What is Ugali?
Ugali is like a porridge but much more dense made from white maize meal or maize flour. It is the staple diet of the indigenous people of East Africa. Also known as Nsima it is generally enjoyed with a vegetable and/or meat stew. People at the coast and around Lake Victoria enjoy it with fish. Ugali is also served with nyama choma which is grilled meat and kachumbari, a tomato onion salad. One of the most easiest dish to prepare, it is not only rich in fiber but also is a good source of carbohydrates, minerals and Vitamin B. And it is gluten free and vegan friendly.
This post was first published on 25/10/2012 , renewed on 02/06/2021
Ugali Eating Etiquette
Generally the cooked ugali is placed on a platter in the middle and everyone takes a bit from it and enjoys it. Ugali is best enjoyed with your hand rather than a spoon or fork. A small lump of the mixture is rolled into a ball using one hand. A depression is made in the middle with the thumb and it is used to scoop the stew.
Nowadays in restaurants people rather use spoon and fork. However, on the roadside kibandas (small eateries), ugali is eaten with the fingers.
Not much is known about the food culture on the Eastern part of Africa. I say eastern and not only Kenya as back then East Africa was one huge land and not divided as it is today. Millet and sorghum ugali was prepared before the Portuguese introduced maize or corn. During the British Rule, the white landowners began to cultivate maize in abundance. The workers were sometimes paid in form of maize kernels.
Most people enjoy ugali made from maize meal but nowadays the more health conscious ones have gone back to using millet and sorghum.
Over time mills were set up to grind the maize or corn and ready made maize meal or corn meal flour was available to all. In the villages, ready made flours are available but the more traditional families still prefer to grind it at home using stones.
Ugali like preparation is common in many other African countries. It sometimes varies in consistency, may contain a mixture of flours and usually known by different names.
- I remember when growing up there was a severe drought in Kenya and US decided to send ship load of maize meal but the yellow variety. No one was interested in using the yellow maize meal or cornflour as then ugali does not taste the same. So it paramount that the flour is made from white maize or corn. Also it should not be fine but should have the texture of coarse semolina.
- Maize meal, corn meal or maize flour is NOT the same as cornflour or cornstarch.
- While salt is not added when preparing Ugali, you can enjoy it with some salted butter.
- The consistency of ugali is that which can be molded. When it is served on a platter it maintains its shape. However, for toddlers and the elderly, ugali is made in milk and cooked to a softer consistency.
- Maize meal or corn flour is also used to prepare a drinkable porridge which is called Uji.
- Left over ugali is enjoyed with stew. However, modern families like to cut leftover ugali into chips or French fries style and deep fry them. It is enjoyed as a snack with some ketchup.
As more people both men and women take up jobs, most don’t have time to cook and the food scene is fast changing to fast food like burgers, pizza and chips (French Fries). If meals are cooked at home then ugali till features on the menu at least 2-3 times a week.
Growing up my grandmother frowned if we ever asked for Ugali. But my brother and I would sneak out to the room where our house help stayed to enjoy ugali with him. Can’t believe we use have it even after we’d had our normal Gujarati meal!
Now no more sneaking out to enjoy this healthy dish, I make it at least once a week. We love to have it with Maharage which is a kidney bean stew, with sukuma wiki (stir fried collard/ collard green). When fresh amaranth leaves (chicha) is available them I make a stew with that. I also love nsima or sima with Gujarati style Tuvar Dal. Sometimes I mix both amaranth leaves and kidney beans to make a stew which hubby loves to have with Ugali.
Ingredients Required To Prepare Ugali:
Maize meal or corn meal – white variety
Water – normal tap water
NB: The amount that I prepare is enough for two. However, for the common man that would be enough for one. Normally, they have one heavy meal only and ugali tends to keep away hunger pangs for a long period of time. Either lunch or dinner is a light meal.
Video: How To Prepare Ugali
- 1 cup maize meal / corn meal
- 2 cups normal water
- Heat water over medium heat in a deep pan. Make sure you take a pan with a handle.
- Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of the maize meal while the water comes to a boil.
- Add the maize meal or cornmeal and keep on stirring with a strong wooden spoon.
- Keep stirring and pressing the mixture against the sides of the pan to break up the lumps.
