Kenyan foods include many of the things you will be familiar with from home. In fact, much of the food of Kenya is exported to Europe and the United States. If you do any traveling outside of the cities, you will see evidence of commercial farming and ranching. In the highlands north of Nairobi, you will see vast fields of fruits, orchards, and vegetables being grown, some of these farms are operated by well-known international firms like Dole and Del Monte. Around Mount Kenya and north of Nakuru there are both coffee and tea plantations. This region is also home to many large ranches that raise lamb and beef for export. Your Kenya dining experiences will almost always include a predominance of delicious locally grown and produced foods.
The Kenyan cuisine you experience at most hotels and safari lodges will include many Continental dishes with which you are familiar. Many of these are served buffet style with numerous choices among hot and cold and meat and vegetarian dishes. The spread will be more or less lavish depending on the standard of accommodation you have chosen. Likewise, the Kenyan restaurants that cater to tourists will also have numerous dishes that include familiar items.
Kenyan foods rely heavily on the most nutritious and most filling vegetables and fruits, with meat whenever it is affordable. Chicken, beef, lamb, fish, and pork are the most popular meats, and “nyama choma” (Swahili for grilled meat or barbecue) is extremely popular with the local people. Virtually all safari lodges and many restaurants will have a nyama choma night at least once a week. If you want to experience the quintessential nyama choma, you can visit the famous Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi. Located near Jomo Kenyatta Airport, this institution has been going strong since 1980 and is internationally famous. A variety of meats are cooked over large open barbecue pits on Maasai spears. Waiters keep coming to your table with the spears and slice off chucks of meat until you raise the little flag on your table in surrender. In addition to the customary meats, you will probably be offered ostrich meatballs and crocodile tail (the only edible part of the animal). Occasionally, zebra or a common antelope might be offered. The restaurant is huge, with both indoor and outdoor dining areas, and a salon that has become a popular discotheque and can seat as many as 20,000 people for special events.
You will have an opportunity during your Kenya dining experience to sample many traditional dishes, and it is highly recommended that you try some. In addition to the beloved barbecued meats, “ugali” is a staple. This dish (also called posho, sembe, or sema) is a stiff, porridge-like mixture made from corn or maize flour. It is generally served as a side dish, and you roll off chunks to dip in sauces of stewed vegetables or meat. It can best be compared to stiff grits from the American South. The Kikuyu people make a similar, but much more nutritious, mixture from peas, corn, potatoes, and sometime lima beans called ”irio.” Fish is a staple throughout much of the country, with tilapia and Nile perch coming from Lake Victoria and fresh trout from the streams and rivers around Mount Kenya. In Nairobi and along the entire coast from Lamu and Malindi to Mombasa, Kenyan cuisine leans heavily on fresh seafood from the Indian Ocean. Lobster, prawns, calamari, and swordfish are common.
Another heavy influence on Kenyan cuisine is the large population of people who have come from other countries – in particular from India. Indians were brought here by the British colonials at the turn of the nineteenth century to build the Mombasa to Uganda rail line, the transportation link that opened the country to European settlement and entry into the modern world. There are numerous Indian restaurants in all the major towns and cities, and almost any Kenya dining experience will include Indian dishes, spices, and influences. Especially common are various curries, chapattis, and samosas (also called sambusas). There are also a significant number of Chinese, Italians, and Ethiopians in the country, and you also will find these restaurants in major towns and cities.
One of the first concerns tourists have before traveling almost anywhere in Africa is food safety. Many erroneously think that Kenyan foods are generally not safe – that you should stay away from ice cubes, dairy products, and salads and only eat fruit that you can wash and peel yourself in purified water. This is entirely untrue. You can feel safe eating and drinking anything served to you in virtually all hotels, safari lodges, and restaurants that cater to tourists. Since ice must be made from purified water, it will only be served in your drink if you ask for it, and then you might only get a couple cubes unless you ask for more. You should not drink tap water anywhere, but safe bottled water is available for purchase everywhere. Most of the tourist hotels and lodges provide a complimentary bottle of water in your room each day. You should be more careful of food you eat in out-of-the-way places and small local restaurants. Remember that virtually all visitors who come down with a gastro-intestinal illness have contaminated themselves by not observing commonsense hygiene practices. With regards to alcoholic beverages, you will find beer readily available everywhere and quite reasonably priced. The two excellent local beers are Tusker Lager and White Cap (originally from South Africa). The better hotels and restaurants will have more expensively priced imported beers, especially Heineken from the Netherlands and Amstel from Belgium. Wine is also available in better hotels and lodges (much of it from South Africa) and while not cheap, it is reasonably priced. Hard liquor is extremely expensive (from $5 to $12 per small European shot). It is suggested that you purchase a bottle or two duty free in Europe when you change planes en route.