A-Z of Ugandan Food

A-Z of Ugandan Food

In case anyone thinks I’m starving here in Uganda, think again – when it comes to food, the ‘Pearl of Africa’ doesn’t fail to disappoint…

A – Avocado

Known locally as Ovacado, the most delicious I’ve ever had!

B – Bananas

Uganda is the second largest producer of bananas in the world after India, but did you know bananas come in many forms: sweet yellow bananas, savoury matooke (below), fried gonja (also below) and even banana beer!

C – Chapati / Cassava

Uganda’s most popular street foods (Cassava best eaten fried!)

D – Doughnuts

Another popular street food (known locally as mandazi) – these should come with a health warning!

E – Eggs

Sold hard boiled with a pinch of salt or in the dubious form of an ‘egg roll’ (like a scotch egg but fried in doughnut batter – another heart attack in the making!)

F – Fish

I’m not usually a fan of fish, but even I can’t resist fresh Tilapia from Lake Victoria… it beats English fish ‘n’ chips hands down!

G – Groundnuts

AKA peanuts – boil ’em, roast ’em, cook ’em in a stew seems to be the motto…

H – Hot pepper

Warning: Seriously hot!

I – Ice cream

The Ugandan equivalent of the ice cream van, complete with ring-tone style music (most commonly ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’)

N.B. This ice cream is best left to the kids – I don’t see the resemblance myself!

J – Jackfruit

The craziest fruit I’ve ever seen – weighing up to 100 pounds, jackfruits grow on trees and have a sweet, sickly taste. The inside is so sticky that it is recommended to grease your hands with something before you eat them.

K – Kalo

A type of millet bread, commonly eaten by people in northern, western and eastern Uganda. (I’ve never tried it but I’m told I’m not missing anything)

L – Luwombo

A traditional ‘royal’ dish created in 1887 by the Kabaka’s (King’s) personal chef and traditionally eaten at Christmas. Featuring fried meat/chicken, mushrooms and onions in a stew or groundnut sauce, cooked in banana leaves.

M – Maize

One of Africa’s staple foods, in Uganda maize is used for a variety of purposes: making Posho (see Ugali), porridge, popcorn and even in the beer industry. But of course it is best eaten as corn on the cob, cooked on the side of the road!

N – Nile Special

Talking of the beer industry, the Nile Special, brewed at the source of the Nile, is one of Uganda’s most popular beers (especially with international visitors) but doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to health – I’ve certainly experienced some bad headaches the next morning, probably caused by their ‘extra’ ingredients…

O – Oranges

Ok so they’re actually green, but still taste good (if a bit sour!)

P – Pineapple

Hands down the best fruit in Uganda (in my opinion!) and the most accessible – sold whole or cut into pieces from men selling from their bicycles or wheelbarrows on the side of the road.

R – Rolex

The tastiest street food going: a rolled chapati with eggs, tomatoes, peppers and cabbage. Sold at nearly any time of the day from pretty much anywhere (it’s not uncommon to see 2-3 of these stands next to each other, so they must be getting good business!)

S – Sim Sim (i.e. Sesame)

Used particularly in the north, roasted sesame paste is mixed into a stew of beans or greens and served as a side dish, or in Kampala, mixed with groundnuts to make a killer peanut butter. Also found as a sweet ball made from mixing roasted sesame seeds with sugar or honey.

T – Tea (Chai)

The nation’s favourite drink, taken black with lots of sugar and spice, or as ‘African tea’ – made with hot milk instead of water.

U – Ugali (Posho)

Called Ugali in Kenya, Posho is made from maize flour and is the most common food given to school children due to its relatively cheap cost and nutritional benefit. Living in a pre-school, I’ve eaten my fair share of posho but I still can’t say I like it; the texture definitely puts me off!

W – Waragi

Popular with Ugandan men, Waragi is a strong type of gin, triple distilled and made from millet. According to wikipedia, it is known as the “Spirit of Uganda” – at 40% ABV, I don’t think they’re talking about witchcraft…

Y – Yams

Last but not least, yams are hard, starchy vegetables that can be cooked in a variety of ways: boiled, mashed, roasted or fried. More common in West Africa than East, I’ve been lucky to escape eating yams on a regular basis (they’re definitely in the ‘acquired taste’ category for me!)


Life in the big city

Living in Kampala is not at all like how I thought it would be.  With my expectations based almost solely on my previous trips to Sierra Leone, I was woefully unprepared for the glitzy shopping malls, fast food chains and huge supermarkets of Uganda’s capital city.

Of course it was necessary to try out a few of these luxuries, so without too much detail here are a few of the highlights I’ve enjoyed so far:

  • ‘Terrific Tuesdays’ buy-one-get-one-free pizza at Nandos takeaway;
  • Watching The Hobbit 2 in a 5D cinema with free popcorn and soda;
  • Joining an orchestra and choir at Kampala Music School;
  • Swimming at Rainbow international school;
  • Making burgers with Michaela, an American volunteer also living at my host home; and
  • Going to La Bonita theatre with my host mother on Valentines Day to watch the Ebonies theatre group.
Burgers - American style!

Burgers – American style!

It took a while to discover this side of Kampala, however, as my host home is in one of the cheaper ‘suburbs’ of Kampala, about a half hour taxi ride from the centre.  Our house has ‘drop toilets’ or pit latrines, water comes from a standpipe so you shower with a jerry can (usually in the dark if you wash in the morning or evening) and all the food is cooked on a tiny charcoal stove just wide enough to hold a kettle or a saucepan (but not both so everything is cooked sequentially, which can take hours!)

That being said, at least we have electricity and proper iron beds – I’m always glad for the extra height when I wake up to suspicious rustlings in the night (so far I’ve found a large cockroach and a medium-sized lizard chilling out under there!)

And on a volunteer’s budget, it’s not really practical to indulge in Western luxuries, which can cost more here than in the UK and often leave you disappointed – like the time Michaela bought a wafer chocolate bar which looked and tasted more like stale bread than any chocolate I’ve ever eaten!

The Ugandan street food is much better in my opinion and ridiculously cheap: fried chapattis, half cakes, doughnuts, sticks of cassava, packets of groundnuts (peanuts), or fresh fruits like pineapple, mango, watermelon, bananas and jackfruit sell for 200-500 Ugandan shillings (around 10p).  If you’re pushing the boat out, yoghurt and ice cream are also found nearly everywhere for a little less than 50p per pot!


chapatti stall

I usually buy my breakfast from these stalls on my way to the office, which is a half hour walk from my house (45 mins if you go at Ugandan pace!)  I could take a taxi or boda boda but I find it more interesting to walk, greeting the stall holders setting up for the morning, chatting with kids on their way to school and dodging the cows/goats/chickens along the way!

And I’m not lying about the cows…