Food & Daily life

City life

Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is the largest city in East Africa and acts as the region’s busy commercial hub. Here, global influences combine with local in the shops and markets, restaurants, nightclubs and cinemas.

But urban life is by no means uniform. Cultural differences can be felt in Kenya’s second city, Mombasa, which is mainly Muslim. Here the call to prayer rings out five times a day from the many mosques and head-to-foot buibuis (for women) or kanzu gowns (for men) are commonly worn.

Getting around

Getting aroundIn this video... How do you get around in Kenya? Well most take the bus, or hop on the back of a motorcycle for one dollar. It is the cheapest and most convenient way to get around, especially when you can wait hours for a bus.

There is also a huge gap between rich and poor city-dwellers. A middle-class home would typically have two bedrooms, a living area and bathroom and kitchen with indoor plumbing. But two-thirds of Nairobi’s 3.5 million citizens live in slums, where typical houses consist of one small room (around 3 metres square) with no electricity, running water or sanitation. In the largest shanty town of Kibera, one pit latrine can be used by up to 500 people.

Rural living

Three-quarters of Kenyans still live in rural areas. Traditional lifestyles in the countryside revolve around subsistence farming and trips to local markets and shopping centres. However, the modern-day world is also present; mobile cinemas provide entertainment and Kenyans rely on their mobile phone.

Wood-powered stoves are mostly used to cook food, though alternatives are being encouraged to reduce deforestation. A staple dish prepared on these stoves is ugali (a stiff cornmeal porridge), which is served with meat (chicken, goat or beef), fish or vegetable stews (e.g. beans and spinach).

Typical meal

In this video… Discover what some typical Kenyan meals look like. A Kenyan lady talks about certain foods in Kenya, how they're prepared and when they're eaten.

Snacks include samosas and chapattis (reflecting the Indian influence over Kenyan cooking), roasted corncobs and mandaazi, a semi-sweet flatbread. This is usually made early and eaten warm for breakfast or cold later in the day. Kenyans also enjoy miniature kebabs and their idea of a feast is a huge pile of nyama choma, or barbequed meat.

A good brew

Kenya is a major producer of tea and coffee. Within the country, coffee is mostly drunk instant and it is not as popular as tea or Chai. Most Kenyans brew their tea with milk and lots of sugar, serving it scalding hot and very sweet.

Lager is also popular in Kenya, with local brands made using cornstarch and sugar, as well as the more traditional ingredients of water, malt and hops.

Despite a host of laws, home brewing remains popular with pombe or bush brews varying according to local ingredients. Mnazi or palm wine is also a favourite drink along the coast where coconuts grow and another type of palm (the doum palm) provides a different variety called mukoma.

In the cities though, homemade illicit spirits can literally be lethal, so avoid mugs of chang’aa.