UGANDAN ORGANIC FOODS
JEWEL SAFARIS understands that for most travelers, new food experiences can be very exciting. African cuisine is very unique, not only in the foods that are used, but also in the way these foods are prepared. In addition, almost all of the produce grown and the fish and meat are organic. Uganda is a small country, but in terms of the cultural diversity, it is very big. There are 45 distinct tribes in Uganda, many having their unique dishes. In our endeavor to provide unique experiences for our clients, we have prepared information on the culinary pursuits of many of these Ugandan peoples. This will enable you to explore Uganda with your taste buds and stomach as well as with your eyes, ears and feet.
Fruits and Vegetables:
Uganda is famous for growing the finest Pineapples in the world. The combination of the nutrients in the soil and the climatic conditions, produce the sweetest, most flavourful pineapples. These are sold throughout Central and Southern Uganda; markets, supermarkets and street vendors sell hundreds of thousands of pineapples daily. A number of juice factories exist in Uganda, as well as huge amounts of concentrated juice is exported daily from Uganda to many countries near and far.
Mangoes are grown throughout the country, with the greatest concentration in the north-central and western regions. Here, the seasonal mango growth results in mountains of mangoes on the side of the major roads, where growers are selling them to travelers on the road. At these times, large mangoes, of various varieties can be purchased for a few pennies and many people fill up their car boots with mangoes for their friends and families at home.
Bananas are a staple food in Uganda; particularly the green plantain variety, locally called “Matoke”. In Uganda, Matoke is prepared in the traditional manner; the bananas are peeled, then wrapped in the leaves and steamed for hours. They are then either served as is, in stick form, or mashed. A third option is to take the sticks and stir fry them with onions, tomatoes, green peppers and sometimes with fish, meat or a puree of groundnuts (peanuts). Matoke is to most Ugandans, as rice is to the Chinese, and potatoes are to Westerners; it is the staple starch and is served 3 meals a day. Matoke is grown everywhere in Uganda, the largest production of which is in the West, around Mbarara, where the plantations sprawl like the wheat fields of Western Canada.
In addition to Matoke, there are a number of other types of bananas produced in Uganda; a small sweet variety of bananas, which is commonly called, apple bananas in the West is grown throughout the country. These are sold in the local markets and by street vendors in the urban centers. Women ply the streets with large flat baskets on their heads, filled with these most delicious fruits. There is also a type of banana that is grilled over charcoal and sold on the streets in the urban centers and on the roadside of the major highways between cities. There are also regular bananas, (the common variety found universally) grown extensively. Similar to the smaller version, these bananas are sold in the markets and on the street.
Jackfruit is a somewhat unusual fruit for foreigners; grown in East Africa and in the Caribbean. It is a large green coloured fruit, sometimes a meter in length. One can see Jackfruit trees on the side of the road with a dozen or so fruits hanging precariously from the branches. The fruit is sweet and has large pits. What differentiates Jackfruit from other fruits is the sticky glue-like secretion; most people avoid touching the fruit with their hands, using a piece of plastic wrap to handle it when eating. One can find vendors on the streets, selling slices of Jackfruit wrapped in a little baggie.
So many other fruits are available in Uganda; passion fruits, papayas, watermelons, and guavas, to name a few. Apples are grown in the cooler mountainous areas and are distributed in the major urban centers.
Vegetables are not grown with the abundance of the fruits and are equally not as commonly eaten. The staples are tomatoes, onions, eggplant, cabbage, maize, cassava and green peppers. Less common are carrots, squash, and potatoes. Although, in some areas, a variety of sweet potatoes is widely served as well as rice. These are usually complimentary to the Matoke, but for those that do not favour the bananas, rice, cassava or potatoes are substituted. Such vegetables such as lettuce, broccoli, green beans, spinach and celery are mostly non-existent. Salads are not eaten by Ugandans generally, with the exception of what we would call a side of coleslaw; and that not very regularly. The eating of raw vegetables is not normally seen in Uganda; even the common veggies served like tomatoes, cabbage and green peppers are usually fried up.
Lake Victoria is the second biggest inland body of water in the world. As such, fishing is the most common activity on and around the lake. Here the most popular catches are the Tilapia and the Nile Perch, although there are other less common species fished in the lake. A third common fish is the tiny silverfish, locally known as Mukene. These tiny fish are caught at night with large nets, brought ashore and dried in the sun. It is not uncommon to come across large open spaces near the shore in fishing villages that are covered with these small fish. Their high nutrient content is a good source of protein for those on tight budgets. Many farmers buy Mukene for their pigs, chickens and dogs.
The Tilapia is the most popular fish caught in Ugandan lakes, found in other smaller bodies of water, to the north of Lake Victoria. The flesh of the Tilapia is white, and is very popular because it does not have a fishy taste. Traditionally, Tilapia is served in one of two ways. The most common way is to take the whole fish intact and deep fry it. Alternately, some cut the fish in a few pieces and make it into a stew. The stewed Tilapia is generally served with Matoke.
The other common catch, the Nile Perch, is a much larger fish than the Tilapia. It is not as commonly found in restaurants and in markets; it is cooked in a stew and also deep fried. In both cases, a Nile Perch is cut into many pieces before cooked, due to its enormous size. It has a much higher fat content to the Talapia and for many is an acquired taste.
Both Tilapia and Nile Perch are served in local restaurants, as well as by street vendors at night on the side of the road in busy traffic areas in the urban centers and on the highways. The markets throughout Uganda, at least the ones near the lakes, sell these fish daily. The prices can vary, depending on the moon the previous night; when there is a full moon, the catch is small due to the amount of light; when the fish seek darker, deep waters.
