It may not seem like an obvious place for it, but the street food scene in Uganda is live and kicking. Town centres, bus stations and roadsides are full of people selling chapatis, grilled chicken, maize and a glorious bounty of fruit and vegetables – avocadoes bigger than your hand or seven different types of mango. Young men wander the streets with buckets of mendazi, sambusa and boiled eggs, and women sell sim-sim (as sesame biscuit), peanuts and fried maize by the bag.
If you need something heartier, behind every market is a treasure trove of very cheap, local restaurants. If you’re in Kampala then the Kamwokwa Market close to Fat Cat Backpackers is a good place to start. Women have several pots full of posho, matooke katogo, beans, meat stew or g-nuts with fish, all boiling away on charcoal stoves whilst workers sit at the communal table and benches eating their food. Wash it down with a glass of fresh cocktail juice and you will be very satisfied.
Here is a list of my favourite street eats from Uganda, and a rough cost for them. 1000 UGX is about 20p, or 27 cents.
Chapatis are eaten all over East Africa and Uganda is no exception. In every town and on every roadside you can find men rolling out and frying chapatis from the early hours. They are pretty filling and cost around 500 UGX. Best eaten fresh.
Whilst chapatis can be found all over the region, only Uganda has the unique ‘Rolex’ – an omelette (usually with tomato and cabbage) rolled up in a chapati and eaten like a wrap. The snack is such a symbol that the country even has its own annual Rolex Festival. Greasy, but fills a hole at the end of the night. Around 1500 UGX
All over Uganda there are local authority owned ‘service stations’ run by local men and women. Chicken legs are grilled over hot coals and sold by the hundreds every day. A more expensive snack at 2500 UGX, but if you want cheaper then they also sell chicken gizzards.
Also sold at the service stations are these ‘genjo’ bananas, which are grilled. You can also buy grilled cassava and tastes great with a bit of salt or piri piri powdered over it. 200-500 UGX
Pork joints are the place to go for a proper sit down meal (2kgs pork with sides cost 25000 UGX) but if you want something on the fly (and aren’t picky about which part of the pig you’re eating) then head to the road-side grillers for a skewer at about 600 UGX.
Maize, sold by women in towns, behind markets and along the roadside. They are much drier and less sweet than the corn of the cobs in the UK, but a relatively filling and healthy option. 500 UGX
EGGS! Young men carry around buckets full of boiled eggs for 100 UGX each. They helpfully wait whilst you peel your egg and add some salt or spicy pepper. You’re most likely to find them at bus and taxi stations or walking round the markets.
Sambusa – a version of the Indian ‘samosa’ and found in many parts of East Africa. The Ugandan sambusas mostly come in two varieties 1) mince meat and a bit of spice 2) cow peas and onions. Between 200 – 500 UGX.
Mendazi, again, found in most East African countries and are a deep-fried sweet dough ball. They’re commonly a morning snack and mostly sold around the markets and bus stations for between 200 – 500 UGX.
Lots of little chai shops are open only in the morning serving African tea – a sweet milky tea made with ginger and other spices. Most chai stands will also have boiled eggs, mendazi and sambusa for sale on the counter.
‘Cocktail juice’ is for sale in most local restaurants and cafes and is usually a mix of two of the following – passion fruit, orange or pineapple. If they’re making it fresh then (if you want) ask them not to add sugar. 1000 UGX
These don’t need much introduction, but well worth a mention as the pineapples in Uganda are the best pineapples I have ever tasted in my life. Men push bikes like these around the town all day, and are relatively easy to spot, but if not then head to the market. Range between 1000 and 2000 UGX depending on size.
Jack fruits are weird, smelly, sticky alien fruits that completely won me over (because of all the above). The fruit itself tastes astonishingly like candy. They are notoriously sticky so if you don’t want to deal with the fallout then you can buy pre-prepared bags of the fruit and eat it daintily with a cocktail stick. Not cheap though, about 1000 UGX for a small bag.
You can get hearty and cheap meals like this for 1000 – 2500 UGX in most local food places. Posho and beans (pictured), katogo, goat stew, g-nuts and fish usually frequent the menus.
If you want to get pissed on the cheap then head to a local bar for ‘bushera’ a home-brewed beer made from fermented sorghum. It’s also confusingly called porridge, which is essentially what it is. It’s also very filling, so if you want something lighter try the banana beer, made from matooke. Bushera is 500 UGX for 1 litre and Banana Beer more like 600 UGX. If you really like it, a drinks company has now started selling it in supermarkets.
A common breakfast in Uganda is sweetened maize porridge with ‘pancakes’ that are made from millet flour and bananas. The pancakes can be bought separately from markets.
