Rwanda is a landlocked country in the center of East Africa. One of its recent claims to fame, a reason you might have heard of it, is that the country was the first in Africa to ban plastic bags. It’s also one of the safest countries in Africa to travel around and on your way, you’ll want to taste some of the traditional food in Rwanda.
Rwanda is home to fertile soil and it gets a great amount of rainfall, so all the traditional dishes of Rwanda are made from what’s grown in the country. Most dishes are vegetarian, while on special occasions some meat and even fish from Lake Kivu are also incorporated.
A lot of the traditional food in Rwanda isn’t exclusive to the country and you’ll find very similar dishes in neighbors Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and even Kenya.
Maharagwe is another staple traditional dish that you’ll find everywhere in Rwanda. Also super affordable, very filling, and quite delicious, and when served with bugali you could probably eat one meal a day and not be hungry.
Maharagwe is pretty much a bean stew. It can be made with any beans, usually red ones. They are added to a pot with garlic, onion, coconut milk, stock, and species and then boiled up to make a tasty and nutritious meal.
If you’re traveling around Rwanda, Maharagwe is one of the most affordable and safest meals to eat without any risk of food poisoning. Order it with a chapati or some bugali and you’ll be full for hours and it will keep going on your journey.
Bugali also known as ugali in Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, is the staple food of the country. It’s served with pretty much everything, is especially filling, incredibly affordable, and it’s pretty much what sustains life in the East African country. “Ugali is life as they say”.
There isn’t much that compares to Bugali across the world. The closest foods to it are porridge or polenta, and it’s incredibly plain but is delicious when dipped in the sauce of the main meals it’s usually served with.
Making bugali can be very labor-intensive and it lies with the women of the family. The hard bit is grinding maize into flour, but you can skip this step and buy fortified maize flour at the shops.
The flour is then mixed with water or milk and boiled until it becomes a kind of doughy cake consistency.
You’ll find served as a chunk on the side of your main meal and all you need to do next is rip off a piece and dunk it into your stew and eat it. It’s incredibly filling and has a nice texture.
When you travel around Rwanda, you’ll notice that there are banana trees absolutely everywhere. And while a few bananas on their own is a simple and easy breakfast, the locals have of course made them into a traditional dish in Rwanda.
Igitoki is not exclusive to Rwanda and is also made in both Kenya and Uganda but is called matooke.
Igitoki is made using unripe green bananas which are peeled and then steamed so they become soft. The bananas are then either, mashed and served with the main meal, a bit like mashed potato or they can be left whole and added to the side of the main meal.
It tastes delicious and is lovely in porridge or with a pancake. You might even find it with some ikinyiga, a tasty peanut sauce that brings the flavors to life.
Kachumbari is one of my favorite easy African dishes and is an immensely popular traditional food in Rwanda as well as in Uganda and Kenya.
Kachumbari is a fresh salad made mainly from tomatoes and white onions. Making it isn’t as easy as you think and you’ll need to chop the onions and tomatoes very thinly so the flavors intertwine and become delicious.
You might even find kachumbari with cucumbers inside it and if it’s an up-market one, a little coriander, parsley, chili, and lemon or lime juice as a dressing.
It’s often served as a side dish with rice and a stew. I love eating it along with some grilled chicken from the BBQ.
Kachumbari is a simple fish but the quality of the onions and tomatoes grown in the region are pretty out of this world, and it’s their great natural tastes that make the dish so delicious.
Another traditional food in Rwanda and across the rest of East Africa is mandazi. If there is a traditional breakfast in East Africa, a mandazi is it.
A Mandazi is pretty much an African donut but is usually found in a triangular shape instead of a round hole in it like a donut.
It’s made of frying dough and is pretty much fried bread and you’ll find it on the streets and at cafes. It’s a delicious snack that is both light and not too sugary, but it’s not uncommon to see locals dusting it with sugar for a bit of added flavor.
Mandazis are super cheap, like 10 cents each, and are traditionally eaten with tea or coffee. Try dunking one in your tea or coffee to add flavor to it, it’s super yummy.
Chai as you probably guessed is, and means, tea. But the way tea is made for breakfast in Rwanda and East Africa is a little different from adding a teabag to a mug as one does in the west.
In East Africa, water is not featured in making chai. The teapots you’ll see on the side of the road are made to sit on a hob or open fire. To make chai, one adds milk to the teapot, a few spoons of loose tea leaves, and sugar.
The teapot is then left on the hob or fire to boil. Eventually, it’ll be tea-colored and ready to drink. It’s super tasty if you like sugary tea, which I do, and it’s amazingly filling being made of just milk. With a cup of this and a mandazi, you won’t need to eat until after lunch.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!