As a warm breeze blows from the Indian Ocean through the narrow alleyways of Old Town Mombasa, it stirs up the aroma of spicy food being prepared. The smell is enough sign that you ought to try out the diverse Swahili dishes. This article compiles the 15 must-try local cuisines you should try when visiting the coast.

Swahili Food Culture

Centuries ago, the same breeze first brought the Arabs into the coastal town. They made their first stop in dhows, laden with cumin, cloves, turmeric, cardamom and saffron. Centuries later, these are the same spices that locals use while preparing Swahili street food, which is often characterized by the perfect balance between sweet and savoury and is endowed with spices. Go through these recommendations from a local food lover who knows the bits and bombs about the best dishes and snacks served in the coastal town.

Swahili cuisine is a culinary culmination of all cultures that have been to the city. Different nations visited the town at different times and left an imprint of their culture through food. During the 18th Century, the Portuguese, Omanis and British occupied the island because of its port and advantageous location along the East African coast. As a result, the spice market is a modern-day representation of this part of the island’s history.

So, it is a no-brainer to spot the mass of markets brimming with aromatic local produce and vendors roasting, frying and grilling food on huge street-side stoves.

Swahili Dishes Menu

Apart from their spiciness, the mode of preparation and overall layout of how Swahili dishes look appealing is enough to awaken your taste buds. However, a brief highlight of their taste would be fundamental, especially when trying out new dishes. 

Before getting into details about food, ensure to reach out to us on travel matters. We are a touring company that provides recommendations on places to visit and some of the most scenic destinations in the country. Our rates are affordable, and we guarantee value for your money. 

Popular Swahili Cuisines and Dishes

  1. Pilau

Have you tasted Swahili delicacies if you have never had their pilau? Pilau is a one-pot meal made by preparing rice and meat and spices such as cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cloves and cinnamon. The traditional way of preparing pilau involves using whole spices, although the modern way incorporates ground spices.

This dish is often served alongside pilipili ya kukaanga, a saucy accompaniment made from chilli, tomatoes, onions and garlic. It is eaten without cutlery.

  1. Biryani

Biryani is another spicy African food. It uses the same spices as pilau, with the exception of turmeric and is made using vegetables and meat, potatoes and boiled eggs. It is made by marinating the meat in yoghurt, spices, crushed garlic, tomatoes and salt, preferably overnight. The vegetables, fried onions and eggs are prepared separately, alongside a side of kachumbari.

Biryani is served with kachumbari or plain yoghurt and lemon pickle.

3. Bhajia

Bhajia and sauce

Bhajia are delectable Swahili fritters. They are made from thinly sliced Swahili potato chips soaked in a batter made from gram flour, rice flour or corn flour, coriander, garlic, pepper and other herbs. The coated potatoes are deep fried and served hot with meat or tamarind sauce.

  1. Coconut Rice

If you are scouting for Swahili vegetarian recipes, coconut rice is the simplest one to consider. Originally from India, coconut rice is a simple dish steeped in coconut flavour. It is made by cooking rice in coconut milk and adding coconut flakes to the rice to give it a silky texture.

You could serve it with steamed vegetables and meat stew.

  1. Mbaazi Za Nazi

Forget about baked beans because mbaazi za nazi is the perfect breakfast accompaniment. Mbaazi za nazi is Swahili for pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk. This delicacy is rich in flavour, and the coconut milk fills it with a mouth-watering aroma while giving it a creamy taste. It is often served with mahamri or chapati, and you are sure of a filling breakfast.

  1. Viazi Karai

Viazi karai are crunchy yet flavourful potato nuggets that are very popular along the coastal town. They are prepared by boiling viazi, Swahili for potatoes. They are tumbled around in gram flour paste mixed with spices and later deep fried for their crunch and flavour.

They are best served when hot, with a chutney sauce, and on most occasions, tamarind chutney is preferred. Tamarind chutney is a soup-like spiced sauce often ladled out into bowls.

  1. Mkate Wa Sinia or Mkate Wa Kumimina

Mkate wa sinia, which means flatbread, is another adored coastal snack. It is a gluten-free bread made from rice, coconut milk, melted butter, sugar and yeast. Cardamom is also added to enhance its flavour and elevate the taste of coconut milk. You can always order it in the local restaurants and enjoy it alongside a hot cup of tea.

  1. Mitai

Mitai would easily pass for one of the most addictive coastal snacks, especially for people with a propensity for sweet and doughy food. It is a tiny doughnut made with coconut milk and, sometimes, cardamom spice. This snack comes in different shapes.

Mitai is best served alongside a hot cup of local tea or Swahili black coffee with ginger.

9. Muhogo


Muhogo is the Swahili name for cassava, a root tuber grown widely in areas surrounding Mombasa. It is a street staple, and you will often stumble upon it being chopped and fried into thin crisps in deep open pans. At times, you will see it being grilled in its skin, and this option is buttery, softer and more filling.

Regardless of how it is prepared, its neutral taste is enlivened by seasoning it with the holy trinity: salt, chilli and lime.

  1. Heart of Palm

If you have never eaten the inside of a palm tree before, this is your cue to do so the next time you visit the coast. It is an unmissable delicacy from the inside of specific coconut palms and is served raw. You will spot vendors slicing it skillfully around the coastal town. Grab a piece or two as a palate refresher, especially after a spicy meal.

  1. Vibibi

Vibibi would best be described as the pancake version of mkate wa sinia. They are pancakes made from rice and coconut milk. They are sometimes spiced with cardamoms.

  1. Mishkaki

Mishkaki is a famous Swahili delicacy you could choose to have as a snack or a meal, depending on how full you want. It is succulent, moist and delicious barbecued meat morsels made by skewering and grilling marinated cubes of steak.

  1. Mikate Ya Nyama

This dish is the Swahili translation of bread and meat. It can best be described as the Swahili version of meat pie, although it is not baked but is cooked on a greased griddle or a frying pan.

  1. Vishete

Visheti or vishete are sweet and crunchy little sugar-coated fried pieces of dough. They are often considered the Swahili version of Shakar Paray, an Indian snack. So, if you are a sweet tooth, this is another option to consider while at the coast.

  1. Bungo Juice

Bungo is a coastal fruit that tastes like a mix of orange, pineapple and mango juice when juiced. It is perfect when served cold.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is the Most Popular Dish in Nairobi?

Ugali, the staple food in Kenya, is the most popular dish in Nairobi.

What Food Is Tanzania Known For?

The most common Tanzanian foods include rice, ugali, nyama choma, fish, grilled meat, plantains and pilau.

What Is the Staple Food of Kenya and Tanzania?

The most common food in Kenya and Tanzania is ugali.

What Is the National Dish of Swahili?

The dish associated with the Swahili culture is pilau. It is a staple in Swahili restaurants.

What Is the Most Popular Kenyan Food?

Ugali is a popular food in all Kenya households. It is made from cornmeal and can be served alongside meat stew, vegetables, or both.

If you plan to visit the coastal town of Mombasa, try out different Swahili food. It does not matter whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer savoury food; this list offers the best pick. Do you want to sample popular Swahili dishes? Book your trip with Pega Tours and will give you a comprehensive guide of Swahili restaurants with the best cuisines.