The diversity of Uganda`s cultures has provided for quite an exciting spread of Ugandan foods. The central region which is dominated by the Baganda tribe has the widest varieties of foods that have been traditionally enjoyed for centuries and have since spread to all the other tribes in Uganda and across borders. All the food is traditionally grown in Uganda mostly by subsistence farmers. The food includes majorly starchy plantains (matooke), sweet potatoes, rice, cassava, irish potatoes, corn flour, sauces usually include beans, peas, groundnut paste, animal proteins are usually beef, chicken, goats meat, offals and other animal entrails and lamb. The food is consumed with traditional leafy vegetables like Nakatti, Bugga, sunsa or dodo and avocado. Although they can now be found in many places in Uganda, the best taste experience of these foods to this day is best experienced in Buganda in the central region of Uganda.
One of the striking dishes from the central region are the outstanding luwombo dishes. The taste of this dish is like nothing in whole entire world. Many people get totally hypnotized at the first taste. This is a traditional dish from Uganda, in which a stew of chicken, beef, mushrooms or fish is marinated in traditional spices, delicately wrapped in baked banana leaves, potted and steamed in other freshly cut banana leaves
for over 3 – 5 hours. By the time luwombo is served the meat is so tender and full of flavor that every taste feels like a bite of heaven.
Matooke is the most popular food in Uganda. For some it feels like a spiritual dish through which most people that love it feel a spiritual connection with who they are as people through this dish. It was originally grown in Buganda region but has since spread throughout the country through the centuries. Its prepared simply by peeling starchy plantains (matooke), after which they are washed, and then wrapped and tied in a banana leaf sack using byayi (dried sheets of the plantain plant stem). This sack is potted in a pan or pot padded with mizingonyo (midribs and petioles (leaf stalks) of the banana leaves) and covered first in baked banana leaves followed with freshly cut banana leaves. This pot is filled with water then put on a very hot fire (firewood or charcoal fire for best results).
After the pot has steamed for 2-3 hours, the matooke is taken off the fire, unwrapped up to the banana sack, then pressed or marshed until it’s a very soft. Its wrapped in its banana leaves again and put back on the fire for another 2-3 hours. By the time its served, the banana paste is very hot, soft and full of that natural banana flavor. The time this dish takes to be prepared is what makes it a truly special Uganda dish like no other. It’s a must try any time, any day. A meal is never truly complete without matooke.
The food in the Eastern Region is very similar to that of Central Region`s Buganda. The food of the Baganda was adopted by many tribes in the Eastern region because they used to be colonies to Buganda Kingdom in the pre-colonial times of Uganda. These Eastern Region tribes especially the Basoga and Bagisu adopted many elements of the Buganda Culture including its food. However, one of the foods that has remained dearly loved by people in the Eastern region is corn flour posho. When the Asians started settling in the Eastern region in the late 1800, they came with a new type of flour food called that is currently called the Chapatti. Chapatti is literally inseparable from the people in the Eastern Region and has since been adopted all over Uganda as a loved street food that is also usually served during at special buffet meals.
Malewa is also a loved and special meal for people from the East. It is basically made with smoked bamboo shoot which is dried for preservation. The bamboo trees grow in the wild in eastern Uganda around Mt. Elgon. Malewa originated from Eastern Uganda in the Bugisu sub-region. It was originally eaten as food and later it started to be cooked as a sauce mixed with ground simsim (sesame seed) or peanuts. Malewa is a major part of ceremonies in Bugisu e.g. Mbalu (circumcision) and traditional weddings.
Malewa is prepared simply with water, salt, peanut paste and bamboo shoots. It is boiled in water to clean it and then the joints of the shoot are cut off leaving the middle parts which are cut into smaller pieces. Rock salt is added to the boiled shoots to make it more tender. Finally, peanut paste and salt are added and the sauce is simmered to acquire taste. The malewa sauce is served with Either matooke, cassava, sweet potatoes, rice or Posho. Malewa can be served and consumed raw, steamed or boiled and anyone that visits the Eastern Region of Uganda crowns their stay there with a taste of this unforgettable dish.
