Foods of Uganda

Nothing is better than a home cooked organically grown meal with a slightly smoky taste.  With such a great response from our personal website, we have decided to recreate this page here as well.

The diet of Uganda is based on two dishes at each meal.  The first one is a starch and since the starch is usually dry the second dish consists of some kind of soup.  Most things are boiled since oil is very expensive and also because people cook over an open fire.  When the goal is to serve many people and get full repetition of foods is not really an issue.  People eat what is in season and what they can afford.

Here are some examples of each type of starch and also some items used for soup:

Starch

Posho

Posho (poe-show)
Winning the gold medal for all time most favorite food of the majority of Ugandans is posho.  It is similar to polenta in Italian cuisine.  It is not sweet or savory but instead takes on the flavor of whatever soup it is served with (usually pinto bean soup).

Posho is made up of finely ground white corn flour mixed with boiling water until it becomes solid.  It is not easy to cook as it must be “mingled” thoroughly and becomes stiff while mixing.  Shem compares mingling posho to rowing a boat. Here is a photo of someone cooking posho for a large number of people. Luckily Catherine makes a much smaller batch for the family.

 This heavy food is prized for its “fill you up” ability and it doesn’t have to be peeled, washed, sorted or soaked like some other things.  Maize (corn) is relatively easy to grow and there are grinding mills in every village so people prefer to grow their own corn and then have it ground into flour as needed.  The flour can also be obtained in large quantities already milled; it is used by all boarding schools as their main staple food.

If you visit Uganda beans and posho are definitely on the menu!

 

Chapati

Chapati
There is no “fast food” in Uganda and actually it is very uncultural to eat on the go.  But chapatti comes close.  In almost every place where there are people, there is a guy selling chapatti (with varying degrees of cleanliness).  A dinner plate sized chapati usually sells for 500 Ugandan shillings; half the price of a bottle of soda.  It takes two to even make a dent in the average hunger pains of most people here.

Chapati are made from wheat flour, water, salt and sometimes a little baking powder.  They are rolled out like a pastry crust but are more hardy and elastic in texture.  After frying in a cast iron skillet with a generous portion of oil they are thick and flaky.  They are sold wrapped in a bit of news paper so the person eating doesn’t have to wash their hands first.  They can be eaten alone or with pinto bean soup.  They are better hot but even cold are acceptable fare.

If you are on a road trip in Uganda chapattis are a must!

 

Rice

Rice
Any special occasion demands rice.  People of Uganda prefer white rice simply boiled in salted water or fried with oil and onions then boiled in beef broth for a pilou type dish.

Rice is difficult to grow and is harvested by hand; it is therefore too expensive to eat every day.  It is also very time consuming to sort. It is a delight to eat but rather labor intensive.

A few kilos of rice make the perfect gift for any Ugandan host!

 

Shem Harvesting Matooke

Matooke (mu-toke-ee)
There are over 20 variety of bananas in Uganda.  Matooke is the type that is picked green and must be cooked.  It is usually steamed in its own leaves and must be eaten hot as it hardens quickly when cooled.  Left over matooke can be friend with onions and tomatoes for the next meal and is almost better that way.

It is very expensive and is only grown in certain areas of the country.  It takes a special skill to peel the bananas and this tends to be an indicator of a woman’s skills in general.  It is mashed after steaming and served hot.

Matooke is a must for every special occasion!

 

Cassava

Cassava (known in South America as Yucca)
The king of starchyness; cassava definitely needs to be prepared properly. It can become bitter if not cooked immediately after harvesting.  It has limited nutritional value but can be dried and pounded into flour to make porridge more filling.

A root that takes several months to grow, cassava is easy to harvest and grows well even in drought.  Cassava is considered a poor man’s food.  It is usually boiled in huge chunks and served with soup or can be sliced thinly and deep fried in oil for an added extravagance.  When diced and boiled with beans it is called “Katogo” and is very nice for lunch and some people rely on it for a hardy breakfast!

I’ve heard that cassava is used to make tapioca but haven’t figured out how yet!

 

Millet

Millet
This is the food of Shem’s tribe.  It is cooked similar to posho but has a higher protein content and heavier taste.  It is dark brown in color and is called millet “bread” when mingled although the texture is sticking rather than bread like.  It is especially delicious served with peanut sauce containing smoked fish.  Millet flour can also be boiled in water for a nutritious porridge best served with milk and sugar.

Millet is a tiny bead shaped grain that must be husked then winnowed and finally stone ground after harvest; but first it is meticulously weeded.  The Bagisu tribe has a saying if a task is particularly difficult – it is said to be “like weeding millet.”  Since the grain is dried on the ground after reaping, good millet should be sand free when cooked.

Many a foreigner has mistaken millet bread for chocolate cake before tasting!

 

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes
These come in various colors on the outside but are usually white inside.  They are more hardy that the American yellow variety and do not fall apart or turn soggy when cooked.

They are grown in mounds of soil and are eaten shortly after harvest.  For the most part, they are peeled and boiled whole in water.  They are also good served with peanut sauce.  Their sweet taste contrasts the saltiness of pinto bean soup for an excellent combination.

You can’t put marshmallows on top of these for Grandma’s Thanksgiving casserole!

