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My 3 Favourite Recipes From Kenya

My 3 Favourite Recipes From Kenya

With 52 tribes in Kenya, extending from the coast to the Rift Valley lakes to the central highlands to the northern desert, the cuisines found in this country are many and varied.  There is also a strong Indian influence as the spice traders started coming to Africa centuries ago and have remained to trade in various other goods since.  Here I present three dishes commonly found around Nairobi.  Two – the matoke and mukimo – are traditional Kikuyu dishes from the central highlands, and the chapatti is from the coast.


Ingredients (makes 15-20 chapattis):
½ litre cold water
1 kg flour

Mix water with flour, add a handful of salt, a bit of sugar and a bit of oil (the oil makes the chapatti turn golden when it cooks).  Divide the mixture into balls the size of a child’s fist.  Roll out each ball to a flat circle about the size of a dinner plate.  Fry on a very hot, oiled chapatti pan (flat fry pan) for about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Chapati; OTA Kenya Safaris


Plantains (these are green bananas that are starchy and not sweet)
Cooking oil

Peel the plantains and potatoes and soak for about half an hour.  Meanwhile fry onions, tomatoes, parsley, capsicum and salt.  Add potatoes and plantains to the fried tomato mix.  Cover with water and add salt to taste (the salt also helps soften the plantains quickly).  Stew over medium heat until the plantains and potatoes are cooked through.
To cook minji (peas), maharagwe (beans, usually red kidney) and njahi (black beans) follow a similar recipe.  Boil the peas or beans for several hours until soft.  Fry up the tomato mix described above, add potatoes and water.  Finally add the peas or beans and mix together over low heat.

Matoke; OTA Kenya Safaris


Beans (red kidney beans usually)
Maize kernels

Boil beans and maize (generally equal amounts of beans and maize) until soft, this usually takes a couple of hours.  In another pot, cook onions, tomatoes and potatoes until soft.  Then add the beans and maize.  Now you have githeri another popular Kikuyu dish (my favourite!).  However, to get to mukimo, cook the stew for another 30 minutes before mashing it all together.  The maize is tough to mash so don’t worry about the kernels staying whole.  The beans and potatoes will mash easily though.
Some versions of mukimo do not use beans; instead use a leafy green vegetable such as kale or spinach which mashes with the potato to make the mukimo green.

Githeri; OTA Kenya Safaris

The quantities depend on your taste and how many you are cooking for.  Generally for mukimo you want equal quantities of beans, maize and potatoes with the onion and tomato simply adding some taste.  For matoke the plantains should be more than the potatoes, about a 2:3 ratio.  Again the tomato fry mix is simply to add taste so you don’t need too much.  For the chapattis the flour should be twice the amount of water with sugar and salt to taste.

I would love to hear about your experiences with Kenyan food – whether you have cooked it yourself or been cooked for.  Please leave your comments below.


A bird’s-eye view of Southern Kenya

Finally, there it is:  Lake Natron.  What a flight!  Sibera seems like a lifetime ago; I’ve seen so much since leaving the taiga forest – the deserts of Central Asia and Middle East, over lush Ethiopia and now finally Kenya’s lakes where I can stop for some rest, some food …. and some mating!  I hope there’s some pretty chickies to meet down here.

It’s a long journey, but usually it’s worth the effort.  We all gather here for a few months to catch up on what’s going on around the world.  The Spotted Thrush, Rock Thrush and Eurasion Bee-eaters bring the latest news from Europe and the locals catch us up on what’s been happening in East Africa during our absence.  They’ve got a nice life the local guys.  Those flamingos don’t have to travel too far if food runs out.  They have so many lakes like Nakuru, Baringo, Bogoria, and Naivasha within such a short distance.  Not like the months some of us have to travel to find food during the winter.  To be fair, the poor old ostriches can’t even fly so I can’t begrudge them anything.  And the Kori Bustards are so heavy it looks like a lot of effort for them to get off the ground.  I think I’m quite lucky compared to them; at least I can get around and see the world.

The Warblers and Blackcaps will come from around my area.  Everyone loves when the Warblers come in – their songs keep us entertained for hours.  The Kenyan water birds will be there of course, including the crazy old Spoonbill with his ridiculous beak.  And all the Plovers!  There’s always so many of them and I do forget their names much of the time – let’s see, there’s Crowned Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Three-banded Plover….

