Ugandan Street Food & Cheap Local Eats

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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.

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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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.
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‘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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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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Ugandan fried pork with all the trimmings

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The pork joint in Kabale

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.

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Boaz getting excited about the porky feast!
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Some of Caroline’s children who helped out at the pork joint

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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.

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Cass and I stayed with Boaz’ family in his village on the hills overlooking Lake Bunyonyi
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His mother (left) prepared a delicious Sunday lunch for us, which we enjoyed with his brothers
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His sister has a 22 year old son and another baby girl (pictured), but never married
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Boaz’ gradnfather

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.

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Recipe for fried pork with all the sides

Serves 6

Ingredients

4kg pork ribs

8 tomatoes

2 onions

Stock cube

Skewers

1 garlic bulb

Palm sized chunk of root ginger

5 chillies

For the sides:

1 green cabbage

2 tomatoes

2 red onions

4 medium potatoes

4 matooke

Lots of pork fat or other cooking oil

Method

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.

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Fried pork

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.

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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.

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Matooke cooks in the fat until soft
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Shredded cabbage

(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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Flo’s recipe for Ugandan Matooke Katogo

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Matooke katogo with baby aubergines

Florence was responsible for hooking us up with our stay at the Kaluyas. Florence is a formidable woman and has had an extraordinary life of ups and downs, from being a Councillor in the Jinja sub-county, to living in a refugee camp in Sao Paulo. Each morning she would make us the most amazing traditional Ugandan breakfast of Matooke Katogo. Matooke is a green savoury banana that is eaten all over Uganda (peeling them is also somewhat of a challenge, but there’s plenty of help online). The word katogo literally means ‘mixed’, and each morning Flo would prepare us matooke katogo with different variations, baby aubergines, g-nut sauce, beans, carrots and tomatoes. She would always serve it with a fresh avocado picked that morning from her garden.

The eldest of the six Kaluya children, with two children of her own and six grandchildren, Florence is fast approaching something of matriarch figure like her own Mama. To use the cliché, she’s a big character, has a booming voice and a smile that starts from the eyes and lights up her whole face. Accustomed to a life with house-staff and five younger siblings, she has a bossiness that borders on scary. When a parking attendant tried to charge us $50 to enter because of the mzungus in the car, Flo angrily ripped into him letting him know she was a local councillor and there wouldn’t be a car park at all without her. She hadn’t in fact been a Councillor since the 90’s and had had nothing to do with the car park, but the attendant knew better than to argue and let us in for just $5, such was the respect she commanded in the community.

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Flo checking up on her maize

 

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Flo with the girls who help her harvest the maize and soya

Living in London from 2002 to 2005 Flo got her kids into school and started training as a social worker. Life was made easier by the large African population and the relative ease at which Ugandan food could be found in Lewisham and Catford markets. She came round to European food, some of which she still has a soft spot for. As a thank you for the hospitality we’d been shown Cass and I asked if we could cook supper one evening, to which Flo instinctively blurted out “lasagne!”. It was one of her fondest food memories from her time in England and Brazil, but as few Ugandan households have ovens, its not commonly seen on kitchen tables. Turns out making a decent béchamel sauce on a charcoal stove with margarine and UHT milk is a challenge, but a lasagne we made, and the whole family loved it especially Flo. Flo would probably still be in the UK now had she not suddenly received the news that her husband was still alive.

General William Kon Bior had been fighting for independence in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Their guerrilla tactics meant he spent long periods in hiding and Flo, having not heard from him for 15 years had assumed the worst. When news broke that the Civil War between Sudan and South Sudan was over, Flo contacted and old friend in the Ugandan Government to find what may have happened to her husband. Discovering he was indeed alive and living with his family Flo spoke to her husband on the phone for the first time in 15 years and made the decision to move to South Sudan so her children could properly get to know their father.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in South Sudan; the General’s sisters were jealous and convinced that Flo was there to take their brother’s money, and thus set on making life very difficult for them. Flo tried to go back to the UK but “by then the whole system had changed” and she wasn’t allowed entry. Desperately in need of money for her son’s university tuition, when a close friend suggested Brazil as a place where they could earn it, she packed her bags again, and left for South America.

Brazil “was very hard” from the start, living in a Sao Paulo refugee camp run by a group of racist nuns, experiencing hatred from black Brazilians who accused her African forefathers of selling native Brazilians as slaves, and receiving further racist abuse from the Latino Brazilians. However, life there regained its purpose when working as an office cleaner, she was able to save enough money to move into rented accommodation, and finally start sending money back for her son’s university fees.

Complications from a war wound lead to the death of her husband but Flo managed to return to South Sudan for a second time to spend the last few months with him and his family, who had mellowed considerably towards her by then. After his death Flo stayed with his family for another 6 months but soon realised they were starting to rely on her too much. A life of servitude to her late husband’s family flashed before her eyes and whilst there was still time to get out, she left.

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One of her four pigs
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Picking avocadoes in her garden

Now back in her home town for what appears to be the final time Flo has rebuilt her life again. Five minutes’ walk from her parents’ house, Flo lives in a small cottage on a 5-acre plot where she keeps pigs and farms banana, beans, maize, courgettes, sugarcane and everything in between. Plans are afoot for launching a broiler hen hatchery, and she hopes one day she will have enough money to finish the extension to the house.

Sitting in her garden sipping homemade hibiscus wine, munching homegrown peanuts and listening to her life story I realise how much of a survivor she is. The amount of times she’s picked herself back up and changed her situation for herself is inspiring.

 

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Sharing her love for Ugandan cooking

Matooke Katogo is traditionally a breakfast but it’s savoury and delicious and could definitely be eaten for lunch or supper back in the UK. A word of warning! This is Flo’s recipe, so the quantities are Ugandan style (i.e – large!!), you can also check out A Kitchen In Uganda’s recipe for classic matooke katogo.

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Another variation of Katogo, with g-nut sauce and carrots

Flo’s Matooke Katogo

Serves 4

Ingredients

24 matooke bananas

15 – 20 baby aubergines

2 medium onions

3 medium tomatoes

1 stock cube

(optional) 2 avocados

Method

Peel the bananas, remove stalks from the aubergines and slice in half. Place aubergines and banana in a large pot and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil then simmer with lid on for 15 minutes

While that is simmering away roughly chop the tomatoes and finely chop the onions. Add tomatoes, onions and stock to the pot and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes. Try not to stir the dish too much as this will break up the bananas and aubergines.

Add salt then leave to simmer for another 5 minutes. When the banana is soft and a knife easily passes through you know the dish is ready.

Take off the heat and serve immediately with drizzle of olive oil over the top and sliced avocados on the side.

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