Guide to Local Ugandan Food

Ugandan Food

Whether you are simply on the go, or wanting to sit down and savor your meal, trying the local food specialties in Uganda is a must. Many of us know the basic standbys. A Rolex, made of chapatti and eggs rolled with some cabbage and tomato is a favorite after-bar snack. Likewise pork, sausage, beef sticks, g-nuts, and sim sim butter are also well known. But there are a bevy of other meals that you ought to sink your teeth into. So let’s go explore some uniquely Ugandan treats.

We are going to start this one out with grasshoppers, otherwise known as Nsenene. Why? Because I love grasshoppers. I get why putting a ‘bug’ in your mouth might go against what you were taught as a child. However, insects are not only a logical food source, but a healthy one. Relatively speaking, grasshoppers pack far more protein (and much less fat) than most meat products. Also, if you make them right they are delicious. Just pick up a bag at your local market, take it home, and fry it up with a little oil and salt. It’s like a healthy version of popcorn. And since all their bug like attributes (wings, legs) are removed before they get to you, it doesn’t feel like you’re eating an insect.

But why get off the bug train when we’re moving so merrily along. While you’re here, try the white ant. It’s a type of termite that may be an unlikely food source just hanging out in your backyard. I still remember when the groundskeeper at my place knocked over a dirt mount and just started chowing down. “Is it good?” I asked him. He nodded and offered me one. Well who am I to say no? This is a type of ant is known locally as Nswaa. And while it’s not a personal favorite of mine, I’ve eaten much worse.

Okay now I promise we’re going to move onto something a bit more, well, ‘average’. Luwombo, is an excellent dish for those looking to dabble into Ugandan cuisine for the first time. It’s essentially a protein steamed in banana leaves. So it can be chicken, beef, stew, or fish and often vegetables can be steamed right alone with the meat. Served alone or with a starch such as rice or matooke, it is a delicious and nutritious meal.

This brings us to the starches, mostly known here as matooke and posho (although rice and potatoes are also commonly served). Posho (also called ugali) is a mixture of cornmeal and water. It can be served as porridge, or thickened up depending on how you take it. It is mostly flavorless by itself but can be easily livened up with sauces. Matooke is a starchy green plantain. To me, when it’s cooked correctly it tastes like mashed potatoes, and who doesn’t love mashed potatoes? Top it with some stew and broth and I can eat this for days.

Another popular local food is Kikomando. Legend has it this was named after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role in Commando, although who really knows. Either way it’s a decent, albeit basic dish of beans with chapatti slices that makes for a hearty lunch that costs next to nothing.

For those who seek more than just food, they seek an adventure; Molokoni is a local delicacy just for you. It might not be for the faint of heart, but this cherished dish is essentially cow-hoof stew. While cow hoof stew has its place in cuisine from Italy to Mexico, here it is slow cooked for hours in a simple sauce. The rich cartilage inside the hoof allows for a rich stock to form which many Ugandans swear has medicinal properties. Served with a simple starch, by the time it reaches your plate, the meat will be falling off the bone.

With Lake Victoria nearby, it’s no surprise that fish is a regular on most menus. Most fish is often served slow cooked and whole. This is a fantastic way to eat it, because the skin crisps up well for those who like texture. It is often served with a side of chips or potatoes (also called Irish).

For the love of fried foods, you can rarely go wrong eating sumosa or mandazi. Sumosa is a thin fried pastry that can be filled with, well, anything really. However the most popular stuffing is beef and peas. Mandazi is essentially a fried donut and can be delightfully addictive. Meanwhile numerous local joints are happy to serve fried chicken and fish fingers.

So from beans to insects and plantains to sauces, you’ll have numerous choices and styles when it comes to local dishes. There are, of course, plenty of other recipes that vary from north to south, and east to west. If you have any dishes you particularly love, feel free to share your best recipes and favorite foods in the comments.

About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at lizabeth@livinginkampala.com.