The meat selection in Uganda is not that different from the West, with the exception of a high density of Goat Meat in some areas. Pork, Beef and Chicken are universally found, with Chicken usually the most expensive and Beef the cheapest. In the larger urban centres such as Kampala, Jinja, and Entebbe, one can find a variety of meat products such as sausages, burgers, samosas and meat pies.
The meat, similar to the fish is prepared in one of two ways. It is either fried, with onions, tomatoes, green peppers and a very mild curry powder or it is prepared as a stew. There are some street vendors and highway sites that serve these meats on sticks after barbequing them. These “roasted” meats, as they are locally called are very popular with road travelers. Pork and Goat Roasts, can be found in the western urban centers like Masaka and Mbarara, and scattered across the country occasionally.
One of the interesting features of meat consumption in Uganda is that literally every part of the animal is eaten. It is not uncommon to go to a local restaurant in a small town for breakfast and the only offering is Matoke with Cows intestines; a favourite for most Ugandans. Similarly, with Chicken; many times one is served all the parts of the chicken, such as the head and feet. These are cultural differences that vary from tribe to tribe and there is no common cuisine in Uganda, other than the popularity of Matoke, which seems to cross most tribal boundaries…but again, not all.
In addition to the general foods that are found across the country, some destinations have food traditions that are quite local. We have compiled a list of a few of them, which we believe will enhance your visit somewhat. This is by no means a complete listing, and in planning your Safari with us, we will point out any specific culinary specialties that we might think you would be interested in.
In the Masaka area of Western Central Uganda, there is a seasonal frenzy of harvesting grasshoppers. At the right time of year, in and around the town of Masaka, one will be amazed by the hundreds of people engaged in the luring and catching of grasshoppers. This is done at night; large tin sheets are erected with lights shining on them, which attracts and then temporarily, blinds the grasshoppers. Thousands fly into these tin sheets and then fall down to be caught in the buckets below. Children are engaged to remove the wings, legs and heads, leaving just the body. These bodies are then put in plastic bags and sold near and far. Generally the grasshopper bodies are deep fried and eaten as a snack, like popcorn.
Similarly, in the Central district of Uganda, white flying ants are caught; although here they do not set up elaborate traps for them. When the full moon is out at certain times of the year, the flying ants will attempt to fly towards the light of the moon, only to be caught in flight and placed in cups and glasses by the hunters. You see many people walking around with a small vessel full of these flying ants still flitting around. They are eaten alive, also like a popcorn snack.
In terms of cooked dishes, in and around the Western town of Arua, which is close to the Congo border, a dish call pillau is very popular. It is basically a stir fry of rice, some few veggies, with a protein such as beef or chicken chunks and some “pillau spices”. This dish is similar to what the East Indians call “biryani” and is quite tasty, though considerably milder than the Indian counterpart.
Katogo is another Central and Southern Ugandan dish, which is basically a mixture of starch and half proteins; the most common mixture being beans and Cassava. Cassava is a root vegetable, white in colour and without much flavor. Other Katogos might be Matoke and fish, or matoke and beef. The closest western dish that comes to mind that is somewhat similar is chilli.
Roasted maize is one of the many snack foods that one can find sold on the streets. Many vendors have a small charcoal stove with a grill on top, where the maize is placed and constantly turned. Unlike the west, these cobs of corn are not served with salt and butter, but just eaten plain. They are a much tougher strain of corn than we get in the West and are an acquired taste for many visitors.
The Rolex is a popular street food as well. This is made up of a thin chapatti, a round flat bread, not unlike a pizza dough, though the chapatti is fried, not baked. On top of the chapatti, is placed an egg omelet, followed by a few slices of tomatoes. This is then rolled up like a “wrap” and eaten with one’s hands.
Another staple snack food sold on the street is the samosa. These triangular shaped deep fried treats are filled with either a vegetarian or meat center. The vegetarian versions can be a mixture of peas and potatoes, peas and rice or whatever is around that day. The meat versions are ground beef usually with some spices added.
Uganda also has its own version of doughnuts, called Mandazis. There are just a lump of dough deep fried. There is no coating on the outside, or filling in the inside. It is not uncommon for Ugandans to have a couple of Mandazis and a cup of tea for breakfast. Mandazis are served in coffee shops and by street vendors, as well as in the local shops everywhere along the streets.
As Uganda develops, so the food choices flourish. Today in cities such as Jinja, Entebbe and Kampala, one can find a large selection of International Restaurateurs that offer representative dishes from their homelands. There are a number of Indian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants, offering their Eastern cuisines. Also, one can find French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German and Scandinavian stand-alone restaurants as well as specialty restaurants in the major hotels and resorts.
Western food is becoming popular in Uganda, particularly the fast food versions. Fried Chicken is extremely popular and there are many Ugandan Fried Chicken fast food outlets. Recently KFC opened a number of outlets in Entebbe and Kampala. There are many foreign owned as well as locally owned restaurants and cafes that have either a totally Western menu or a significant portion of it. There are many places one can get Hamburgers, Pizza and even deserts such as Chocolate Cake and Ice Cream.
It is also common to find Western breakfasts not only in the hotel restaurants, but in many locales around the major urban centers. Recently, a Dutch enterprise, Brood, started baking European breads and pastries; they now have a half a dozen locations in Kampala, with outlets in Jinja and Entebbe.