10 Foods You Must Taste While In Mombasa

There are many awesome things that come to mind at the mention of Mombasa; the heat, the nightlife, and the beach are just the tip of the iceberg. Coastal food is one of the most phenomenal things about Mombasa (and the coast in general) because cooking is somewhat an art that has been experimented upon and perfected, by generations of the many cultures that have passed through there. So what better way to experience the coastal culture than through tasting its variety of amazing food? Here is a list of the top ten foods you should definitely try while in Mombasa:

NOTE: It’s all well if you want to enjoy coastal cuisine at your five star hotel but to fully experience coastal food in its true essence, the streets are the way to go:

  1. Viazi Karai

source: http://www.alhidaaya.com

In proper Swahili it should be “Viazi Karanga” (fried potatoes) but I think they used to be sold in basins (karai) so often that the name viazi karai (potatoes from the basin) stuck. In Nairobi, people make viazi karai with tomato sauce as the accompaniment, but this is bound to fail miserably if a seller applied it in Mombasa. See, most coastal people like to tickle their taste buds and Tomato Sauce speaks of mediocre effort; so sellers go steps further by offering more accompaniments. These usually come on form of three types of sauces:

  • Ukwaju (tamarind sauce) usually comprises of water soaked tamarind, onions, garlic, salt and sometimes pepper. It tastes nicely sour and the thicker it is, the better.
    P.S- If you get addicted to it (like some of us are) be careful to not take too much of it. It’s a laxative. Bowel movements and that sort of thing? I hope I didn’t ruin your appetite.
  • Tomato gravy- this is a far cry from cheap tomato sauce and it comprises of actual tomatoes making the gravy- not some soupy thing with Royco added in it. However, most sellers don’t offer it on account of tomatoes being very costly most of the time.
  • Chatini– is a thick sauce made from grated coconut and sometimes has sour additives. Make sure to taste it first before pouring it all over your viazi then deciding you don’t like it.

Among all the above, the most constant is ukwaju and believe me when I say customers have been known to return purchased potatoes if the seller happened to not have ukwaju. Some of my friends from Nairobi didn’t like it when we had some in Malindi but with Viazi karai being the most popular snack in Mombasa, some ukwaju in the mix is definitely worth a taste.

  1. Sea food

Top on my list is Pweza(octopus), Kambaa (prawns), and any saltwater fish especially Kiboma.

Prawns. Source: http://www.thegoodshoppingguide.com

Sea food in hotels costs ridiculously expensive; especially considering that I come from a place where prawns, that cost thousands in hotels, are priced from 10- 100 shillings only. I have yet to taste readily cooked prawns from the streets of Mombasa but they are pretty easy to make, so read here for a recipe on preparing them.

source: http://image.shutterstock.com

Ready made Octopus meat sells from as little as 10 shillings a piece to about 50 shillings for a good sized chunk of octopus. I know you’re probably thinking of octopus arms flailing all over the place (woe unto you if you thought of Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean) However, I assure you; the deep fried version of octopus is nicely chewy, evenly salted and not slimy at all.
Kiboma is about the best fish I have ever tasted- EVER! And even if it’s not your thing, there is really no better place to taste saltwater fish than in Mombasa. Not only are they reasonably price, but in places like Likoni (Ferry) you get an option of choosing the raw fish you want, getting it cleaned up and nicely packed for your own preparation at home. An experience on any island is not complete without some sea food tasting, so do try out the different types of sea food. If you hate all of them at least you’ll have a story to tell about how pweza tastes like shit (P.S.-It doesn’t!)

  1. Labania
    Enter the sweet toothed taster. Labania- usually sold in Somali and Arab shops- is a beige-colored creamy and very sweet snack which costs about 50 shillings per piece. Don’t be fooled- it’s not a piece you’ll gobble down in one go. The milky sweetness in it has been known to make some people nauseous but if you take it bit by small bit, it’s like an awesome chocolate bar.
  2. Kashata