Cooking Ugandan Dishes

I spent five awe-inspiring weeks in Lugala, a village near the Capital (Kampala) of Uganda. Other than volunteering at the local hospital and finding adventure rafting the Nile River and bungee jumping, I met three girls who changed my life: Becky, Hilda, and Gladys, and they taught me the skill of cooking Ugandan dishes.

Thanks to two awesome Americans at the St. Nicholas’ Uganda Childrens’ Fund, I was introduced to these girls so I could selfishly get a feel of what life was like for them growing up in a Ugandan village as orphans. We spent many days together, and most of them were meal-time. I helped them purchase cooking necessities and in turn they fed me. Although, as anyone who has been to Uganda would know, even if I hadn’t offered to buy food, they would have begged me to eat- they love to feed! They are genuinely selfless people, and I am lucky to have met these girls.  We only ate meat once, on Christmas when we got a live chicken.  I want to share some of the dishes we ate and the ways they cooked.

cooking ugandan dishes“My auntie would beat you, you are so bad!” was the response to my chopping matooke skills. The knife was next given to this four year old who was “much better” than I. And he really was. 

Unlike the U.S. where I’m from, the entire non-school day for these girls is wake up, iron, market, cook, eat, chill for a little, then bed. Repeat. Most of their day is cooking over a small coal fire outside their front door. It takes all day for something to cook, so a late lunch is the ONE large meal of their day; they’ll have tea for dinner.

Typical Ugandan Dishes

cooking ugandan dishesevery day, every dish starts in the market. Eat Fresh! Pictured here is matooke, sort of a green banana (plantain), a daily staple. 

cooking ugandan dishes

cooking ugandan dishesafter chopping, they put the matooke inside leaves and tie it up. It’s sat on top of wooden blocks in a pan of water over coals to steam cook all day

cooking ugandan disheseveryone in the villages helps out either with cooking or babysitting

cooking ugandan dishesThe next most common food: irish potato. Almost everything from potato, matoke, rice, and cabbage is cooked the same way. Added is salt, water, tomato, and sometimes onion, carrot, or paprika

cooking ugandan dishesa cabbage dish that will be cooked the same way

cooking ugandan dishesYUM. rice and shredded cabbage was my second favorite dish. Somehow, even using the same ingredients daily, it always tasted great

cooking ugandan disheswe munched on fried grasshoppers while the food simmered

cooking ugandan dishesBecky is prepared ‘g nut sauce’- my FAVORITE!  (ground nut sauce) which is usually served over matoke but I liked it on literally everything. It’s made with water, salt, pepper, paprika, tomato and onion.

cooking ugandan dishes

cooking ugandan dishesfor something sweet just gnaw on some sugar cane :)


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  1. 2 years ago
    J in Beijing

    What a fantastic experience Rachel. I love the comment about the Aunty would beat you for being so bad at chopping and then the 4 year old being better! ha!
    J in Beijing recently posted…Walking it out: Connecting with my Beijing Home

    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      haah yeah, the kids are so independent. THis kid was lucky to have babysitters, so don’t!

  2. 2 years ago

    Cooking with locals is THE best way of bonding and building relationships with locals. During my two years in Cambodia I learned so much more about the people and the country by cooking with locals in their villages then I ever could have by just reading Lonely Planet. And it is fun, because usually the kitchen is very different to your bog standard kitchen in Europe. :-)
    tammyonthemove recently posted…Oruro carnival – Fun, Frivolity, and lots of Foam Fights

  3. 2 years ago

    Love this story and the pictures. Bonding through food… there is no better way!
    Kelsey recently posted…Spring in Madrid + Blog updates + *Lettr Giveaway*

  4. 2 years ago

    That’s great to hear the food was so tasty! How did you enjoy the grasshoppers?
    Emily recently posted…Dune Buggying, Sandboarding and Being Stuck in Huacachina

    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      THey weren’t bad… crispy and the butter they were fried in made it taste like any fried food. It’s the legs and antennae you have to swallow that is a little but hard.

  5. 2 years ago

    Great post!
    – food looks fantastic and extremely healthy – just like you would find in a Westside movie star health food vegie vegan restaurant.

    BTW – you are one spunky chick (in a good way)

    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Yeah it’s great they at least get the protein from the peanuts since they rarely have meat!

  6. 2 years ago

    I lived in Uganda for 6 months and this post brought me BACK lol. I went back and forth between Jinja and a village two hours north of Jinja, and oh how I remember living off of rice and cabbage! Did you try Katogo? That was my favorite, especially eaten with beans or fish if I was lucky. My lease favorite…Matooke and G’nut sauce. I know, but I never got into it!

    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Don’t know if I tried katogo or not, it doesn’t ring a bell. I didn’t like the motooke, but LOVE gnut sauce! yum! I’m glad this post brought you back to such an awesome place!

  7. 2 years ago
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown

    Looks yummy!! We have sugarcane here too, growing at the resort I work at. Every once in awhile our boat captain will get a hankering for it and go chop some down for us. I love it!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted…Should I Stay or Should I Go?

    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Sometimes I think it’s like chewing on tree bark haha but I love raw sugar!

  8. 2 years ago

    I’ve heard that the food there was so oily, heavy and not that healthy, but after reading your post I can’t agree. It looks so yummy and delicious. I love to cook on weekends and so far I’ve been to Indonesian cooking classes which I really enjoyed!
    Agness recently posted…First 5 Impressions of Indonesia


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