Cuisine of East Africa

East African cuisine is filled with deliciously spicy food that draws influences from the Middle East, Asia and India, and is as diverse as the many ethnic groups that live in the region.

Take a look at some of the region’s tastiest dishes.


Burundian cuisine is flavoursome and mostly vegetable-based, with beef, mutton and goat meat being consumed sparingly.

Staples in Burundian cuisine include red kidney beans, banana, plantain, sweet potato, cassava, peas and maize. With the country being right next to Lake Tanganyika, fish plays a major role in the country’s diet. Popular fish include ndagala, which a tiny fish that is eaten whole, or mukéké, which is a larger mackerel type fish.

Ndagaa is the country’s most popular dish, and consists of any of the above-mentioned fish simmered in tomato, salt and oil. It can also be made with dried fish, but locals prefer it with fresh fish.

Ndagaa from Burundi.
Ndagaa from Burundi.

Bugali is a staple that is made from cassava root powder. It accompanies most dishes such as ndagaa.

Another popular dish is renga renga, which is a potato leaf stew with peanuts, tomato, salt and oil.

Enjoy fried or plain banana or plantain, or pineapple slices for dessert, and for a drink, traditional home-brewed banana beer called urwarwa will finish off a good and hearty meal.


Djiboutian cuisine has a number of culinary influences, including Somali, Afar, Yemeni, French and Indian influences.

A staple in the country is teff, which is a substitute for the continental regulars such as rice, maize and corn.

Interestingly, teff is growing in demand across the world as a superfood. Its low-glycemic index makes it suitable for diabetics, and it is also high in calcium and iron.

Quraac or breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and often starts with shah (tea) or buna (coffee) and bread that looks like pancakes called lahoh. It can be eaten with a stew, soup, beef or goat livers.

Qado (lunch) and casho (dinner) usually consists of a hearty stew prepared using popular Middle-Eastern spices such as saffron and cinnamon. Harira is a popular soup that is usually eaten at dinner or at the end of the Islamic fasting period. It consists of meat, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, tomato paste and flour. It is spiced with saffron, cumin, parsley, onion, celery, salt, and pepper.

Maraq is a popular soup in the country, as well as in Yemen and Somalia. It is made of sheep, goat or camel meat and bone, and is sometimes seasoned with vegetables and spices. Sautéed liver called beer (meaning liver in Somali) is popularly eaten in local restaurants, and a dish called foul, consisting of boiled and mashed white beans in tomato and onion, is also a local favourite.

Maraq Stew.
Maraq Stew.

For dessert or a snack, a Djiboutian favourite is banana fritters. The fritters are made like pancakes, using mashed ripe bananas mixed in a batter of flour, sugary water and a dash of nutmeg.

Banana Fritters.
Banana Fritters.


Eritrean cuisine fuses the tastes of the East African region with the country’s own traditional cuisine, resulting in flavoursome dishes.

Teff, wheat and sorghum are popular staples, with vegetables and meat being widely consumed. Two staple foods that accompany dishes are kitcha, which is a very thin, baked unleavened wheat bread and injera, which is a spongy pancake made from teff, wheat, barley, maize or sorghum.

A popular breakfast dish is kitcha fit-fit. The dish consists of hearty pancakes that are tossed in clarified butter and spices and served with yoghurt.

Injera commonly accompanies a stew dish called zigni, which consists of meat or fish and vegetables. It is spiced with East Africa’s signature spice called berbere and other spices including chili powder. Another popular stew is tsebhi, which consists of sautéed lamb or beef, tomatoes, hot peppers and a range of spices including berbere. For vegetarians, shiro is the preferred stew that is made from ground chickpea flour, onions and tomatoes.

Injera with various stews.
Injera with various stews.

Coffee is a big part of Eritrean cuisine. It is prepared by the women of the household, and is offered when visitors arrive, during festivals and as a staple. Coffee beans are brewed in a pan over an open flame. They are then grinded before being put into a special vessel and boiled. After grinding, the coffee is put through a sieve several times, and is placed in a boiling pot called a jebena. Brewing occurs 3 times; the first round being called awel, the second kale’i and the third bereka, meaning to be blessed. Coffee is usually accompanied by a small snack such as popcorn or peanuts.


Ethiopian cuisine is best described as hearty, healthy and very delicious.

Teff is a widely cultivated grain that is used to make injera bread, a staple in most dishes. Injera is also used as an eating utensil.

Injera, also known as lahoh.
Injera, also known as lahoh.

For breakfast, Ethiopians love to feast on chechesba or fit-fit, which consists of kitcha (unleavened bread), spices, and seasoned butter called niter kibbeh as well as berbere spice.

Shiro is also as popular in Ethiopia as it is in neighbouring Eritrea, and consists of ground chickpea flour, lentils, broad beans, onions, tomatoes and red berbere sauce. Tsebhi is a popular dish, which is a spicy beef stew that is seasoned with butter and served with injera and Tej (an Ethiopian honey wine). Atkilt Wot is a widely enjoyed dish consisting of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes that are simmered in a light sauce.

Tsebhi Stew.
Tsebhi Stew.

For snacks, Ethiopians enjoy fried foods such as dabo kolo, which are usually served with cocktails, and sambusa, which is a fried pastry that it filled with meat or a lentil relish.

Sambusa from Ethiopia.
Sambusa from Ethiopia.

No meal or celebration is complete without coffee. It is also prepared in the same way as Eritrean coffee, where coffee beans are brewed in a pan over an open flame before being grinded and placed into a special vessel and boiled.  The beans are then put through a sieve several times before being placed in a jebena.


Kenyan cuisine is best described as delicious and diverse, incorporating native East African tastes with the country’s own unique cuisine from various tribes.