OTA's Easter Birding Tour, Kenya,!birding-tour/cfme

I’m looking forward to a good party with all these guys!  The Pelicans can get a bit raucous, which I know annoys the Fish Eagles.  And let’s not even mention the relationship between the sleazy Marabou Storks and the snobby Yellow-billed Storks; it’s hard to believe they are related!  But generally we all get along quite well.  And the great thing about southern Kenya is that if the Hadada Ibis is being too noisy at Natron, we can get some peace at nearby Magadi.

I’m really close now and so far so good; I haven’t run into that unfriendly white-bellied one with the big headpiece.  What’s his name again?  Yes: Go-away-bird!  He’s so rude.  We fly all this way for their Kenyan shindig and he just sits in the tree squawking “Go away! Go away!”  The Hornbills, Kingfishers and Turacos are all fine and in fact I’m looking forward to meeting my old pal the Lilac-breasted Roller.  Some of us prefer the water while others of us prefer the trees…. or I should say shrubs down here.  All the salty water doesn’t make for lush forests.

Hey, there’s Red-and-Yellow Barbet and Masked Weaver.  I’ve made it guys!  It’s time to paaaaaaar-ty!

OTA's Easter Birding Tour, Kenya,!birding-tour/cfme


Surprising Birdlife at Lake Magadi, Kenya

In December 2012 Francis wanted to show me Lake Magadi as a place to bring our guests on day trips.  Nearby, Nguruman is one end of a hiking trail through Loita Hills, whose other end is close to the Maasai Mara, and we also wanted to research that trek.  But the main destination was Magadi’s hot springs!  I was so excited, having visions of natural hot springs akin to Mataranka in the Northern Territory, Australia (i.e. lots of trees surrounding a beautiful natural bath).

How wrong a person can be!  Nairobi is cool due to the altitude and one could not imagine the change in climate that is possible in just 80 kilometres.  But Lake Magadi sits at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley and the weather gets progressively hotter as you descend.  By the time you reach the hot springs, all you can think of is sliding into the pristine water.  You soon remember however, as you dip your toes in, that these are hot springs… and they are really hot (up to 86ºC at the source, but around 45ºC in most areas)!

The big shady trees of my visions, which may have made the hot springs a viable option for a swim, of course were not around.  Magadi is a sodium carbonate alkaline lake and most of its area is covered by water for only a short period each year, during the rainy season.  For most of the year, the lake is a vast salt pan, with small pools around the springs.

On the way to the lake is Magadi town, which I thought reminiscent of mining towns in outback Australia, and indeed it essentially is.  Lake Magadi is the world’s second-largest source of sodium carbonate and the Magadi Soda Factory lies on the northern end of the town, producing soda ash for various industrial uses.  Had I paid attention to that, I probably would have been less hopeful of big trees!

Francis and I returned this New Years Eve.  On our visit in 2012, we decided that day trips to the hot springs may not be so fun, but an overnight camping trip might be better to enjoy a bath under the stars.  The local Maasai bathe during the heat of the day, which I had to admire – I could not even keep my toes in for more than a minute!  It’s still hot but bearable after the heat of the sun has disappeared and our midnight dip was a sublime beginning to 2014.

But the main reason we like Lake Magadi is the surprising range of birdlife found in the area.  The lake is well-known for its flamingos who feed on the algae, mainly in the southern parts of the lake.  In the northern part of the lake are some fresh water springs where other species can be found.  As we drove through the area we were treated to Blacksmith Plovers, Ostriches, a Kori Bustard, Lesser Flamingos and a huge variety of smaller species flitting about (the area is not a complete desert and there are some trees and shrubs for the birds).  Mammals also inhabit the area and we saw wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and gerenuks.

OTA Easter Birding Tour in Kenya,!birding-tour/cfme

This Easter we will return and this time we want to invite you.  Between March and June, Kenya’s southern lakes (including Natron and Magadi) are breeding havens for water birds and migrants, so April is the perfect time to experience this area.  Departing Nairobi on April 18 and returning on April 21 the trip will take us on a hike through the Ngong Hills, discover Kenya’s ancient history at Olorgesailie, explore the forests around Nguruman Escarpment, witness the extraordinary birdlife of Lake Natron, and finally a late night dip in Lake Magadi’s hot springs.  Visit the website for more information and register your interest or Like us on Facebook and find the Event page for the full itinerary.

OTA Easter Birding Tour in Kenya,!birding-tour/cfme

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