the fish. Some oil poured in the bottom of a pot, then the fish, then some salt, then a little onion and finally a small tomato all sizzled over the charcoal. I stirred so it wouldn’t burn, and eventually the fish turned slightly golden and crispy.
Finally, we enjoyed the fruits of our labour. Showing proper Kenyan manners, George brought a basin and a pitcher of water so I could wash my hands as he poured it for me. Now with clean hands, we squeezed the hot, doughy ugali into edible balls in our palms, then scooped up a few fish for each bite.
Ugali may not have a lot of taste, but believe me: it fills you up! George and I were very full after a meal that probably cost only a few dozen cents in total. Maybe, if you ask me nicely, I’ll even make it for you once I’m back in Canada.