Ugandan Cuisine

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.

full bellies

Our insanely full bellies after yet another gianormous Ugandan meal

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.

A “small” Ugandan meal

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.

ma-colline

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.

This one wasn’t my serving, as it is served with chicken, but the rest of the meal was typical featuring rice, squash, cassava, matoke, g-nut sauce, & some cooked greens

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.

Pumpkin, rice, matoke, & far from enough groundnut sauce

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.

Chapati-and-matooke

Chipati & Matoke

Samosa

Samosas

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!)

My Arizona-meets-Uganda homemade meal

Grilled bananas, boiled yams & sweet potatoes, matoke, sugar cane, passionfruit, avocado & cucumber/tomato/onion relish, mango juice, and…….groundnut sauce!!

Ugoing to Uganda?: The Good

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You going to Uganda?  That’s awesome.  It’s not everyone who does.  Heck, it wasn’t even on my radar until a month before I landed at Entebbe Airport.

Uganda is a unique, mixed place.  There is the good:  the food, the open arms, the smiles, the clothing, the dancing, the generosity, the Nile, the animals…  But there is also the bad.

I want to share both sides, because that is the reality in this country.  Just as in everything, there truly is not light without the dark, and Uganda has a lot of both.

Let us start with the good, shall we?

The People & Hospitality:  I feel I have family in Uganda after spending three weeks there.  David, the always smiling unofficial mayor/father/best friend/uncle/jokester/savior of the town, who opened his home to us for a never ending meal of traditional vegetarian fareIMG_4266 shared by him and his family.  Then there is Edward, a man so easy going yet hard working, as he relentlessly pursues a solution to the effects of climate change in Uganda.  Mousa, at left with his family, was a welcome addition with his quite demeanor and patience with our questions surrounding his Muslim faith and the traditions of his country.  These are only a few of the many wonderful people who showed me what Ugandan hospitality is all about.

The Food:  SO. MUCH. FOOD.  When we travel for these planting trips, our hosts know we are all vegans, so it makes things much easier….and tastier.  Most traditional foods throughout the world are mainly vegetables anyway, so it makes for some seriously fine dining.

We ate bananas of every shape and form, from boiled for breakfast with cucumbers, tomatoes, & onions, to fried and smothered in peanut sauce for lunch, to steamed in their own leaves in a mound for dinner.  We ate avocados, jackfruit, guava, melons, oranges, papaya, squash, pumpkin, salads, soups, and all sorts of delicious fare, all served in portion sizes that will rival ANY all-you-can-eat buffet in the US.

You can read more about the specifics and recipes I brought back from Uganda in another post, here.

The Clothes, Dancing, Culture, & Energy: IMG_4471

Uganda was full of life.  We enjoyed dancing, playing soccer, laughing, running, eating, planting trees, colorful clothing, educational talks, community celebrations and simple strolls through rural villages.  Rather than rambling away, I will instead do my best to show you what it felt like to be there….

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I will leave it at that for now.  There is much more to be said, so I am separating my trip out into a few posts.  I will discuss our venture to the source of the Nile, the attack of baboons at Murchinson Falls, a charging of a bull elephant on the safari, and our day of tracking chimpanzees all at a later time.  So stay tuned for all the posts to come about the wonderful parts of Uganda, as well as my counter piece to this post about the not-so-light-hearted side of this complex yet beautiful country.

Ugoing to Uganda?: The Bad

Now, for the dark side of Uganda.

I want to preface this by saying I adore Uganda.  In fact I will be returning next year.   And these “good” and “bad” terms simplify and almost trivialize the much broader and complicated issues facing a country with a myriad of obstacles: overcoming the scars of Idi Amin’s horrific regime, water and land insecurity in the face of climate change, western influences squandering native cultures, and the list goes on.  However, these two major issues I am labeling as “bad” are the symptoms of much larger problems.  But because they are so terrible, and I was witness to them firsthand, I feel the need to explore them here.

Extreme Homophobia:  Uganda’s Anti-Homesexuality Bill was the first bill introduced that would make homosexuality punishable by death.  It is hard to believe that this is true, especially in light of the huge strides finally being made domestically towards marriage rights for all.  The extent of prejudice and shame to those who identify openly, or are even suspected as being gay, is horrendous.  To be honest, it is hard to put the words down here to do justice to the injustice happening in Uganda, so please, take the time to watch the documentary Call Me Kuchu.  You will feel as I do, and rethink how our actions here affect the lives of those in other parts of the world.

God “Loves” Uganda: Radical Evangelical Christians have preyed upon those in Uganda, and this is in large part responsible for the above mentioned anti-gay hysteria.  This is not pointing fingers, but a direct result of an onslaught of Western religious extremists descending upon this country.  Again, I find myself too upset sitting here to try to put the words together to express the atrocities these people are having to face in Uganda.  Please watch God Loves Uganda, and make your voice heard to stand up for the brave men and women of Uganda fighting for their basic human right to love.  I came across a rally held by one of these religious groups while I was here, and it was very disturbing to witness.  There will be more death and suffering in Uganda if this is allowed to continue in the way that it is.

To donate, support, and find out more about the struggle of the gay community in Uganda, visit http://callmekuchu.com/act/.