Food, Food, Food: Learn to eat the Ugandan way

8 Mar


I must confess, that even after 9 months in the country, I have not taken to the Ugandan cuisine as I expected. The food seems extremely bland to my South Asian palate, accustomed to an assortment of spices and herbs. Also, since it is really heavy on starch, it is very hard to incorporate into a weight loss diet.

Matoke (boiled or steamed raw green bananas) is the most popular starch form consumed in Uganda, usually served with a sauce of groundnuts (peanuts).

Although bananas are available in abundance in almost all parts of the country, these are still consumed obsessively; if not as matoke then as a fruit or dessert.

Don’t be surprised if you are served bananas with tea instead of biscuits in government meetings.

If you stay in Uganda for any length of time you will also get accustomed to road side vendors selling fried or roasted grasshoppers, considered quite a delicacy. However, these are seasonal, and should be eaten fresh (advice from the locals). You will often find night guards, especially in rural areas, with strange contraptions/ grasshopper catchers outside the guard rooms to catch this delicious free food.

This free food for some, fetches a good price in Kampala.

My family, my two sisters, my younger sister’s husband and kids, came to visit me over Christmas. I told them about the fried grasshoppers sold everywhere and how I was tempted to try these but did not have the stomacht for it.

Just a few days before their departure, we went to Nakasero fruit and vegetable market. After a quick trip to the fruit and vegetable section, I led them to a stall where huge heaps of roasted grasshoppers were being sold. My elder sister, Simbal, decided it was time to overcome all fears, starting with eating the crispy green creatures. Although she did not admit at the time, I could tell she felt a bit queasy afterwards.

I would certainly not recommend the grasshoppers to the weak hearted

My brave sister sampling fried grasshoppers in Nakasero market

My brave sister sampling fried grasshoppers in Nakasero market

The following extract from Uganda visit and travel guide is a very good summary of staple Ugandan diet.
Ugandan Food:Main dishes are usually centered on a sauce or stew of groundnuts, beans or meat.

The starch traditionally comes from ugali (maize meal) or matoke (boiled and mashed green banana), in the South, or an ugali made from millet in the North.

Cassava, yam and African sweet potato are also eaten; the more affluent include white (often called “Irish”) potato and rice in their diets.

Soybean was promoted as a healthy food staple in the 1970s and this is also used, especially for breakfast. Chapati, an Asian flatbread, is also part of Ugandan cuisine.

Chicken, fish (usually fresh, but there is also a dried variety, reconstituted for stewing), beef, goat and mutton are all commonly eaten, although among the rural poor there would have to be a good reason for slaughtering a large animal such as a goat or a cow and nyama, (Swahili word for “meat”) would not be eaten every day.

Various leafy greens are grown in Uganda. These may be boiled in the stews, or served as side dishes in fancier homes. Amaranth (dodo), nakati, and borr are examples of regional greens.

Ugali is cooked up into a thick porridge for breakfast. For main meals, white flour is added to the saucepan and stirred into the ugali until the consistency is firm. It is then turned out onto a serving plate and cut into individual slices (or served onto individual plates in the kitchen).

Fruits are plentiful and regularly eaten, as in the Western World, as snacks or dessert. Europeans introduced cake and this is also popular.

Some traditional Uganda food names
Ugali – usually from maize but also other starches, regional names include posho and kwon. Ugandan expatriates make ugali from cornmeal, masa harina or grits

Groundnut – peanuts are a vital staple and groundnut sauce is probably the most commonly eaten one.

Sim-sim – sesame – used particularly in the north, roasted sesame paste is mixed into a stew of beans or greens and served as a side dish, sesame paste may be served as a condiment; a candy is made from roasted sesame seeds with sugar or honey.

Matoke – Mashed plantain that used as opposed to mashed potato. Usually used in a main course.

Ugandan Snacks
•roasted groundnuts served in a spill of paper

samusa (samousa, samosa) — Indian samosas have been completely assimilated into the local cuisine, as have chapati and curry

mkate na mayai (bread and eggs). Originally an Arab dish, it’s wheat dough spread into a thin pancake, filled with minced meat and raw egg, and then folded into a neat parcel and fried on a hotplate.

nsenene is an unusual food item: a seasonal delicacy of a type of grasshopper

nswaa served similarly to nsenene but made of white antUgandan Beverages

Pombe is the generic word for locally made fermented beer, usually from banana or millet. Tonto is a traditional fermented drink made from bananas.

Waragi is the generic term for distilled spirits and these also vary, see for example Uganda Waragi a brand name for clear or yellow gin.

Tea (chai) and coffee (kawa) are popular beverages and important cash crops. These can be served English-style or spiced (chai masala).

Coca-cola, Pepsi and Fanta all made inroads in the Ugandan market and soda became very popular.


9 Responses to “Food, Food, Food: Learn to eat the Ugandan way”

  1. uzmaaftab March 12, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    WoW! I am impressed!!

  2. Joan August 3, 2013 at 4:32 am #

    It’s posho not ugali.

  3. Lisa August 27, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    I have a friend who misses Ugandan cooking…I found your site helpful…thank you.

    • sheebaafghani October 13, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      Thank you Lisa. Have been madly busy so did not get a chance to see your comment. More soon!!!

      • Patience November 19, 2014 at 8:27 am #

        Interesting article.The picture of the grasshoppers(nsenene) shown is of raw ones.They are mostly consumed flied;its a delicacy indeed o ooh,the aroma while flying them can tell it all!Hope you enjoyed your stay here in Uganda.Next time you come to Uganda,if its ok with you,contact me on so that i take you through the process this delicacy goes through until it’s consumed if you are interested.You’ll love it.

  4. NAIRUBA PROSSY January 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    gu’d to here this but stable food are eaten according to culture

  5. gloria June 4, 2015 at 8:07 am #

    Am Ugandan and am quite impressed coz what you’ve researched is actually true. I really do love the nsenene, soooo tasty.

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