 

Irishpotatoes

Irish Potatoes
This is what we just call potatoes.  They are very expensive and do not keep long in this climate.  They usually are russet type and are served simply boiled or fried in tomatoes after boiling.  Mashed potatoes would be very expensive due to the butter and milk required plus they are considered baby food.  French fries (or chips as they are called here) are served in larger restaurants but cannot be found in small towns.  They are not considered food but rather they fall under the “snack” category.
 
Don’t serve an honored guest mashed potatoes he will think it’s for babies!

 

SOUP
Ugandans believe that eating dry food is a trial not to be endured.  When we say soup we do not mean stew or gravy but watery soup.

PintobeansLegumes
There is any number of legumes available in a culture where meat is very expensive.  They are the main source of protein in the Ugandan diet. Although each variety is distinctive in taste and texture they are all prepared in the same way.  Here is a sample recipe for bean soup.  This one uses pinto beans but it could easily be navy beans, lentils, great northern, black eyed peas; or some that I only know the local name for such as chaloko.

            2 cups dry pinto beans
            12 – 15 cups water
            1 T cooking oil
            1 purple/red onion (thinly sliced)
            3 medium sized tomatoes (diced)
            1 medium green pepper (diced) – optional

 

Boil beans until soft adding plenty of liquid, cover and set aside. Place one tablespoon of cooking oil into large saucepan; add one red onion thinly sliced.  Fry until translucent then add three medium sized diced tomatoes.  Add diced green pepper if available.  Stir and cook until tomatoes are soft (about 5 minutes).  Then add beans with plenty of water they were cooked in.  Bring to a boil and serve over posho.  Serves 10 people

CabbageVegetables
Basically any vegetable can make a sauce to eat with the starchy food.  People eat what is available.  They eat better when the harvest is good or when things are in season. Often times, however, people will sell their harvest of peanuts or other expensive (and nutritious) crops because school fees for children come due about that time.  So they eat vegetables and get cash for the sellable items.  If the rain was not enough during the growing season people eat less than they need.

Here are some examples of vegetables that are commonly used as sauce:

Eggplant

    • Cabbage
    • Egg plant (various types)
    • Spinach
    • Kale

Things like okra, green beans, zucchini are very expensive for some reason and not commonly used.  I have never seen any broccoli or cauliflower; mushrooms are gathered locally in the wild and are a delicacy very much enjoyed in this culture. The Ugandans I know don’t usually like carrots.  But my kids love to eat them raw (properly washed) something a Ugandan would NEVER do.  Uncooked food is not eaten and the government discourages it, to prevent diseases.

In a culture without refrigeration, it is no wonder that chilled foods are loathed.  To serve a Ugandan potato salad or pasta salad or green salad or a relish tray would be very unkind to them because they would try to eat it to be polite but would hate every bite.

 

Peanuts

Peanuts
These are pounded into a dry mixture and boiled in water.  The peanut sauce eaten here in Ugandan does not have any other ingredients except salt.  So we are not talking about Thai peanut sauce with lime or Jamaican peanut sauce with jerk flavoring.  Ugandans do not like spicy or highly savory foods.

 

 

 

Fish

Fish
Uganda is home to the largest fresh water lake in the world and the source of the mighty River Nile.  The lake has been over fished, restocked by well meaning foreigners with fish that ate the other varieties, etc.  The lake is not polluted as such by chemicals but certainly not drinkable without being filtered.

Fish is expensive.  There is Talapia, Nile Perch and another kind (very large) called Mputa locally.  Yes, there is also Mukini which are little silver fish similar to anchovies but not preserved in the same way.  Mukini is usually dried and is the most affordable of all types of fish sold.  It is also the most “fishy” tasting.  An acquired taste which fortunately someone from Alaska enjoys.

 

Fish is usually sold in three ways:

  1. Fresh  – almost impossible to find in Mbale – far from the lake.  Prepared by boiling and adding fried tomatoes and onions.  The entire fish is eaten, nothing is wasted.
  1. Dried  – the drying is sufficient to preserve it during transport but must be eaten or re-dried shortly after purchasing.  This is how mukini is sold.  It must be washed two or three times then boiled with beans or vegetables.  Sometimes it is fried as a side dish.
  1. Smoked – this is the most flavorful and preferred way of buying fish.  This is added to the boiling water that will be used to make peanut sauce.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin
Although this is a vegetable it is not usually prepared as soup.  It is usually cut into large pieces (unpeeled) and steamed.  It is served as a side dish.  Some are not true pumpkins but are a type of summer squash.  The seeds are soaked in salt water and roasted for a special treat.

 

CONCLUSION
Well, if you have made it this far in reading about foods of Uganda you are probably ready for a snack.  There are some yummy ones here in Uganda. Samosa Triangular sumosa are thin pastry filled with savory peas.  There are also mandazi which are yummy donuts without the hole.  Granted adjusting to the food of any new culture takes time and some things one never gets used to but must eat.  Many Ugandans who have traveled abroad find American food unbearable.  There is a saying here, “The one who thinks their mother makes the best sauce has not traveled very far.”  I’m not so sure about that, I’ve been all over the world and my Mom still makes the best Big Fat Noodles!

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