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Ugali: 10 Things to Know About the Popular African Dish

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ugali, african food, african dish

If you know anything about African food, the name Ugali should be familiar to you. 

Arguably the most popular dish in Africa, Ugali is eaten across several countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, and Congo. Even though it is most commonly made of cornmeal, other flours like millet and sorghum are also used for it.

There are so many of both useful and fascinating things to know about Ugali. Here are 10 of them.   

1. Endless names 

Ugali goes by a lot of different names and nicknames in sub-Saharan Africa. The tasty side dish is also known as pap, Mieliepap, ngima, sadza, ‘obusuma’ nshima, and phutu. Kenyans and Tanzanians call it ugali, Malawians and Zambians call it nshima or nsima, Zimbabweans call it sadza, and South Africans call it pap, Mieliepap or mealie pap. 

ugali, african food, african dish2. Three simple ingredients 

You only need 4 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 cups of white cornmeal (finely ground) to prepare the famous Ugali. 

ugali, african food, african dish3. Three preparation steps 

There are three steps you need to follow in order to enjoy ugali.  

First, pour the water and salt into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring it to a boil. Slowly stir the cornmeal as you sprinkle it in the water-salt mixture.  

Second, reduce the heat to medium-low and keep stirring for about 10 minutes, smashing any lumps. You’ll know you can stop stirring once the mush becomes thick and pulls away from the pot’s sides. Remove it from heat and let it cool.  

The third and final step is to place the ugali into a nice bowl, wet your hands and serve the dish. 

4. Kenya’s national dish 

Indeed, this hard porridge is the national dish of Kenya. It’s the country’s staple and signature. 

5. An interesting history 

The maize used to prepare Ugali was introduced to the Kenyan coastal region by Portuguese traders back in the 19th century. After exporting it for a while, British settlers realized that maize is a cheap option to sustain local workers. So, they even paid locals with portions of maize. That’s how Kenyans started to eat it. 

6. Not your typical restaurant dish 

Most of the times, people eat ugali at home or when they visit their dear ones. It’s not very common for people to order it in a restaurant, thus you rarely find it in any menus. However, if you really want to enjoy ugali while eating out, keep in mind that many places offer it as an accompaniment option to nyama choma (barbecued meat) and kachumbari (spicy sauce). 

ugali, african food, african dish7. There’s a certain way to eat it  

It’s definitely useful to learn how to eat this delicious food the right way. Grab a pinch of ugali and roll it into a small ball. Squeeze it and dip it into your veggies or stew. Then scoop and eat. Pretty easy, right?

Luckily, eating this delicious dish isn’t complicated at all. Not to mention that the combination of flavors will create a memorable experience for your taste buds. 

ugali, african food, african dish8. Several variations 

There are many variations of ugali. Here are some of them. 

While white cornmeal is the grain that’s the most commonly used for this dish, you can substitute it with sorghum, coarse cassava flour, millet or hominy grits.  You can add less or more water in order to get the consistency you want.  

In many African households, the water isn’t salted, thus you can leave it out, as well.  

If you want a richer flavor, add a little butter. 

9. Wedding dish 

Ugali is a key part of the wedding traditions in Luhya culture. This Bantu ethnic group serves the dish at their wedding parties. Great choice, isn’t it? 

10. An inexpensive food 

Another awesome thing about ugali is that it’s relatively affordable, thus anyone can enjoy it as a filling meal. 

Have you ever had Ugali? Let us know in the comments.