Mandazi [mahn-dahz-ee] noun: Fried doughnut or roll served as dessert or a warm teatime snack all over Kenya and East Africa.
We came home one evening to our guest house in Kenya to find our very kind housekeeper, Helen, making a big basket of mandazi. They smelled delicious, like fried dough and warm flour. We asked Helen how they are made -- read on for a super-quick video of frying mandazi!
Chapati [chuh-pah-tee] noun: Pan-grilled unleavened flatbread eaten in India, East Africa, and most of South Asia.
Chapati is ubiquitous in Kenya; big golden wedges of this flat, chewy bread were served at almost every meal. We loved it; the fried golden taste is so delicious, and it's handy for sopping up extra meat and sauce. We were already familiar, too, with chapati from Indian cuisine. But we quickly realized that what the Kenyans called chapati was something different; it's not analogous to the familiar Indian style of chapati at all.
Sukuma wiki, noun: This Swahili word literally means "stretch the week," but it usually refers to a simple dish of cooked greens like kale or collards.
"Stretch the week!" That's what basic cooked greens like these mean to Kenyan people. We ate these cooked greens at nearly every meal. By the end of our trip to the Rift Valley highlands, sukuma wiki was a familiar sight on a loaded lunch plate, along with chapatis, rice, ugali, and irio. But it was also familiar because it was a common point between the Kenyan kitchen and ours: we love greens like these too!
Ugali [oo-gahl-ee] noun: In Kenya, ugali is the name for the most common mealtime starch: a thick, stiff porridge made from white cornmeal or red millet.
In Kenya, ugali is one of the most common dishes you can find. Served with meat or mashed vegetables, it's practically the national dish. It's found throughout Africa, in fact; in South Africa it may be called pap, and in Zimbabwe you can find it by the name of sadza. Regardless of what it's called, ugali forms the backbone of traditional Kenyan cuisine.
Irio [eer-ee-o], noun: In the Kenyan tribal language of Kikuyu, irio just means food. But it usually refers to a simple, plain dish of mashed potatoes, maize, and peas or greens.
A couple years ago I spent a week in Kenya, in the highlands of the Rift Valley about an hour away from Nairobi. I really enjoyed the good food of this agricultural region. Here's a very typical dinner dish: bright green irio!