An interesting observation made in the 10 months our family has now lived in Kenya is that Kenyans generally stick to a diet consisting of a few favorite foods.

One of these foods is Ugali.  Pronounced oo-ga-ly.

Tito, the Centre security guard, says he can’t live without Ugali.  I think that is the sentiment expressed by many Kenyans.  Tito is VERY proud that his little almost one year old boy is now eating Ugali…and regularly tells me how content and happy Kelly is after eating it.  He can go hours without needing his momma or a nap apparently.   If you ever come to Kenya, or meet a  Kenyan or East African, I think it would be incredibly wise to praise their ugali if they have made it for you….or ask them about ugali in general.  You’ll make their day and their face will glow with pride.

So what is Ugali?

According to wikipedia:  

Ugali is an East African dish (also sometimes called sima, sembe, or posho) of maize flour (cornmeal) cooked with water to a porridge– or dough-like consistency. It is the most common staple starch of much of Eastern and Southern Africa. When ugali is made from another starch, it is usually given a specific regional name.

This is generally what it looks like:

Ugali and sukuma wiki

Ugali is relatively inexpensive and is thus easily accessible to the poor who usually combine it with a vegetable stew (e.g. sukuma wiki in Kenya) or meat stews and makes a filling meal. Ugali is easy to make and the flour can last for considerable time in average conditions. Maize from which the flour is obtained is hardy and will grow reliably in dry seasons. For these reasons, ugali is an important part of the diet of millions of people of Sub Saharan Africa.

Here is a link from the web on cooking Ugali, it’s really simple:

You will need a sufuria (a big metal pot)  and an ugali stick (like a canoe paddle actually) .  The one I have for my house is about 18 inches long,  with a paddle about 2 inches in diameter, and 4 inches long. 

The traditional method of eating ugali (and the most common in the rural areas) is to roll a lump into a ball, and then dip it into a sauce or stew of vegetables and/or meat. Making a depression with the thumb allows the ugali to be used to scoop, and to wrap around pieces of meat to pick them up in the same way that flat bread is used in other cultures.

Most Americans would probably say that Ugali has no taste, or at best is bland.  But, I think it’s kind of like tofu, if you know how to cook it…and what to pair with it, it can be quite tasty.  At least the kids enjoy scooping some out of the sufuria with their hands, and then patting and making it into an eating scoop.  What other excuse does a kid need in order to be able to “play” with food?

I’m trying to think of an American food past-time that might compare to Ugali…something most can’t go a day without.  I’m going to have to say coffee, or eggs, or cereal?  What do you think?

The Ameena Project

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