Recipes & Stories from my Travels in Uganda
I have already bragged on Ugandan hospitality, of which food is a major part. But the food, in all of its massive quantities, deserves its own discussion entirely.
So here I admit to some ignorance, for I thought I would be a lacking in the tasty food department whilst in Uganda, at least a bit. NOT the case. In one very remote village in eastern Uganda, we were invited into the home of a member of the women’s cooperative where we were donating fruit trees for a post-planting meal. Two women, standing over a boiling hot caldron on the dirt floor next to their mattresses, served us up a platter of food piled so high with steaming bananas & cassava, that we assumed it was to be shared amongst all nine of us…..when it was actually meant for one person. This was the way it was at every meal, and when we couldn’t even come close to finishing the mounds of food, our Ugandan hosts would ask us sincerely what was the matter, then encourage us, hell, BULLY us, to finish our entire plate.
We ate our meals in one of two places: either a small restaurant or, more often, the home of one of the community members or our host. Either way, the setup was almost always buffet style. The food is served and/or cooked in banana leaves, which add not only beauty but also flavor to the dishes. Below you will find the components of many of these meals, along with some pictures of their delicious and massive portions!
Matoke (cooked banana) – Bananas play a huge role as a staple carbohydrate, and almost every meal I had in Uganda featured them in some way. Matoke refers to any preparation of a cooked banana.
Cassava – Cassava is the root tuber of the cassava plant. You see this spindly plant growing everywhere, and will have plates of steamed cassava shoved through your car windows at every stop. It is extremely dry on it own, but we ate it on long car rides with salt and some store-bought hot sauce. SO good. You will also find cassava chips and ground cassava flour.
Corn – Lots of yummy roasted corn as street food. Every busy city street has people squatted over small fires & a grill, roasting maize. I always stop for some, as I am a serious sucker for street corn. From Ecuador to Peru to Chile to Mexico to Puerto Rico to El Salvador and now Uganda, it is my favorite street food.
Yams & Sweet Potatoes – Served steamed, boiled, or mashed, always covered in a sauce. The yams had a marbeling of white and purple which we don’t see much here in the States. They also were disctinctly sweeter than store bought ones back home.
Irish Potatoes – All regular potatoes, like the ones we have at home as mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, are called Irish Potatoes. This always made me giggle.
Pumpkins & Squash: Lots of different yummy varaties, mostly resembling a kabocha squash (with the green & orange/yellow coloring). Sweet, yummy, and always a welcome site on the buffet table.
Groundnut Sauce – Discussing Ugandan cuisine would not be complete without discussing peanut sauce. Or more actually, “groundnut sauce.” The groundnut/peanut (isn’t this a much better name, considering they do indeed grow on the ground) thrives in the tropical Ugandan landscape, and for me is the signature of Ugandan cooking. It makes everything taste better, and makes you 10x fuller than you already were. I even have a bag of G-nuts that I smuggled home hanging out in my freezer right now.
Street Food – I live for street food. I was indoctrinated into the street-food-loving crowd when I first moved to Ecuador right out of college, and will never go back. It is and will always be one of the best aspects of traveling, and one of the ways I feel most involved with the local lifestyle. Here in Uganda, there is a strong Indian influence, with the most common street foods being Chipati and Samosas. There are also tons of cooked meat-on-a-stick stuff, but you know, being a vegan, not so much my thing.
Sugar Cane – Also of note is the vast amount of sugar cane fields and presence of people chewing on this as a snack. I can’t count the number of times I saw kids knawing on a big stick of this stuff or a man on a bicycle with a big hunk of it hanging out of his mouth. I happen to also have a piece of sugar cane I brought back with me in my freezer, next to the groundnuts.
I enjoyed and overindulged in African food so much during my stay, that upon my return to Arizona I attempted to recreate my Ugandan culinary experience for my family. Below you can see my completed meal (and on the placemats I purchased there, too!)