The Kenyan Menu: meat, milk and blood

I was worried moving to Kenya. Visions of Maasai warriors drinking the blood of cows and slaughtering goats to supplement their meal of milk didn’t really give me much hope on the culinary front. Kenya is a land of meat eaters right? How could a vegetarian like me survive?

Oh how wrong I was!

Vegetarian’s rejoice

Kenya has an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables that make living life as a vego a piece of (very tasty, fresh) cake! Most roadside stalls stack apples, pineapples, mangos and bananas by the kilo! Melons are also available and can be sliced up and bought by the portion on a hot day.

A Nairobi slum fruit stall

Locally produced fruit and vegetables also given slum residents a chance at an income.

Moreover, even the slums sell fresh produce – at a heck of a better price than the big branded supermarkets located in fancy malls. Tomatoes and avocados at 10c each are painstakingly stacked in pyramids showing the best on offer. Cabbage, kale and spinach (a leafy green different to our own at home) are offered up in huge bundles that look like they’ve come directly from the basket of a human harvester.

Add in the root vegetables – potato, sweet potato, carrots, beetroot… the list is endless. If you know the right people (those with farms) you can even get your hands on cauliflowers and broccoli and thus further avoid the supermarket chains.

Bulk it up

For those that choose to partake (sorry vegans) eggs and milk are also widely available and definitely affordable!

Rice and ugali (maize flour and water – yes that’s right, the same ingredients as homemade glue!!) provide the staple to accompany those beautiful vegetables and are suitable for vegans and vegetarians alike.

A vegetarian Kenyan bean dish maharagwe

Maharagwe – I have it at least three times a week

And how could I forget the beans? Beans and lentils. Bulk beans and lentils. You’ve been warned! 🙂

Street Food

Spending your days wandering and exploring – these vegetarian friendly foods can be bought from the street for a matter of cents.

Breakfast; boiled eggs with kachumbari (similar to a mildly spicy chunky bruchetta salsa) or a roasted sweet potato with salt.

Morning tea; mandazi which is basically fried dough. I love it! My favourite cook here at Ruben Centre whips up mandazi with a hint of lemon and orange. When they are hot with a nice cup of tea it can turn your morning around!

Kenyan mandazi morning tea

Vast majority of street food is cooked over open coals, mandazi is no different.

Available at any time of day is chapati (fried flat bread); it can be dunked in just about any sauce or eaten alone. Secretly – our household of wazungu (foreigners) have taken to making mexican beans and salads to have burritos using chapati as our tortilla! The Kenyan’s think we are nuts – particularly when we then tell them that any leftovers are used as a base to homemade pizzas the next day. 😛

Kenyan staple chapatti - vegan and vegetarian friendly

My absolute favourite and definitely the most versatile of Kenya’s food.

Barbequed maize (corn) is also available on almost every street corner. But be warned, it is not sweet like we are used to. It’ll cost you maybe a dollar.

Eating out

For those that aren’t a fan of roadside fry ups or don’t have the ability to cook for themselves – never fear, Nairobi has a thriving food scene.

As a vegetarian, I’d recommend others to avoid places called “Carnivore” or advertsing nyama choma (BBQ meat). Instead, if you have the money, head to places in areas like Karen, Westlands or the city and enjoy a night out. Most ‘nice’ restaurants have wait staff with great english and often menus with a vegetarian section. A few that I enjoy are;

  • The Brew Bistro – a microbrewery with a cool vibe and happy hour, but be warned that the beers are not as cold as you’d expect;
  • Ole Sereni – head here before sunset to try and spot giraffes from the balcony overlooking Nairobi National Park (it’s fancy, so dress well); and,
  • The Village Market – a rather nice food court and an opportunity to stock up on any luxuries you’ve been missing (the patisserie is heavenly!).
Nairobi fruit stall

Yes that 5 is the price in shillings (equal to 5c)! Why eat out, when produce is so cheap!

The Kenyan Kilos

I know for those Aussies who move to London there is the old expression “the Heathrow injection” – whereby one gains a few kilos related to cold weather comfort food eating and a little overindulging in beer. Then there is the “Dehli Belly” or “Bali Belly” alternatives for the unavoidable upset stomach through Asia. Well I think I’ve found a new term for those who come to Nairobi – the “Kenya Kilos” were never something I thought I’d have to fight off, particularly as a vego, but I guess you learn something everywhere you go!

Vegetarian delight

Piling on the goodness

If you want to know more about vegetarian eating in Nairobi or have some tips I might like to taste – then please comment below. For more information on my life in Kenya, check out The Wild Life of Kenya, or feel free to follow me on Instagram for foodie photos 🙂

The Footprint Scale

Footprints and Photos - 2/5 on the Footprint Scale

Eating vegetarian in Kenya: 2/5 footprints

Being vegetarian automatically improves your footprint score – cattle are one of the biggest emitters of CO2 on the planet and the footprint required to raise meat is drastically greater than that of vegetables. Eating locally also reduces carbon miles, often means food is organic and allows employment opportunities for locals.