- As the mixture becomes thicker, it becomes more difficult to mix but keep mixing and breaking up the lumps.
- The mixture with begin to come away from the sides of the pan.
- Allow it to cook for 2-3 minutes.
- At this point either transfer the ugali to a platter from the pan. Place the plate over the pan and turn it upside down.
- Or you can transfer to a small heatproof bowl. Pat it down into shape. Place a plate over the bowl and turn it over.
- Enjoy piping hot ugali with your favourite stew or curry.
- It is important to keep mixing the mixture and break up the lumps. Don't serve ugali with lumps.
- For a softer consistency, add ½ - 1 cup extra water.
- Best to prepare Ugali just before you are about to have your meal.
- Cooking Time will vary according to the quantity of ingredients used.
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February 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm
learning a lot about kenyan cuisine from you
July 10, 2014 at 4:03 am
Are the red beans same as kidney beans? Learnt a recipe from a new cuisine here. Thanks for linking it to ONLY gluten free.
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[…] it is one part of the national dish of Flying Fish & Coo-Coo. Other African versions include ugali or […]
June 2, 2021 at 7:22 pm
Hello, in South Africa we call it pap.
I have a recipe that includes bindi and potatoe to a topping of pap and cheese, if you are interested.
Thank you for all the tips and delicious recipes
June 3, 2021 at 11:16 am
That is an interesting combination. Would love to try that out.
June 9, 2021 at 1:27 pm
Made from maize meal this Ugali recipe, Kenyan staple food is what I have never heard of. As I always say, Mayuri your passion for food and the way you present lesser known cuisines is such a delightful read always.
June 9, 2021 at 5:50 pm
Thank you so much Lata. Am glad you learnt a bit about the Kenyan cuisine.
June 3, 2021 at 3:23 pm
Such a wonderful post, Mayuri! I’m so glad that you are running a series on Kenyan food on Foodies+. I’m looking forward to learning all these dishes from you, especially so I can dip this ugali in them!
June 3, 2021 at 6:08 pm
Thank you so much Azlin for the opportunity. Most of the dishes are very simple, at least the veggie ones. Even meat stew doesn’t require too many ingredients.
June 6, 2021 at 11:00 am
You bring food history to live. I love the way you explain the origins of these lesser known foods. As a food blogger these are valued, authentic information. Someday, will love to try my hand at Kenyan cuisine.
June 6, 2021 at 2:50 pm
Thank you so much Seema, in fact there are quite a large community of Kenyans living in Australia. So if ever you come across an African grocery store or Indian you may find white maize meal.
June 8, 2021 at 10:43 am
Absolutely delicious and delighted to see this yum traditional Kenyan dish! Thanks for sharing it with us! Ugali sounds so easy to make, but I suspect it can be tricky, especially if you mess with the proportions.
Can I use the makai ka atta to make Ugali? I will love to try it out!
Hee sneaking out to eat Ugali after a meal sounds just like what I would have done! 😀
June 9, 2021 at 5:55 pm
Thank you Archana as easy as it looks, the proportion of water to flour is important otherwise you land up with a lumpy mass with raw flour in the lumps. Yellow maize meal one taste different, more sweetish and also the texture will be sticky. But go ahead and try it.
June 9, 2021 at 10:17 am
Ugali is an interesting dish. Good to know about the Kenyan cuisine through your blogs Mayuri. I hope to try it sometime, I must find the maize meal here. It reminds of the mudde we do, something similar with millets.
June 9, 2021 at 5:52 pm
Thank you so much Jayashree. Here they also make ugali with ragi which actually is a bit like mudde. It is more digestible for toddlers and the elderly.
June 9, 2021 at 1:30 pm
This is a new recipe for me but it’s interesting that it required just 2 ingredients. I see there is so much tradition behind this recipe as to how to eat and so. Thanks for giving those detail about this new recipe.
June 9, 2021 at 5:49 pm
Thank you so much Lathiya, am glad you found the recipe interesting.
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June 9, 2021 at 11:55 pm
I love east African cuisine, most of the recipes are prepared with a few and very basic ingredients, also so easy to prepare. My in-laws often talk about Ugali recipes, yet to try in my kitchen.
June 10, 2021 at 2:19 pm
Nice to hear you love East African cuisine. Try out ugali.
