I have been here for the last 6 weeks and it’s high time to tell you something about Ugandan food.
A traditional dinner consists of starches, ground beans sauce (the purple one), a small portion of meat.
Well, I should describe it briefly: it’s simple, it’s filling and it’s rather monotonous. I must admit food is one of my biggest challenges in Uganda but I learnt to accept it and minimise some tensions attached to it simply by buying extra products I got used to at home from local supermarkets.
After talking to several people, I realised Ugandans don’t pay too much attention to cuisine or to the variety of food. They mainly consider the eating/cuisine as another necessary thing to do but NOT as something really pleasurable or artistic. For example, my host mother said once she doesn’t mind eating the same food like rice and beans all over again for the whole week.
This is one of my best dinners in Uganda. The yellow mash is matoke.
Ugandan cuisine is based around several major products, namely: bananas, beans, ground nuts, rice, potatoes (both sweet and Irish), meat, and fish. It’s extremely starchy. So starchy that if I eat some dish too late, it blocks my stomach until 10am the next day. I’m not joking… Ugandans love a dozen of carbohydrates on one plate. So, if a European chooses to eat rice OR pasta OR potatoes with some meat and salad, a Ugandan would add ALL of these starches to form a one big meal. Sometimes he would even add matoke which is mash made of green bananas; a very common dish here. I think in small amount it’s quite good and I enjoy matoke because it’s a new culinary experience for me.
Green bananas nearly ready for matoke.
You should understand that the word ‘food’ in Uganda is limited ONLY to carbohydrates. Meat, fish, beans or salad is NOT food. It’s seems absurd but it’s just how semantics works here.
In regards to meat, people differentiate between meat which again (as I mentioned in my previous post about Uglish) doesn’t mean chicken. Chicken is, in contrast to most Western countries, more expensive than beef and, as a result, it’s served rarely. Generally speaking, if you want to come to Uganda and you’re not vegetarian, forget about meat on a daily basis in host families. Most of Ugandans cannot afford to buy meat everyday so they need to substitute proteins by eating products such as sauce made of ground beans (they are very tasty) or beans.
This is how sweet Ugandan pineapples ripe in the sun.
What I found bizarre about their cuisine is the fact that Ugandans eat a relatively little amount of fruit and vegetables with meals. At least my home family. But once you buy it, you realise how better it is here in comparison to our European supermarkets. I love in particular avocado that has become my culinary discovery of the summer. I enjoy eating fresh mangoes and pineapples on a regular basis. And, of course, sweet bananas which are of a much smaller size than the ‘normal’ ones in Europe. I guess they don’t have the same EU restrictions on the size of bananas here:D.
An avocado tree, Mbarara.
What about other food like cheese or ham? It’s rather nonexistent in a daily diet unless you go to an Italian or another intenratonal restaurant. Ugandans eat simple, non-modified food. This doesn’t mean you cannot buy convenience food, biscuits, chocolate or yogurts in supermarkets, but, I cannot emphasise more, you may find these products very rare or nonexistent in most families. Ugandans are also not accustomed to chocolate, biscuits or cakes. This can be explained by an average income level, in my opinion.
This is a paw-paw tree, which is simply… Papaya.
What about drinking habits? Naturally, Ugandans drink alcohol like nearly everyone in the world but much less than in Europe. Being drunk is not acceptable. The social rules are quite strict to the degree that my host family doesn’t tolerate drinking alcohol at home at all. Beer remains the most common alcohol, although some banana wine is popular as well. In general, Ugandans don’t drink spirits as these types of alcohol are considered expensive.
Banana wine is quite sweet and, even though it’s nothing to do with real wine, is still nice. I bought some home:)
When it comes to tea and coffee, there are some differences too. A traditional tea in Uganda is served ONLY with milk and a lot of spices. It’s different to Britain where you pour just a bit of milk on top, not to mention a conventional continental tea with water. Ugandans are not big fans of coffee. Coffee shops are not common in the city, apart from few international brands. Again, understandable when you take the income level into account.
This is the best remedy for hot, dusty afternoons in Kampala; fresh mango-pineapple juice.
Last thing worth mentioning is daily routine. Ugandans wake up very early and eat usually modest breakfast. My host family doesn’t eat breakfast before work but about 10am. Nevertheless, most of people eat little before they rush for work. The breakfast usually consists of toasts with margarine (they don’t usually use butter or jam, sometimes peanut butter), tea or coffee and eggs. The next big meal is lunch which has a special room in a Ugandan timetable. Most of organisations recognise 1-hour break in the early afternoon. The last meal of a day is dinner which statistically is much later than in Europe. My family never eats dinner before 8pm! Now I adjusted to it since I always have a big lunch in the afternoon.
Generally speaking, food here is a new challenging experience for me. I started to appreciate what I’ve got at home more. I’d like to apologise for some necessary generalisation about Ugandan lifestyle and habits but without this simplification I wouldn’t be able to give you an overall picture of a Ugandan diet.