The staple foods in the western region of Uganda are ground millet (kalo), matooke, sweet potatoes and irish potatoes, this food is largely supplemented with beans, peas, beef and chicken. The western tribes of Uganda mainly lived off their cattle and therefore had a very high protein diet accented with a variety of dairy products like milk, ghee and butter. They adopted the growing of starch bananas from the Baganda and have now become the best producers of matooke in the country supplying almost all regions in Uganda. However, when anyone thinks about food from western Uganda, only one dish comes to mind and that is the eshabwe.
Eshabwe is a class of clarified butter that originated in Ankole Kingdom and is commonly used as condiment. Eshabwe, also known as ghee sauce, is a traditional dish prepared in Ankole. The dish is mostly prepared for special ceremonies or occasions. Eshabwe is traditionally served in an orwabya (clay bowl with lid). Traditionally, this dish was made by old women in a room where they had to be silent because it was the believed that talking would make the eshabwe turn out poor. However, over time, this has changed and eshabwe is served like any other dish to everyone. Eshabwe is served as a condiment with the main course meal e.g. karo (millet bread), potatoes, matooke, beans and irish potatoes.
This dish is prepared in a very delicate way so that its consistency is not affected. Initially ghee is washed clean in cold water. A mixture of rock salt and water (rwabarire) is added to the ghee. The mixture is stirred until the ghee changes from yellow to white in color. While adding cold boiled water, which has salt dissolved in it, the formed eshabwe is stirred until you get the desired thickness (consistency). After the eshabwe is formed, it is sieved to remove particles or impurities. Sometimes small pieces of beef are added for flavor. Eshabwe is served with any main course meal e.g. millet bread, matooke, sweet potatoes etc. This is a signature dish for the people of Western Uganda and any visitor to that region must try to mark their experience of that region.
The Northern region of Uganda is truly a world apart from the Southern, Western and Central Regions of Uganda. These tribes were all mostly pastoralists and cattle herders who lived 100% off the cattle they kept. They however enjoyed high carbohydrate foods like millet, corn, sorghum and sweet potatoes. These foods are to this day complemented by beans, peas, groundnut paste mixed with dried fish or roasted beef. Their food is so delicious but the one delicacy that defines the taste of home for the Northern tribes of Uganda is called Malakwang.
This delicacy, has a sweet and sour taste to it and like many other vegetable dishes, it was only served as a last resort during drought periods that were frequent due to the dry weather conditions in the northern part of Uganda. People started growing the malakwang plant in their yards like any other crop in their homes. Later this sauce spread to other regions of the country as people migrated from one place to another. The continuous intermarriage has made it more popular especially among the people in the Eastern part of Uganda. Malakwang is widely eaten and cooked in restaurants and eating joints that serve northern cuisine. Malakwang as a sauce can be eaten with millet bread and posh, however, many people enjoy this dish with steamed sweet potatoes.
This meal is prepared by plucking the malakwang leaves from its stalk and putting them in warm water for at least 20 minutes. After that, the leaves are taken from the warm water and put in the sun to dry for about 10 minutes. Then they are boiled in clean water till tender and the water is yellow green in colour. At this point the leaves are taken off the fire and the remaining water is drained. After the water is drained, the boiled leaves are added to freshly boiled water with a little salt preferable local salt commonly known as magadi on very low heat, to reduce the sour taste. After this, using a mingling stick locally called ogwec, the leaves are stirred as fine groundnut paste (odi) is added to them. When ready, the dish assumes a thick creamy look with green strikes of the greens. At this point, boneless dry fish can also be added for more flavour.
This dish is so dear to the people of the North because to them it represents the seasons of hardship and bounty they have gone through every year for centuries. Malakwang is a dish served to special visitors as a sign of honour and respect. To the people of Northern Uganda, Malakwang is not just a delicacy, it’s a spirit that binds its lovers to their history and cause through time. To taste this dish is to share and witness the resilience and persistence of the people from northern Uganda.