June 10, 2021 at 11:38 am
Ugali recipe made from maize meal sounds interesting! A new recipe to me…never heard of! Thanks for the the detailed information about this new recipe!
June 10, 2021 at 2:17 pm
Thank you so much Padma, where you are there is a large Kenyan community so perhaps you’d be able to source the maize meal that specializes in African food.
June 12, 2021 at 6:28 am
Enjoy reading your informative posts and I am so glad to have learnt a bit about Kenyan Cuisine. Ugali, a staple Kenyan food made from maize meal sounds healthy and I would love to pair it with creamy and spicy poppy seeds curry.
June 12, 2021 at 10:22 am
Would have never thought of pairing ugali with a creamy curry, but there is always a first time.
June 10, 2021 at 3:29 pm
Ugali with just two ingredients sounds so interesting. Kenyan cuisine has many simple and amazing recipes. Would love to try this traditional recipe sometime. Loved reading every bit of the write up.
June 11, 2021 at 3:14 pm
Thank you so much Preethi and hoping you will get an opportunity to try out Ugali.
June 11, 2021 at 11:46 pm
I have never used white maize flour in my cooking but this porridge sounds so interesting and I am sure it must be so satisfying to enjoy with any curry. Thank you for posting Kenyan heritage recipes and letting us know about them.
June 12, 2021 at 10:24 am
Thank you Sapana and you’re welcome. It was till I went to India that I got to know about the yellow corn meal.
June 12, 2021 at 7:41 am
Ugali !!!! It has an interesting name and sounds like porridge we make.
Preparing from maize flour must be making the dish a little dense. LOvely write-up about this dish from Kenya…
June 12, 2021 at 10:21 am
Thanks Sasmita, yes it is dense and the reason that when one consumes it, they don’t feel hungry for a long time.
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February 9, 2022 at 7:51 am
I miss Ugali, the real one made of white corn.
I stayed in Kenya a year, both in Nairobi ang Nyali, Mombasa.
Here in Sweden I have to use the yellow corn flour.
I introduce it to my friends and family and church in Sweden, everybody loved it with chicken or biffstew..
February 10, 2022 at 6:40 pm
Thank you so much Marie. My family loves ugali. If ever you have friends or family visiting you from Kenya, ask them to bring white corn flour for you. In the meantime, yellow corn ugali does seem to be a better alternative.
April 12, 2022 at 10:16 am
My whole family loves eating ugali with sukuma wiki and githeri prepared for us by Mama Pauline. When we moved out of Kenya, the kids asked for it and I had to prepare it myself.
Your recipe and tips helped a lot so I didn’t have to call Mama Pauline.
Thanks a lot!
April 12, 2022 at 6:15 pm
Thank you so much Aleks for trying out the recipe. Am so glad it was easy for you to make it and the family enjoyed it.Once again thank you so much.
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May 12, 2022 at 4:17 pm
I loved ugali when the wife (and daughters) of my good friend from Kenya made it for me. But I don’t know what kind of cornmeal to use. I’ve read that American cornmeal is too coarse. Would masarepa work OK? I’ve used it to make Venezuelan Arepas.
May 13, 2022 at 9:22 pm
Hi Paul, I have not used masarepa so cannot comment on how ugali would turn out using it. Basically you need semi fine cornmeal to make it. We normally do not use precooked corn meal for ugali but if you feel the texture is like coarse semolina, you could give a small batch a try.Or look for white maize flour online.
May 22, 2022 at 3:40 pm
Hi, We live in Australia. We first learned about Ugali when studying Africa for homeschool. We decided to try it…..and we found your blog. It is a wonderful recipe. Thank you so much. It is now a favourite in our house.
May 24, 2022 at 2:39 pm
Thank you so much Saul for trying out the recipe. Am so happy that your family loved it.
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August 9, 2022 at 1:30 am
This is a really interesting blog post. I have never heard of Ugali before, but I am definitely going to try it out.
August 9, 2022 at 9:31 pm
Thank you so much. Give it a try.
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November 1, 2022 at 1:39 am
Thank you for this recipe. My sister used to make ugali and I just got a craving for it after about 20 years!
November 5, 2022 at 1:46 am
You’re welcome Tanya. Hope you enjoyed it.
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