Food in Uganda

Food in Uganda feels like your eating ancient recipes.  They are still cooked in the same way, most times over a charcoal fire behind the hut or house.

Cooking using charcoal behind the house

Winnie made us this dinner. It was to serve only me and Marcy. I have never tried to eat so much in my life. Dishes starting from left to right. Top: matooke, irish potatoes, grilled chicken in soup, fired pork, fish in soup. Bottom: plates, atop, greens in g-nut (Ebbo), greens with onion and tomato (sukumu wiki).

Ugandan food seems to be very split among traditional dishes, and practical cheap meals. Matooke, atop, greens, and g-nuts are staples of most Ugandan meals.  Rice and meat are more expensive and tend to be for special occasions.  Meat needs to be cooked very well done for bacterial reasons and is usually deep fried, or boiled and added to a soup or stew.  All dished are salt heavy, as this is the main way to spice.  Her is a quick list of common local foods:

Matooke- plaintain(starchy non sweet banana) that is steamed or boiled and then mashed.

Millet- flour substitute.  Ground and versatile as flour.

Cassava- like a potato, or sweet potato.  It is generally dried and ground up into powder, then steamed.  it is very white and served as a filler side dish.  I found it to be extremely tasteless.

Atap- made from millet or sorgum.  It is combined with water over an open flame and mixed until hydrated and turns into a sticky batter like bread dough.  This is the consistency it is eaten at, like a firm dough, very dense and spongy.  It is also a bit gritty from the ground millet. It is usually eaten with a soup or sauce, and is dipped in for more flavor.

Greens- there are bunch of ways to prepare these, and they all have different names. Ebbo-greens, fried or pasted with g-nut sauce. Sukumu wiki -greens, first fried then tomatoes and onions are added. Dodo-greens, fried or pasted

Various meats- mainly chicken, pork, goat, and beef

All types of veggies- it is equatorial and used to be a rain forest, everything grows great.

Rice and Beans

Tropical Fruit- Mango, pineapple, banana, passion fruit and jackfruit.

Chapati– a flatbrad, much like a tortilla, originated in the east (India).  It is rolled flat and fried.

Mandazi– fried bread.  Basically fried dough without the sugar coating.

Here is a great link describing different Ugandan foods

We would often go into Soroti Town and eat at one of the hotels in the area while we used the internet. These meals tended to be western, usually with an English bend to them.  However on occasion Marcy would take me to various “local food” restaurants around town.  One day Mar was trying to take me to a “cafe” that she had heard of.  We found this little, unmarked door that opened into a small corrugated steel walled shanty room.  It was a restaurant, what we thought at the time was the cafe.  The service was great, and the food even better.  I ordered this amazing dish called (Puko- rice that is fried with caramelized onions) with greens (Sukumu Wiki, greens , first fried then tomatoes and onions are added and sauteed) and rice and beans on the side.  Mar ordered rice, beans and greens (Ebbo, greens fried and pasted with g-nut sauce).  After eating, Mar asked the merchant what the name of the place was, and he informed us that they didn’t have on yet.

Marcy at the secret spot.

Marcy's Meal. Rice, sukumu wiki, and beans

Self timer camera fun at the local food joint.

My meal of rice, beans, sukumu wiki and poku

We went back here several more times, along with other local food eateries.  This place however remained out favorite.  The last time I was there, the owner asked us to suggest names for the place.  I came up with “Secret Spot” since the door to the place is easily missed and has no sign.  Secret spot is also a reference to the surf world, as a surf spot that is good, but only known to a few locals, and is kept unknown so that it does not get over crowded is usually called a secret spot.

Another night, Marcy suggested that we get fish and chips from a local street vendor.  The plan is to go to the vendor on the street, select the fish, order, then head over to a near by tavern to sit and have a drink while you wait.  The street vendor then brings over the fish and chips and you eat there are the tavern.  Pretty nice set up.

Fish and Chips, Uganda Style

Marcy with her fish and chips

Cooking in Marcy’s flat was way more sophisticated than I expected.  She has a 3 burner bench top stove, a large propane tank hooked up, a multitude of spices and bins to store all her food stuffs in (mostly to protect against the aunts, they are ruthless).  Most meals that we cooked home where made with fresh ingredients bought that day or the day before.  I had to get used to not having refrigeration, which took a little getting used to.

I ended up cooking quite a bit, and it was fun to try and twist some of my stock recipes with the local ingredients that we could get.  Marcy had some great go to meals as well, and surprised me with her Africanized cooking skills.

Marcy preparing a tasty avocado spread

Fresh avo and tomato

On 2 occasions I cooked meat, which was a scary ordeal.  Preparing meat improperly here can turn into a very serious health hazard. Many parasites are found in animals, and the main way they are transferred to humans is through meat consumption.