Staples include maize, millet, sorghum and a wide range of vegetables and meat. A Kenyan meal is never complete without ugali, which is usually made from cornmeal. It is popularly eaten with sukuma wiki, which consists of a leafy green vegetable such as kale, tomatoes, onion and a spice mix called mchuzi mix. Sukuma ya nyama is also a preferred dish that is eaten with ugali, and it is the meat version of sukuma wiki.

Ugali from Kenya.
Ugali from Kenya.

Nyama choma, or roasted meat, is quite popular in Kenya. Goat meat or beef are barbequed over an open fire. The meat is eaten with kachumbari, which is a Kenyan salsa salad consisting of tomatoes, chili, onion, lime juice and coriander leaves.

Nyama Choma.
Nyama Choma.

Kenyans love snacking on mandazi, which are pieces of deep-fried dough. They are usually accompanied by a cup of sweet chai.


Somali cuisine is rich in diversity as it consists of different tastes from the country’s varied tribes, and has Arab, Indian and East African culinary influences.

Like in neighbouring Eritrea, breakfast or quraac is an important meal for Somalis, and consists of pancake-like bread called canjeero and maraq stew, which is made out of beef or camel meat and a variety of vegetables and spices. In Mogadishu, people usually have polenta porridge called boorash for breakfast. It is served with butter and sugar.

Goat meat is loved by Somalis for its juicy and flavoursome taste. A popular goat meat dish is hilib ari isku duug, which is braised goat meat in tomato and spices, including cumin, coriander seeds and black pepper.

Hilib Ari Isku Duug from Somalia.
Hilib Ari Isku Duug from Somalia.

Macsharo yariis, which are mini rice and coconut cakes, are popularly eaten as snacks. They are made with basmati rice, coconut powder, yeast, ground cardamom, milk and oil.

Tea is popularly consumed in Somalia, with shaah and chai being the most popular. Shaah is served mainly in the afternoons with sweet or savoury treats, and it is spiced with sugar and cardamom. Chai is made with water, milk, tea leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground ginger, peppercorns and cloves. It is made in a saucepan before being sieved and served.


Tanzanian cuisine is delicious and rich in diversity, encompassing tastes from the country’s various cultures as well as influences from the Middle East and India.

Spicy dishes and coconut milk are common in coastal areas, with grains and vegetables being popular in mainland areas. As with neighbouring Kenya, ugali is the country’s popular staple food that accompanies most dishes. Tanzanian ugali is made with either cornmeal, cassava flour, sorghum or millet. Ugali is commonly paired with mchicha, which consists of beans and a leafy green vegetable such as spinach, garlic, onion and tomatoes.

Ugali is also paired with nyama choma, which is barbequed goat, fish or chicken.

For special occasions, pilau is the dish that Tanzanians feast on. It is flavoured rice that is cooked in stock. Fish, meat, poultry or hard-boiled eggs can be added to it, and it is accompanied by kachumbari, which is a salsa that is also popular in neighbouring Kenya.


Chapattis are a favourite among the Swahili-speaking people of Tanzania. Chapatti is unleavened flat bread that can accompany a stew or soup.

Chapatti Bread
Chapatti Bread

Samoosas, an Indian culinary import, are popularly eaten as snacks. Samoosas consist of deep-fried dough that is filled with spiced minced beef or a vegetable relish. Another popular snack is Indian tandoori or Middle Eastern kebabs called mishkaki. The kebabs are made from beef, goat, chicken, or fish that is marinated, skewered and grilled over charcoal. Meat is roasted until it blackens, giving it a great fiery flavour.


Rwandan cuisine is slightly different from traditional East African cuisine in that it isn’t as spicy as the cuisine of the rest of the region.

Staples include bananas, plantains, pulses, sweet potatoes, potatoes and cassava. Meat is rarely consumed in rural areas as cattle are kept as a family’s status symbol, and fish is eaten in areas close to Lake Kivu and Lake Victoria.

Ugali, nyama choma and kachumbari are very popular in Rwanda as in Tanzania and Kenya. Other popular dishes include matoke, which is a dish made from baked or steamed plantains, and a dish called akabenz, which is a pork dish that is served mainly in restaurants in the country’s capital Kigali.

Matoke from Rwanda.
Matoke from Rwanda.

For a snack, Rwandans mainly eat fruits such as avocados, bananas, mangos, pineapple, and papaya.


Ugandan cuisine is flavoursome and moreish, borrowing from the culinary styles of the English, Arab, Asian and Indian regions and fusing these with traditional tastes.

Staples include maize, potatoes, yams, tropical fruit, chicken, pork, fish, beef and goat meat. In the rural areas where meat can be expensive, bush meat is widely consumed.

Posho is a favourite among Ugandans. It consists of corn flour that is mixed with boiling water until it becomes solid. Posho is known as ugali in Kenya and Tanzania.

Matooke is a dish that is usually eaten during special occasions. It consists of steamed green bananas that are cooked with their leaves. Left over matooke can be fried with onion and tomato.

Chapatis are often eaten as snacks. They are made from wheat flour, water and salt, and can be eaten alone or with pinto bean soup.

Bon appetite!

*images from Somali Kitchen, Expo 2015, Traveling East, BuzzFeed, Food, Migrationology, Mina Halal, BuzzKenya and AFK Travel .

*Dailypost WordPress.

6 thoughts on “Cuisine of East Africa

  1. This entire post left me hungry 🙂 In Malaysia, we have something similar to sambusa, we call it popiah it’s generally filled with vegetables particularly bean sprouts.

  2. I just got back from Tanzania (and Zanzibar), tried the ugali and some of the other things you mentioned. Bar-B-Que on the mainland and seafood on the islands, the spices really made the food different than what I’m used to but delicious.

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