Flavors of Coastal Kenya

The range of ingredients used along Kenya's coast reflects the confluence of Arabic, South Asian, and East African cooking traditions.

James Fisher

The range of ingredients at the disposal of cooks in places like Mombasa and Lamu reflects the Arabic, South Asian, and indigenous East African cooking traditions that have long converged in those places, as well as the local maritime bounty. Crabs, typically mangrove mud crabs, are harvested all along Kenya's coast and go into a variety of dishes. Ginger is a key ingredient in stews, biriyanis and other rice preparations, and ginger beer. Tomatoes are grown throughout Kenya and are used to add color and flavor to such dishes as samaki wa kukausha (** Tomato-and-Lime-Braised Fish). Chiles, introduced from South America centuries ago, have become as essential to the region's cookery as coconut and fish; African bird's-eye chiles are among the most common. Onions can be found growing in village farm plots across Kenya and are often used in tandem with tomatoes in seafood dishes. Key limes add their tart flavor to chicken and fish stews. Garlic, originally an Asian import, has taken firm root in East Africa, playing a role in all kinds of dishes. The citrusy flavor of Kaffir lime leaves is prized by the region's cooks, especially in bright-tasting, quick-cooked seafood preparations. (For more on the staples of Swahili cooking, see ** Swahili Spices and Seasonings.)