Kenya is without a doubt one of the classic bucket-list destinations. The true jewel in this beautiful country is the Masai Mara. Its name derived from the Masai people of the area and Mara, which refers to African jungle. World famous among travellers and photographers, this plain is known for the annual wildebeest migration from Tanzania and offers the best chances to see the Big Five. If you are visiting one of our lodges in the Masai Mara and intend on seeing other parts of Kenya, here is all you need to know about Kenyan history, culture and food.
The moment you hear the word Kenya, you think of a safari because that’s exactly where the activity of game drives started. The name safari even comes from the Swahili word meaning ‘journey’ or ‘trip’. Not only did safaris originate in Kenya, but civilisation too! The Great Rift Valley is thought to be one of the ‘cradles of life’, and archaeologists working in the valley have found remains of what they speculate are some of the earliest human ancestors.
Kenyans are friendly and hospitable people and have great cultural and etiquette values. An important part of their social and business interaction is greeting. Handshakes and eye contact is customary to build trust and show respect. You won’t go far in this country without being greeted with a warm smile and a hearty “Jambo!”
Kenyan culture is a fascinating way of life that amalgamates thousands of year old traditions, social evolution and modern influences. This multifaceted way of life is expressed in different forms, from its people, languages and food to its music and dance and so much more.
Kitenge is a cotton fabric of various tie-dye colours and designs embellished with heavy embroidery. Although it is not accepted as authentic, traditional customary wear, the Maasai wear dark red garments to symbolise their love for the earth and their dependence on it. It also stands for courage and blood that is given to them by nature.
Kenya is not short of beats and rhythms with songs that dig deep into African culture. With the more traditional compositions that use drums and guitars, the variety is endless and fill the airwaves with authentic, yet contemporary sounds such as taarab – inspired by Arab and Indian immigrants.
Kenya is home to over forty different ethnic groups, each with its own unique traditions, identity and lifestyle. However, Kenya’s national dialect of Swahili and English bridge the communication gap.
Despite numerous ethnic-specific dialects, tribes and nationalities, Kenya is brought together as a single nation through cuisine. Like its people, Kenya’s cuisine has its own distinctive personality. Using native spices and local ingredients, you will discover a burst of flavours and a sense of their heritage in their local dishes.
In 1496 the Portuguese arrived and introduced foods from newly discovered Brazil such as maize, bananas, pineapple, chilies, peppers, sweet potatoes, and cassava. They also brought oranges, lemons, and limes from China and India, as well as pigs.
When the Europeans arrived, they brought with them cucumbers and tomatoes as well as thousands of Indians for labour. This labour force introduced curries, spices, chapattis and relishes which have become part of traditional chakula for many Kenyans.
Here are five delicious Kenyan dishes you should try during your visit to Kenya:
Ugali is the most popular food in Kenya – a staple starch cornmeal made with maize flour – that is often paired with protein dishes.
Pilau is similar to akhni, it is rice flavoured with spices and cooked in stock with meat, chicken or fish.
Kenyan Chapati is Kenyans’ favourite bread that resembles a roti. It is made with white flour, salt and oil and eaten for breakfast with tasty stew or kachumbari.
Mukimo is a popular food in Kenya and served at all major events. A delicacy made with potatoes, peas, corn and onions.
Nyama Choma is a grilled meat and it is barbecued over an open fire and usually eaten with Kachumbari.
Some local delicacies in the city centre include sambusas, corn on the cob, mkate mayai and deep fried yams.
If you are heading into a city centre or smaller town, be sure to use the Boda Boda’s, Piki-Piki’s, and Matatu’s. These are some of the main modes of transport. Boda Bodas are bicycles used to get short distances while Piki-piki’s are motorcycle taxis used to get passengers to destinations in half the time that a car can. Matatus are the cheapest and most efficient way to get around – minibuses are hard to miss with blaring music, custom paint jobs, and neon lights.
For more on some of our most favourite luxurious Kenyan destinations click here.