At the butcher a slab of animal is brought out, and hacked up with a machete on a wooden stump that is dripping with years old animal oil that has been baking in the heat for years as well.  Seeing the raw meat laying across this bacteria breeding ground is the first bit of fear I felt around the meat prep.  Next was washing and dicing the meat back in the kitchen.  The entire time I was completely freaked out about cross contamination and must have washed my hands, the counter top, dished, and knife 10 times with a heavy bleach solution.

the "butcher" trimming us off a nice cut with a machete on a greasy wood stump

Once the meat was ready to be cooked, I had an argument with Marcy after she suggested that I boil the meat first, then fry it for a pasta sauce I was going to make.  I really didn’t want to do this, as it would leach out all the oil and flavors that are crucial for the sauce.  In the end I decided to risk it, and fried the meat in olive oil excessively to make sure everything was dead.

I repeated this process once more towards the end of my stay, and made a large batch of pasta sauce for various friends that I made on my visit.

Preparing goat meat

goat meat pasta sauce

One of the most unique culinary experiences I had was the night that Marcy took me along with 3 other PCV’s to a pork joint.  The establishment (I use the word loosely) was a mile or so outside of Soroti.  We took boda bikes and as we rolled up to the place, I was confused because it was just an empty lot with a few dilapidated  cement thatched roofed huts.  I looked at Mar, and with a sly grin she said, “were here!”.

The place wasn’t really a place, it was just a cooking space with 2 standing walls, a charcoal pit and a bench, this was the “kitchen”.  The dinning room was 5 chairs in a ring, in a dirt lot near a tree with a baby goat running around.

Pork Joint

There were 3 huts lining the property, 2 with most of the thatch gone from the roof.  We sat out and had beers brought to us.  The chairs where basic but really intriguing to me, made of beautiful red wood, and the most basic design.  I love them!

Pork Joint Chair

The cook greeted us after we received our drinks and asked what meat we would like for the night.  We all wanted pork, and Mar was craving chips (french fries).  The best part of the ordering process was that we had to order everything in weight amount, Kilos.  So we ordered 3 kilos of meat, and 2 kilos of chips with tomatoes.

About 30 minutes later is started to sprinkle, so we moved to the one hut with most of a roof.  I think after about 5 minutes we realized that the shelter wasn’t going to work, so the cook arranged for us to go sit under the roof at a little shop across the street.

In hut at the pork joint

Two hours and about six beers later the food was served.  Two large platters where set on a small table between the five of us, and we started digging in, picking everything up with our fingers and gnawing on the well done pork.

The pork was fried in oil and heavily salted.  I know that this is probably the most unhealthy way to eat an unhealthy meat like pork, but it is delicious.  The chips are also fried, but to my surprise they sauteed the tomatoes together with the chips witch was amazingly good, like high end fresh ketchup.  I will keep this process close to me from now on, just another little token from Uganda.

Pork and Chips

The best part of eating in Uganda was the street meat.  When riding on a bus, we would generally stop on the road in a small town that had a mass of roadside vendors with food to go.  There was always a chapati person, and men and women with all kinds of meat, fried or grilled and served skewered on a stick.  There are always grilled bananas, mandazi (fried bread) and bottled water.

Ajon is the local brew that people drink in Soroti.  It is the most foreign and different alcohol I have ever experienced.  For millet ajon, the process begins by mixing millet flour with water to make it smooth and solid. It is then buried underground for about a week to allow it to ferment. After seven days of fermentation, the sour mass is recovered and roasted at very high temperatures until it turns black. This is followed by sun drying, which normally takes about two days. It is then put in a drum filled with water so that the bad stuff floats and is filtered off. At this stage, yeast is added for two consecutive days. This turns the sour mixture sweet, as though sugar has been added to it. After another couple of days, it is ready to serve. It is brought back to he hut or house, usually put into a large clay pot in the middle of a drinking circle, and hot water is added.

Ajon in clay pot

To drink it, one uses a natural reed that is hollow.  At the end a makeshift filter is attached.  The brew is sour and hot, and takes quite a bit for a westerner to stomach.  The alcohol content is low, but I was told that many drink it because it has great nutritional value and of course it will get you drunk!

Drinking ajon

Last but not least is the Ugandan beer.  There are several brewers, and these are only a small sampling, but the ones I drank the most on my visit.

Nile Special

Nile Special. Named that because that is where it is brewed, on the banks of the Nile river.

Bell Beer

Bell Beer. In the back ground is Club, another popular Ugandan beer


6 responses to “Food in Uganda

  1. Fantastic post Phil. What a adventure! Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are!

  2. Back in New Zealand. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. interesting take…well-documented, great read. nice.

  4. i agree….with @Sleek

    Looks like you had fun..

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