Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

East Africa


Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique are five countries within the region known as East Africa. It is a region where strong British influence is still felt although few British or East Indians remain. Like West Africa, the vast expanses of land are inhabited by hundreds of differing peoples, each devoted to their rituals and traditions.

For the brief period that Europeans controlled East Africa, they introduced many dishes and eating customs from their own homelands. They also imported corn from America, which in a very brief time became another variety of ugalinow prepared from millet or corn flour.

The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama recognized the strategic importance of the area’s trade route. In the early 1900s German missionaries established themselves in Tanzania, bringing with them their beer and schnapps, and their own recipes for roasting the plentiful wild game. The British, who viewed the region as a home-away-from-home, replaced German influence. Imported cereals, tea, and coffee and even fruits and vegetables as well as live cattle all helped to bring their dream to realty: England in Africa! To complete the illusion, the British hired East Indians who in turn added their influence to the food and manners of the region.

Today, East Africans enjoy their ugali prepared from maize flour as if it had forever been a part of their diet. Fine beef cattle roam the lands and Kenyans are proud of their pig production. Some of the best European cheeses are produced in excellent quality: Swiss, Camembert, Cheddar, Gorgonzola, and a variety of soft and fresh cheeses. Not only flowers that are typically found in an English garden, but also fruits and vegetables commonly found in European markets are now deliciously prevalent in East Africa, especially in Kenya.

Still, despite the availability of plentiful game, most East Africans are vegetarians, living on dairy products, grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Meat may occasionally be a part of special celebrations or rituals. There is good reason for this. As in India, the animals (cows, sheep, goats) are more valued for their milk, dung, fleece, and hair. And in Africa perhaps more importantly, they are valued for the status they bring to their owners.

Rice is a favorite in many meals and dishes, but sorghum, millet, corn, and wheat are widely used as cereals, dumplings, and breads. Pombe, the nation-al beer, is everyone’s beverage, including children. Manioc, sweet potatoes, bananas, and plantain together with a variety of local fruits round out the average diet. In coastal areas fish and crustaceans are important. Snacks of fruits or sugarcane are enjoyed. Curry, chili peppers, coconut and coconut milk and groundnuts are the usual seasonings.

The foods of Tanzania are distinguished from the other regions mainly because of their increased use of tropical fruits and vegetables.

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