Much like the coastal Swahili accent, Swahili food sings. Fruits, fish, pulses, grains and coconuts are blended with a symphony of aromatic spices to create a harmony of aromas and flavours.
The chain that connects Swahili, Arabic and Indian food is strong. Once the heat of the day is over, you can walk the coastal streets and find your senses flooded by aromatic smells and the sounds of people exchanging pleasantries into the early evening hours. Famous spots for coastal street food include the iconic Lighthouse in Old Town Mombasa. Wherever you decide to stop and indulge, make sure you don’t miss out on some of these classic snacks, bitings and mouth watering sweets:
Madafu, aka the original Vita Coco. Madafu will cure your hangover, rejuvenate your skin and rehydrate you better than any processed or packaged good. You won’t find a more hydrating drink in the coastal heat than a madafu freshly cut from a cart or street stall. Plus, it makes for a classic “I’m at the beach” Instagram post.
Light and crisp, these thinly sliced cassava crisps tossed in salt and chili powder are a simple yet effective snack. You may feel that the deep fry would weigh you down or leave you feeling bloated, but Kachiri is expertly flash fried and doesn’t leave an oily residue on your palate .
This Swahili dish doesn’t need much of an introduction. If you’re unfamiliar with it’s Swahili name, you’ve probably seen it around Kenya. Sweet ripe maize roasted over an open fire rubbed down in fresh lime and sprinkled with chili powder, it’s a well-known Swahili snack that’s found it’s way inland.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but the combination of spicy and sour knows no parallel. Chili powder is sprinkled into green or underripe mangos that have been cut into stips with ensuing mouthwatering results.
These fried delights are made of coconut cream, flour and cardamom. Kitumbua are often consumed at breakfast with a cup of chai. Late for work? Grab a kitumbua. Late for school? Grab a kitumbua. This is the carb-based breakfast to keep you fueled throughout the day.
This dessert is for those of you with a strong sweet tooth. Another Swahili dish that is often enjoyed during tea time with a cup of Swahili coffee, people young and old enjoy this as an afternoon treat. Made of tapioca starch, ghee, 3 cups of sugar, nutmeg, rosewater and toasted sesame seeds, this dish doesn’t need any extra sweetener in your drink. A small cube to nibble or suck on will get you a long way in terms of caloric value and sweet-tooth craving.
Other than being fun to say, you’ll want to order Mshikaki for it’s delicious marinade and easy-to-eat appeal. A Mshikaki is essentially a Swahili take on the kebab: goat, mutton or beef- skewered, marinated and grilled. Street vendors will often have their own twist on the Mshikaki marinade and it’s a perfect grab-and-go snack.
What’s the difference between Mahamri and Mandazi? While opinions vary, a broad consensus seems to be that Mahamri is made with yeast and is cooked in cardamom, thus giving it a more spiced flavour than Mandazi.
Often served for breakfast with the aforementioned Mahmri, any trip to the coast must include this creamy pigeon pea and coconut curry. It’s a savoury accompaniment cooked with ginger, tumeric and garlic paste.
A crunchy, nutty, shareable treat. Made with sugar, peanuts, cardamom and milk powder, this snack bar is the perfect after school/work snack. Unlike many of the other street foods on this list, Kashata isn’t cooked in front of you but it’s a fun snack to munch on as you stroll the busy streets.