Swahili is usually a word referring to a culture and a language of south-eastern Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and some regions of South Africa. Swahili, to be exact, is much more. But it is especially this south-eastern coast that shows this culture’s soul so much. Food as well, of course. Most tourists know – and love – Kenyan and Zanzibar food, but there are many different recipes to try. A whole world to know … and taste.

Fish is the main dish of swahili food, but also spices and chicken meat are protagonists.  They use cooked dough too, a lot, but it is mainly made with potetoes, manioc. Sometimes with plantains too. Rice is the main element of Pilau dish and of course bananas will never be lacking. Swahili food can make great things by mixing incredible and strange flavours. Let’s go discover, and taste, this unique “yummy” world.

The most famous Swahili Food recipes

Pilau and Ugali are the most famous Swahili Food dishes. Recently also Zanzibar’s kebab and their local “pizza” have joined the luxury club! But Pilau and Ugali are still the king and queen of this tradition. Pilau is a rice based main dish, it is spread in most parts of Middle East and Asia but the Swahili version of the recipe has a special flavour. It is enriched by Zanzibar spices, especially cinnamon and cardamom.

Ugali is a delicious and simple dough made of corn, semolina, sorghum flour and water. Sometimes you can also mix potatoes, onions and other vegetables in the recipe so to give it a more precious flavour. You eat it with special sauces, chili sauces, meat or fish. These two dishes will be your best Swahili Food experience, together with the particular Zanzibar Pizza and their famous fish – or chicken – kebabs.

food market in zanzibar stone town forodhani garden
food market in zanzibar stone town forodhani garden

Swahili food, not to miss

Of course you must never miss Pilau or Ugali, when you visit a Swahili culture nation. But there are other typical recipes you should try. For example, Nyama Choma that is roasted meat – usually garlic and lemon marinated goat meat. Ndizi Na Nyama is a recipe based on a weird mix: meat and banana. Both cook slowly and become a delicious stew. Corn and beans are also interesting Swahili food, you can mix them in the Mukimo salt cake recipe or you find them as a salad in the Kenyan Giteri recipe. Lobsters and roasted fish are simple way to eat Swahili, but very delicious too. Of course do not miss the Samosa fries.

Where to eat

The best places where to taste Swahili food are, for sure: Zanzibar, the whole coast of Tanzania, the tourist villages along the Kenyan coast – and of course the best restaurants of the capital cities. In South Africa you shall try some Swahili recipe in the best restaurants of Cape Town, at Knysna (along the waterfront) or between the city of Durban and the Lesotho enclave region. If you can, try the street food, rather than real restaurants, especially if you have the chance to eat it in the Swahili people’s districts.

swahili food 02
making the Ugali_photo by Tim Cawley