Compile a list of the world’s top foodie destinations and it’s a pretty safe bet that Kenya wouldn’t make the cut. Up until now, the country has failed to gain any kind of glamorous status for its food culture, predominantly because traditional eats are created to be filling and inexpensive.
Staple meals like ugali – a doughy porridge made from maize flour rolled into balls and teamed with goat stew – are the go-to diet for locals. Side dishes might consist of irio – a mash of corn, beans, potatoes and greens – or leafy vegetable sukuma wiki (which means ‘to stretch the week’, signalling that it is generally affordable and available all year round).
So by these benchmarks, it’s understandable that Kenya isn’t occupying a top spot on the discerning foodie’s bucket list. But times are changing, and thanks to the capital’s flourishing diversity, there’s an exciting restaurant scene beyond the ugali.
Nairobi is home to a varied population of races, ethnicities and edible influences that are centuries old. As far back as 1496 the Portuguese landed on Kenyan shores bringing with them foods from Brazil such as pineapples and chillies. Later, with the arrival of more Europeans, came cucumbers and tomatoes. At the turn of the twentieth century the British enlisted thousands of Indians to build the railway line and so too arrived spicy dishes, chapattis and more.
Today, these influences continue to grow and develop at a rapid pace in line with the development of Nairobi itself. There is pop-up dining, ‘naked’ pizza with a healthy edge and urban eating in a trendy setting. You can even have a tub of almond or cashew butter delivered to your door. Fancy a piece of the pie? Here are six of the best places to experience Kenya’s gastronomic transformation in Nairobi: