5 Kenyan Classic Meals That Are Definitely Soul Food

written by Anthony Mbugua 15th July 2019

We had a discussion about soul food in our office and we couldn’t seem to agree on what it is. “It’s the food you eat when you’re having a bad day,” one said and most of us nodded in agreement. Burgers and fries? It was almost unanimously agreed that this combo also fits in the ‘ Kenyan soul food’ category. How many times have you calmed yourself down with a plate of chips? The one description that actually satisfied this debate was, “the food that reminds you of home.”

Yes, soul food not only goes to your ‘soul’ but there’s a special attachment to it. Kenyan soul food is definitely what you enjoy when you visit your parents or grandparents, the kind of meal you’re almost assured they’re going to cook at one point. You’re probably getting a couple of ideas of meals you’re likely to have that’ll remind you of home even before you check out the list.

Is this list comprehensive? Definitely not. Is this list an almost true reflection of classic Kenyan meals? Definitely yes. You will perhaps be inspired to prepare one of these meals (we’ve got the recipes) and remind yourself of that warm feeling of home. It’s time to substitute your junk food for Kenyan soul food on those very blue days (but only temporarily, we still love our fries and pizza).

Mukimo and Beef Stew

These two go hand in hand. Admit it, you’ve definitely had this at one point in your life growing up in Kenya. It’s basically mashed potatoes with pumpkin leaves (substituted with other greens) with soft corn (substituted with peas or other greens) and then pairing it with tasty beef stew. The mukimo is quite filling and the beef stew, which you can be super creative with, adds the flavourful dynamic.

Get the recipes: Mashed potatoes, beef stew

Pilau and Chicken

There was a time you’d have sworn we used to eat the same thing in our homes; pilau and chicken was everyone’s favourite, don’t lie. Pilau is loved for its use of spices which makes the rice a great meal to have. The chicken can be kienyeji and can either be grilled or consumed with some broth.

Get the recipes: pilau, kuku kienyeji

Chapati and Beans

We grew up and we stopped believing that chapatis are only for special occasions. We recommend the pumpkin chapati when preparing your next chapatis. Prepare your beans as stew and if there are any leftovers, use them to prepare breakfast. Chapati and beans combo is also a meal you’re likely to find at most kibandas at a very subsidized price. If you’re not feeling exploratory, then this is the first meal you have.

Get the recipes: pumpkin chapati, beans on toast for breakfast

Ugali and Grilled Tilapia

When we were compiling this list, we joked that the fish has to be tilapia. Seriously, this Kenyan soul food needs tilapia, not salmon or tuna, but tilapia for it to be considered typically Kenyan. Ugali is a local staple and the fish is what makes this a special dish. You can have your tilapia with tartar sauce for more taste.

Get the recipes: ugali, grilled tilapia

Chicken Curry and Biryani

The Kenyan coastal region is considered culturally rich; it’s the food, the people and the general place atmosphere of the region. Biryani is a must-have Kenyan meal and it definitely lands in the soul food category. There are various biryani recipes and the chicken curry, just like with the pilau, makes this a delicacy to enjoy when you want the meal to ‘transport your soul back home’.

Get the recipes: chicken curry, chicken biryani

What constitutes as soul food to you?

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