Eat Like A True Local: Swahili Snacks That You Can Enjoy In Kenya

Eat Like A True Local: Swahili Snacks That You Can Enjoy In Kenya
Contributing Writer
| 4 min read

When you think of Kenya, what first comes to mind? Safari, beaches and superb athletes? Well, yes, it definitely has all of that but it also has something a little extra that I have to share with you and that’s its snacks! It has some amazingly flavoursome sweet and savoury snacks that are inspired from Arabic, Indian and European cultures due to its history and people. The Arabic and Indian communities brought spices in full blast whilst the Europeans forged forward with sweetness in their dishes and all of these flavours combined created what is today known as Swahili cuisine. In this informative review I am going to share some of the most popular Swahili snacks with you and I have no doubt that you will be feeling peckish, at the very least, by the end of it!

Real exotic taste with mahamri

eat like a true local: swahili snacks that you can enjoy in kenya | real exotic taste with mahamri

First, I introduce you to the mahamri, which a deep fried bread that is similar to a donut, and it is infused with delicious hints of cardamom and sweet coconut milk. With a beautiful golden colour on both sides and a scent that lures you in closer, it’s the type of snack that you could even make a meal out of because it tastes so good! The spices give it a real exotic taste and if enjoyed with a cup of sweet chai, it is the perfect way to start a day or give you that extra boost during the daytime, when needed. If you like the idea of a mahamri but your palate is not so accustomed to so many spices yet, you may wish to try a mandazi. Mandazi is similar to mahamri but is made with self raising flour (instead of plain flour and yeast), is hollow and plain in flavour.

Barazi or maharagwe, what takes your fancy?

eat like a true local: swahili snacks that you can enjoy in kenya | barazi or maharagwe, what takes your fancy?

Now, it’s time to share barazi with you. This snack is more on the savoury side and consists of pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk. It is often eaten with mahamri because together they create a deliciously rich and balanced combination. The saltiness of the barazi compliments the sweetness of the light and fluffy mahamri and creates a perfect blend that has to be tried out! If you’re not a fan of green beans, then you may be interested to try maharagwe, which is red beans cooked in coconut milk instead. I bet your stomach is rumbling at the thought of these flavoursome items already!

Addictive little viazi karai

eat like a true local: swahili snacks that you can enjoy in kenya | addictive little viazi karai

Next snack to share is the viazi karai, which are glorious deep fried potatoes covered in a batter that consists of a generous amount of spices and coriander. With this snack, you can either have ukwaju, which is a tamarind sauce made from onions, salt, pepper, garlic and of course tamarind, or a coconut and mango chutney. Between you and me, I think viazi karai has the potential to replace fries all together! They might look small but these little things are addictive; once you start, you will find it hard to stop.

Spicy samosas with drizzled lemon

eat like a true local: swahili snacks that you can enjoy in kenya | spicy samosas with drizzled lemon

Small triangular pockets of heaven; yes, you’ve spotted it from the photograph: it’s time for the samosa. This neatly and tightly packed savoury goodness is filled with either meat or vegetables and deep fried until super crispy. Like viazi karai, these little delights make you feel so good that you will be popping them in your mouth like popcorn! Drizzle a little bit of lemon on your samosas and start stuffing them in your mouth. You won’t be surprised to hear that whatever type of filling you opt for, your samosas will be filled with spices, so get ready for the heat when you’re in Kenya.

Kaimati, gooey dough balls calling

kaimati, gooey dough balls calling

Moving on from the spicy to the sweet, I share with you the kaimati, a fried sweet dumpling. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the type of item to be having at breakfast or when facing a midnight craving! There are two types of kaimati, one which is simply glazed with sugar and the other, which is placed in a sugar syrup, absorbing the sugar inside the dumpling. These gooey dough balls are sensational and the ones placed in a sugar syrup have to be my absolute favourite. If you’re in Mombasa and taking a tour of the Old Town, you are likely to spot a few of the older locals enjoying these with a few dates and kahwa, which is Kenyan coffee. For one’s old age and retirement plans, this doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea; surround yourself with history, spices and balls of sweetness.

Go nuts for njugu paak

go nuts for njugu paak

Finally, it’s time for a bit more of a healthy snack in comparison to the kaimati and that’s njugu paak. Your heart will go nuts for this snack as it offers a nutritional punch with a crunchy texture that will give your teeth a work-out (although perhaps not one that your dentist would be as supportive of; note the irony!). These little sticky pieces will draw you in like a magnet and with their intense and distinct flavour, it’s hard to resist. The huge burst of sweetness and a hint of saltiness on offer will keep your taste buds activated with these little delights. Snap the pieces and share with your friends and crunch away under the Kenyan sun.

Snacks that you can smell a kilometre away!

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about snacks in Kenya and I bet you’re eager to find out where exactly you can sample some, if not all, of these items. One such place in which you can try these snacks is at Sarova Whitesands Beach Resort and Spa in Mombasa, which provides them at breakfast time on certain days of the week. If you’re staying at this god-made-heaven then you’re in for a treat and if not, don’t worry, as you’re welcome to visit the resort and pay to enjoy the breakfast. Alternatively, there are a number of hotels and local restaurants in Nairobi and Mombasa that offer and sell these delicious snacks (which can be smelled from a kilometre down the street). So next time, when you think about Kenya, please don’t forget about the fabulous snacks that you can find and do spread the word about these delectable items.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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Puja Modha has trained as a lawyer, worked as a compliance officer and is an experienced travel journalist that enjoys writing about her experiences across the world. She was born in England, her...Read more

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