All Things Kenyan

Dinnertime in Kenya

A lot of Kenyan families only eat one meal each day. That meal is dinner. Dinner is usually served around 7 or 8 in the evening and is served in what we would call the living room. The kitchen is where the food is cooked. In a Kikuyu household, in Naivasha, there were chairs all along the wall and small tables in the center of the room. When dinner was served everyone got their own little table. Whereas my Luhya neighbors, in Chamasiri where I lived later on, had a large table with chairs around it similar to how we eat in the US. That’s not to say that all Kikuyus eat off individual little tables or all Luhyas have a large table. These are just two examples.

No matter how you are seated to eat in Kenya, the rest of dinnertime is the same. After you are seated the hostess, usually the wife of the patriarch, goes to each person with a pitcher of water, a plastic bowl, bar of soap, and towel so everyone can wash their hands before they eat. Sometimes the water is warmed and sometimes not. In Kenya, everyone washes their hands before they eat. Even in a restaurant there is a sink with a bar of soap and towel for you to use. It is considered very rude not to wash your hands.

Once everyone has washed their hands dinner is placed on the table and a blessing is said. The hostess then serves everyone with a portion of dinner. An average Kenyan household generally eats ugali na sukuma wiki or chapati na sukuma wiki. Ugali is a stiff porridge (reminds me of play dough) made out of maize meal (white corn meal). Sukuma wiki is similar to collard greens usually boiled with some tomatoes and onions. Chapatis are a flat round bread on the idea of a thick tortilla. These two meals, ugali na sukuma wiki and chapati na sukuma wiki, do not require any silverware. You simply use the ugali or chapati to pick up the sukuma wiki and then you put it in your mouth to eat it.

After dinner a beverage is served. Most often it is tea made with milk and sugar. Other times you may be served coffee or just water. There usually isn’t dessert after dinner. If there is, it is usually some fruit like bananas, papaya, mango, or maybe a pineapple.

When dinner is completed the hostess makes her rounds through the dinner guests again with the water pitcher and bowl so they can wash their hands again.

There are other main dishes served in Kenya. There are potatoes with rice, beans (legumes) with tomatoes, onions, carrots, potatoes, corn, cabbage and other vegetables, or just cabbage with carrots, onions, and rice this is served with chapati.

Wait! What you have written here is a vegetarian diet! Don’t they eat any meat? Yes, meat is served in Kenya, but not often. It is expensive to buy and generally if meat is served that means that the family probably slaughtered one of their chickens, goats, or cows. If a special guest is coming for dinner a chicken will be slaughtered or the guest is extra special a goat, or even a cow, is the main course.


2 thoughts on “Dinnertime in Kenya

  1. Jeanne Post author

    Previous Comments From Old ATK Site:

    Anonymous said: Forgot to mention about “mchele” – this is another popular dish at home. Meat is eaten quite frequently. Forgot to mention about fish at the coast and western Kenya. Tom

    sue said:
    Don’t know why some people are saying its not true about eating meat once a month if that. Even if you can buy small portions it wouldn’t make sense to somebody with a large family with the breadwinner making maybe 200/- a day

    All Things Kenyan said: Rose, I’m sure you saw the note at the bottom of each page. A lot of the culture articles were written over 20 years ago. At that time, I was teaching in a small village in western Kenya. I ate a lot of meals with my colleagues and rarely saw they eat meat. Most of the time they ate ugali na sukuma wiki. I’m sure things have changed since then. That is why I have the comment boxes, so people can give us updates.

    Rose said: Meat once a month in kenya? you gotta be kidding me ! Am kenyan not born of a rich family but meat trust me I ate it alot. Kenyans love meat. Especially their nyama choma !

    All Things Kenyan said: Chesh, At the time I wrote this article this was accurate. In fact, the family I lived with, along with other host families, were told to feed us breakfast because they did not eat breakfast. This article is about my experiences living in Kenya in the early 1990’s.

    chesh said: the comment “alot of kenya families eat one meal a day is inaccurate ” you may have thought that because to many kenyans dinner time is special because they have a chance to sit, eat and talk

    Joy said: I recently spent a month in Kenya, living with my Kenyan (Kikuyu) boyfriend and visiting his family regularly. We ate goat meat and ugali all the time, but everything else described above was what I experienced. If you’re visiting Limuru, make sure to go to Alder’s Fort Restaurant. Very delicious food, especially the bone soup. Comfort Butchery, also in Limuru, has the best goat meat and ugali in the area, far better than you can find in Nairobi, Kinoo, or any other local area. As far as people eating meat only once a month or so, I guess that depends on their income level. There is a massive disparity between those with money and those without, many houses with modern kitchens and some with no ranges and no running water, so I can absolutely believe that people go without meat for a month.

    All Things Kenyan (mod) said: Faye, please read the information about this site at the bottom of this page. My Kenyan neighbors rarely ate any meat for the reasons I wrote above. Things may have changed in the years since I taught in Kenya and wrote this article.

    Faye said: Huh? Really?
    Once a month? Meat? I’m Kenyan and I haven’t seen that yet!!!!
    Meat is cheap here, since like forever!!! In the ghetto areas, which, I have friends in, and of course visited, you can even get some for only 40shillings! Honestly, I kinda don’t agree w/you, that kinda puts us waaay down there!!! But I like some parts, the hygiene part, and the grace/giving thanks, part especially! 🙂

    All Things Kenyan (mod) said: Thank you for your comments. I’ve never seen fufu eaten in Kenya. If you are looking for a fufu recipe, I have one here –

    I can assure you my neighbors as well as the family I lived with rarely ate meat. Maybe once a month there was meat at the dinner table. Dinner was almost always ugali na sukuma wiki in every home I ate in.

    A non a mouse said: Where are the recipes for goat, fish, cow, and chicken?! There are several, just not on your site.

    No Name said: There seems to be some good information here, however, there also are many discrepancies. I have learned much from many Kenyans and the way I have been told and come to understand it, meat is a huge part of many meals, especially goat. It is true that the goat is often for special occasions, but it is served other times, as well. There was no mention of FuFu or Acadoes. Although, there are some helpful tidbits here, there is much to be desired, too. I will say, it is nice to see a website devoted to Kenya. It just needs to be more accurate in its assessment.

    All Things Kenyan (mod) said: Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of each page. Most of the articles are based on my experiences during the year I spent in Kenya and may not reflect the current practices.

    Please reread the article above and you will see where these people are that only had meat on special occasions.

    Anonymous said: wow ! which part of kenya is this where meat is only served once a family slaughters either chicken, goat or cow.
    its all good to describe one’s visit or travel but to basic his comments on kenyan dinner time on one or two visits is simply absurd an exaggeration too far without concrete research or survey