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Pork is a big deal in Uganda. Every trading centre and town has at least one ‘pork joint’, a place to go with friends for beers, fried pork and all the sides and it’s not uncommon to see whole ears, snouts or just the face of a pig being roasted and sold by street vendors on the side of the road. One town we stayed in you could hear the chilling squeals of pigs being slaughtered at the same time every day. The pork joints look vibrant, sociable, smoky and delicious, so when Boaz, a guy we had met via two Auzzie girls in Kampala, offers to take us to his favourite local pork joint I jump at the chance. I’ve only a week left in Uganda and don’t want to leave before eating at one of these bad boys.
The place we head to is the ‘Kekube International Pork Centre’, ran by a woman called Caroline with the help of her five children. It’s Boaz’ favourite because “the spice mix is better than other joints in town and the pork is fresh”. Pleasing my Western sensibilities, it also comes with a large array of vegetables – salads, cooked cabbage, and potatoes and matooke which are cooked in pork fat. Once again, I go behind the scenes to the kitchen and find out the recipe. This is a rib-sticker of a feast best enjoyed with plenty of friends and cold beers.
Eating meat out is a new thing for Boaz and something reserved for when he’s working in Kabale town. Growing up, in the village outside of town, his family only ate meat about three times a year – always at Christmas and when his father or someone else in the village slaughtered an animal and the whole community would join in the feasting. Meat days were special and a good opportunity for his parents to make them work harder in anticipation of the meal at the end of it, “no meat until you collect the firewood”, the African version of “no telly until you’ve finished your supper”, I suppose.
There is one day from Boaz’ childhood he remembers particularly well, the day his sister’s boyfriend came over to ask for her hand in marriage and negotiate the bridal price. In Ugandan culture dowries are still a thing, once the amount has been agreed between the bride’s parents and husband-to-be a date is set for when the goods will be delivered, this is known as the ‘Introduction’; only after the Introduction can the marriage take place. Often, the bridal price is so large that it takes the man a long time to save enough money. One man I spoke to bought his wife for 24 crates of beer, 24 crates of soda, four cows and eight sacks of maize flour, it took him so long to acquire that they already had two children by the time he married his wife. Similarly, Boaz’s sister was also already pregnant and she and her boyfriend were keen to be married soon.
As tradition dictates, it is down to the woman’s family to lay on a feast for the husband-to-be and the ensuing negotiations. Boaz, only 14 at the time, remembers the excitement and sense of occasion in his home at the time: animals had been slaughtered and were roasting, frying and stewing in various pots and fires in the kitchen and backyard; jerrycans of ‘Bushera’ – a beer made from sorghum – had been brewed; posho, matooke, sweet potato, irish potatoes and beans, were being boiled, mashed and mingled; and special, rare dishes of vegetables and fruit were also being prepared. Boaz had never been exposed to such a cornucopia of food and drink, “all around me there was every type of food” he remembers “I had to eat and drink it all, not one bit managed to leave the kitchen without me trying it first”. The excitement and alcohol were so great for 14 year old Boaz that by the time his father asked him to go herd the cattle that afternoon, he took himself off to the neighbours loo beforehand, but fell asleep in it! Boaz was M.I.A for hours and it fell to his neighbour to bring in the cattle.
Despite Boaz’ “shameful” behaviour, a bridal price was agreed and a date set for three months hence when the boyfriend would bring over the booty. Tragically, the wedding never took place, the boyfriend caught a kidney infection only two months afterwards and died that Christmas. Boaz’ sister gave birth to a boy who never got to meet his father and now, more than 22 years’ later his sister is still unmarried.
Now grown up, and only slightly more able to handle his drink, Boaz eats meat much more regularly. Living with his brother in town, they and friends will often go to the pork joint on a Friday night then out to Mist Bar for a boogie. Sometimes they go after beers – “no more than three though”.
The recipe below is the pork we had at ‘International Pork Joint’. I’ve also added another type of pork we had at the Kaluya’s, you can choose which, or all three method you want to do.
Recipe for fried pork with all the sides
4kg pork ribs
1 garlic bulb
Palm sized chunk of root ginger
For the sides:
1 green cabbage
2 red onions
4 medium potatoes
Lots of pork fat or other cooking oil
Firstly, make sure the pork ribs are cut into bite-size and skewerable-size pieces. Ask the butcher to do this.
For the deep-fried pork: pulverise the garlic, ginger and chillies together in a pestle and mortar, or using the end of a rolling pin. Add salt and a little oil then using your hands rub the mixture into the pork making sure the meat is also covered with the marinade. Cover and leave to marinade for at least 3 hours. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with cooking oil and heat. Once it is sizzling add the pork in batches and fry until very dark brown and crispy.
For the fried pork: Place a large saucepan over high heat and add a little oil. Once sizzling add the pork and fry for a couple of minutes. Add roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, stock cube and salt and fry together for a further 10 minutes. Use a spatula to encourage the tomatoes to break up and create a paste in the pan.
For the roasted pork: Season the pork pieces and put onto skewers. Cook over hot coals, BBQ or in the oven.
