What’s cooking in Kenya? Ugali, of course!

The finished product: lunch of ugali and tiny, dried omena fish.

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.

Tasty and salty. You don’t ever notice the eyes, I promise!

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.

Here I am, stirring ugali as it thickens over the charcoal heat.

George, my friend and culinary instructor.

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.

Stirring the thick mixture of corn flour and water takes some muscle.


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.

Bonus picture: another meal in Sega. This time, nyoyo (corn and beans) and uji (millet porridge) that I bought at a small stall by the side of the road.


7 thoughts on “What’s cooking in Kenya? Ugali, of course!

    • Sounds good! It’ll be good to see all of you again. Hopefully there will be a bit of recovery time after my trip’s end, or else I might need a break from ugali.

  1. I like your article very much.
    It recalls my first experience with making ugali and sukuma wiki 🙂
    I miss a lot nyoyo and uji. Btw, I didn’t notice to put on weight even though I used to drink porridge nearly every day 😉

  2. Get an ugali stick to bring home. Canadian wooden spoons break. I know I only had it for a couple of weeks in Kenya – not for months, but I like ugali and cook it at home from time to time. The ugali stick is essential. Never had the ‘pleasure’ of trying omena, though.

  3. Ugali sounds very interesting! I don’t think I’ve ever come across omena fish – is there a rough translation or an equivalent to something we can find in Canada? If you’re giving a cooking lesson on ugali when you return, I’d love to see how it’s made!

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