Traditional Uganda food for a delicious African experience
Food is perhaps one of the best — and most enjoyable — ways to get to know a new place and culture. A country’s cuisine says a lot about its history and way of life.
Uganda is a dream destination for any food-lover who also has an adventurous soul — you can enjoy delicious Uganda food one moment and help out with gorilla conservation the next.
Traditional Cuisine and Etiquette in Uganda
The traditional cuisine of Uganda is unique as it has Arabic, English, Indian, and African influences. The flavors are fresh and the meals are often healthy since Uganda is such an agricultural country. Most everyone grows and prepares their own food unless they live in the city center.
As different cultures settled in Uganda, the food evolved to reflect those changes. Foreign cooking techniques and recipes made their way into Ugandan cuisine, resulting in a melting pot of delicious flavors and ingredients.
Overall, traditional Ugandan food crops include cassava, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, pumpkins, beans, yams, and groundnuts. The most important and commonly used foods are plantains, and you’ll see those making their way into almost every meal of the day.
Etiquette is very important to Ugandan families. Families eat together on floor mats and the food is served by the women and cut up into smaller pieces. You can expect to see a sauce or stew accompany most meals. All members of the family stay until everyone is done eating, and guests are always welcome to drop by.
Most families only eat lunch and dinner — breakfast and dessert are not common, though there are of course options for tourists and travelers.
Popular Breakfast Foods
Even though breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day in Uganda, you can still find some tasty, authentic meals to get your day started on the right foot.
A traditional Ugandan breakfast will always include tea — we recommend the famous Ugandan Chayi made of water/milk boiled with ginger, basil, cinnamon, and lemongrass. While most families won’t have more than a bowl of porridge to accompany it, there are a few main dishes you shouldn’t miss out on that are often centered around a delicious sauce or stew.
- Kagoto. You’ll likely get the chance to try Kagoto if you’re staying in metropolitan Uganda. Hotels and restaurants both offer this dish, which is a mixture of different items — usually peeled bananas known as “matoke” and a sauce made of meats, beans, or peanuts — served with either an avocado or a green salad.
- Kikomando. A flexible dish, kikomando is an inexpensive item that’s typically a light meal of sliced chapati and fried beans. If you’re in need of a more filling breakfast, you can customize it to include toppings such as chili peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, or onions. You can find kikomando at both restaurants and street food stalls.
- Rolex. This is one of Uganda’s most popular dishes, and you can find it on the go almost anywhere — or even attend a festival in its honor! It gets its name (which sounds like rolled eggs) from the way it’s prepared, rolling up a savory omelet and warm chapati together.
Popular Lunch Foods
You’ll need to stay fueled when you’re gorilla trekking in Uganda. For many locals, lunch is the first proper meal of the day. Similar to what you’ll find at dinner, lunch is usually a sauce and a starch.
- Matoke. This is the national dish of Uganda, enjoyed by people of all ages. Matoke is made by cooking bananas. Locals steam and mash green bananas and then serve that with beef, chicken, or fish and some sort of sauce.
- Ugali. Made from cornmeal, Ugali is another traditional dish that can be enjoyed during various parts of the day. It’s a type of porridge served both hot and cold in a ball-like form accompanied by fish or vegetables.
- Mkate Na Mayai. This dish translates to “bread and eggs,” and has a lot of Arabic influence. Dough is filled with minced meat and a raw egg before it’s folded into a parcel and fried in a pan.
Popular Dinner Foods
A typical Ugandan dinner often consists of starches and sauces. Stews are very popular as well. Most locals prepare dinner at home and everyone is welcome during meal time.
While there are plenty of mouth-watering dishes to choose from when you’re visiting, these 3 definitely top our list.
- Muchomo. You’ll find muchomo everywhere in Uganda, from high-end restaurants to streetside vendors to the homes of locals. It consists of meats including chicken, pork, goat, and beef. You’ll see it paired with side dishes such as salads, fries, and bananas.
- Luwombo. Want to eat like royalty? While now a staple food of traditional Ugandan cuisine — though usually only served in restaurants or on special occasions — luwombo was originally reserved for royalty. It’s cooked in banana leaves over low heat and accompanied by either chicken, beef, or goat meat. You can’t forget the peanut sauce, which brings out all the flavors.
- Kalo (Ugandan Millet Bread). Millet bread is eaten with sauces or stews around dinner time. It’s made from cassava flour and wheat flour. Request this traditional bread when you order a stew to get a real Ugandan meal. We recommend pairing it with vegetable or groundnut sauce and cowpea or beef stew.
Popular Desserts and Treats
It’s not common for families to serve dessert after meals. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t get your hand on an exquisite treat if you’re not full from dinner.
Don’t under-estimate the sweetness of some good, fresh fruit. If that isn’t enough, there are 2 other delicious Ugandan dishes to try for dessert.
- Sim-Sim Cookies. Though these treats may make you think of peanut brittle, they’re actually nut-free. Equal parts sesame seeds and sugar, or honey, are used to form this delicate, traditional dessert.
- Mandazi. Mandazi is a popular sweet that originated on the Swahili coast. The closest American comparison is our doughnuts, as mandazi is a form of fried bread. There’s no glazing or frosting, but they’re sometimes accompanied by cinnamon or powdered sugar when consumed during dessert time.
- Fresh Fruit. While this might not fly as a “dessert” option in the US, fresh fruits are one of the most common after-dinner sweets. Find some fresh pineapple, mangoes, passion fruit, or jackfruit to satisfy your sweet tooth.
If you want to try any of these dishes, you’ll need to visit Uganda during the right season. Most of these seasonal dishes can be found at markets or on the street, making them very accessible when the timing is right.
For a true Ugandan food experience, get your hands on one of these classic seasonal dishes.
- Ensenene (Fried Grasshoppers). If you want to try this traditional fried dish, you’ll have to visit during the rainy season, November–April. The wings and legs of the grasshoppers are removed and cooked in the grasshoppers’ oils. Try these out in marketplaces or at pubs.
- Roasted Maize. If you want fresh roasted maize, you’ll need to try this Ugandan dish during maize season. Locals take corn from their garden and roast it over a flame until it turns a brownish color. The corn best retains its sweetness when it’s cooked immediately.
- Gonja (Steamed Plantain). You’ll find plantains in a ton of Ugandan cuisine, but they’re delicious all on their own when they’re steamed. This is a seasonal Ugandan dish served on the street and even at barbecues by using plantains that are barely ripe. They’re yellow or red depending on how long they’re steamed and are sometimes wrapped in banana leaves for aroma.
Ready to Explore Uganda?
Is your mouth watering yet? To get an authentic Ugandan food experience, you’ll have to visit and eat as the locals do. It’s not just the food that makes a visit worthwhile — it’s one of the only places you can relax in hot springs one day and explore wildlife the next.
Food is better enjoyed with others, so book a trip with Explorer Chick and travel with like-minded women while you enjoy Uganda’s culture and local dishes.
Michelle is an avid writer and traveler (who takes her cat along for the ride). Solo travel has allowed her to meet lifelong friends and participate in unforgettable adventures. When she’s not jumping out of a helicopter or climbing the nearest mountain, you can find her curled up with her cat and a good book — and probably planning her next trip. She writes about her travels and her readings on her personal blog, www.frontmatterblog.com.
Favorite outdoor adventures: Hiking and biking! Those two, or long walks, are my favorite way to soak in scenic sights. I also grew up in the mountains, so I’m a skier as well.
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