For the sides: Using the same oil used to deep-fry the pork, place the potatoes and matooke (whole and unpeeled) into the pan and allow them to cook on a high heat until cooked. The potatoes will take about 10 minutes but the matooke will need a little longer. To encourage the matooke to cook, split the skin of the banana from end to end.
Shred the cabbage and finely slice the tomatoes and onions. Mix together with a little salt and some lemon.
(Authentic) serving suggestion: Place the pork, potatoes, matooke and cabbage on a large sharing platter and eat communally with your hands. Drinking a nice cold beer at the same time is a must, if you can get your hands on ‘Club’, ‘Nile Special’ or ‘Bell’ beers then even better.
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At Kibebe Primary School and almost every other primary school in Uganda, ‘posho and beans’ is the lunchtime meal, eaten by everyone, every day of the week, for as long as anyone can remember. Posho is a Ugandan staple, made by ‘mingling’ maize flour with water until it becomes something that resembles a solid lump of mashed potato. It may not sound appealing, but when eaten with a delicious dish of spiced, stewed beans it becomes something else.
I’m here at the school helping a group to build a water-tank, made using a special interlocking brick that is more sustainable than the ordinary kiln-fired ones. The builders I’m working with have gone through a special training programme thanks to Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT) – young men are trained up to use this sustainable construction method and once graduated are employed to carry out community projects, it’s a win-win-win situation. HYT won an Ashden Award last year, which is how I came to hear about them, and how I eventually wind up on site in a hard hat and high vis, mixing cement, eating posho and beans with my hands and trying in every way possible not to stick out like a white woman on a construction site in Uganda.
There are eight guys in total building the water tank, all aged between 19 and 25 and all very kind and polite (I’ve asked them several times to stop calling me ‘Madam Chloe’). Dennis 1 is the trainer, then there is Erisa who according to Dennis 2 is “the real boss, because he’s built the most water-tanks”. Emma 1 is the quietest, Eric and Ernest are brothers, Mbalak is the only Muslim and finally there’s Emma 2, who thinks I’m a devil worshipper because I told him I don’t believe in God.
The guys live on site whilst they carry out the project then when it’s done move onto the next. They’ve been together now for five and a half months and the group have bonded, evident by the amount of in-jokes, constant ribbing of Emma 2, who “hates cooking”, when it’s his turn to cook, or Mbalak for his speech impediment. The monotony of the days are starting to wear them down and all of the men complain to me about how bored they are. This school “is the worst”, says Erisa because “it’s miles away from the nearest town and has no electricity”; once work is finished there is nothing to do apart from play football. Sometimes they go back to their families on the weekend, 19 year-old Ernest has a three month old baby at home, but most of them just stay on site.
They’re not completely alone though as some teachers also live on site during term-time. Betty teaches P3 (8-11 years old) and lives in a little room at the school along with three of her five children. Up until four years’ ago she was living in Entebbe, an attractive city outside of Kampala, but her husband left them all for another woman so she was forced to leave and find somewhere else to live. I spend one lunch-break sitting with Betty and looking through photos of her past life in Entebbe – Betty freshly coiffured and colourfully dressed at various parties or family portraits on days out. The photos seem like a lifetime away.
Cooking at Kibebe is done on an open fire in a small hut next to where the water tank is being built. The guys take it in turns to cook and throughout the day various teachers also take a break from class to prepare themselves some food. Astonishingly to me, children also use the hut to cook food for themselves or the teachers. There is no official school cook, so when it comes to lunch the children have to fend for themselves. Everyone is cooking posho and beans, occasionally maize is toasted on open fires by the younger children.
The recipe below uses dried beans, but canned beans would work just as well. The beans most widely used in Ugandan cooking are the ‘common beans’ (google image it), but again, other types of beans would be just as nice.
Recipe for Posho and Beans
For the beans:
400 grams dried ‘common’ beans
1 large onion
1 large tomato
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon dried ginger
½ teaspoon cumin powder
For the posho:
1.2 litres water
1kg maize flour
For the beans:
Place the beans in a pan and cover with cold water, leave to soak overnight or for at least six hours.
Drain the beans, then add just enough clean water to cover the beans. Put the beans on a hob and leave to boil for 1 and ½ hours.
Whilst the beans are cooking, chop your tomato and onion. Once beans are done remove from the hob and leave to one side
In a new saucepan add a good glug of oil. Add the onions and cook on high heat until beginning to brown. Next add the tomatoes and spices and continue to cook for two minutes
Add the entire contents of the bean saucepan to the onions and tomatoes and stir everything together. Check the seasoning. Let the mixture cook for 10 minutes on a lower heat. Keep stirring to make sure the beans don’t stick.
For the posho:
Heat the water in a pan until it’s just beginning to boil. Gradually pour in the maize, ‘mingling’ (mixing) all the time.
Keep stirring the mixture, adding more maize flour in until the mixture is thicker than mashed potato. It will be hard work to mingle the mixture but keep going! Squash lumps that form with the back of your wooden spoon to ensure an even mixture at the end.
Cook for 5 minutes, whilst still stirring.
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