I was born and brought up in Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, up until the age of 16 and on my visits back home in recent years, there are some dishes I just can’t wait to eat and try and make it a point to have. These are a mix of street food dishes, which can be found roadside, as well as dishes that can be found in restaurants.
Some of these dishes have been influenced in terms of taste, flavours, cooking style as well as presentation by Kenya’s historical foreign settlers such as Indians, Arabs, Europeans, just to name a few. For example, the use of spices, coconut, fresh herbs such as coriander and vegetables, such as green chillis, have shaped some of the dishes today. You will also notice that the simple seasoning of salt, chilli, lemon and sugar is prominent in many dishes mentioned in this post.
The Indian influences on the cuisine, in particular, is due to Indians moving to Kenya about a century ago to work as railway workers on what was known as the “lunatic line” or to set up businesses from scratch. As a result, some popular Indian dishes continue to remain prominent in Kenya today. If you haven’t watched the film The Ghost and the Darkness, I highly recommend it for an insight into what it was like working on the railway lines.
These are my personal favourites, that I love to eat whenever visiting Mombasa, and in no particular order. This is by no means a conclusive list so if you have any favourites which I haven’t mentioned I would love to know about them! Just add them in the comments section below.
Mogo, or Mohogo, as it is sometimes known, is grilled or fried cassava, and a popular snack found at the infamous “Lighthouse,” on Mama Ngina Drive where locals drive through at a leisurely pace or park up to enjoy the sea breeze, chat and catch up and eat delicious street food dishes.
Mogo (pictured below) is usually seasoned with a blend of salt, chilli, sugar and a squeeze of lime. So simple yet so satisfying!
Also made from the cassava are Mogo crisps, which are sold per the bag at Lighthouse. They are usually very fresh and you can ask for them to be seasoned how you like.
Makai (corn on the cob)
Also found at “Lighthouse” is grilled sweet corn which is usually garnished with lime and chilli. You can ask for it mild, medium or hot!
Grilled sweet potato
Another great dish found on Mombasa’s most popular pier front, is grilled sweet potato which you can have with a sprinkling of chilli and salt (sensing a theme here?) and it is utterly divine. I love the soft texture of the sweet potato and the tangy hit of the seasoning.
Another snack that originated from India but the Kenyan version is next level amazing. Balls filled with deliciousness and usually enjoyed on Sundays over an indulgent breakfast, I think every Mombasa resident can resonate with the famous Bhagwanji kachoris! The good news is that they have opened branches in Nairobi too!
Bhajias with fresh coconut chutney
Bhajias are popular East African snacks whose origins lie in India. There are so many variants of Bhajias or Bajias, as they are sometimes referred to. They can be found roadside and best eaten hot with a cooling fresh coconut chutney.
Mahamri and bharazi
Mahamris are a special type of triangle shaped doughnut flavoured with coconut and cardamom. They are usually served with gunga peas cooked in coconut milk. They are DELICIOUS and the perfect breakfast meal.
Being a coastal city, Mombasa has the best and freshest sea food and I absolutely love lobster and prawns especially. Fish is always a good idea too! Some of my favourite places are Monsoons, Sea Haven, La Marina and Monsoon. They all offer Al fresco dining with a sea view and the food is incredible.
Usually sold in bags, these are baobab seeds flavoured with sugar and other ingredients and usually coloured red with food colouring, although now you can get many more variants.
This is dried mango which is then sweetened or salted and coloured using food colouring. These are rather addictive and they have a lovely chewy texture and a tangy taste.
The best Halwa is usually found in Malindi, but you can get it available within Mombasa too. Halwa is a sweetmeat confection with a jelly like consistence. It is usually made from starch, cardamom, ghee and lots of sugar. It is then garnished with cashew nuts or almonds. They are usually sold in a log shape and wrapped with paper.
Availsble widely from roadside shacks to restaurants, Nyama choma, which is roast or barbecued meat, is one of Kenya’s specialities. It is also Kenya’s unofficial national dish.
You can find it on most street sides. Alternatively, Mubins, which has a venue both in town and in Nyali in Mombasa, do really good barbecued meat.
Nothing makes me happier than a plate of Poussin chips. Poussin sauce has also been my most popular recipe on my blog. The sauce is made from margarine/butter and drizzled all over chips or alternatively used as a marinade for meat or fish. Most Barbecue restaurants in Mombasa such as Hashmi or Sham E Bahaar have this available.
Packed potatoes are my weakness – they are thick slices of potatoes sandwiched together with a delectable mix of chilli, salt and lemon and then deep fried with a seasoned gram flour batter. Heaven served with a cooling chutney! I recently had this at the Aga Khan club in Mombasa, as well as roadside.
Zanzibar Mix, also known as Mombasa Mix to coastal locals
Mix, is well loved in our family, and my favourite to date has been at the Aga Khan club. Thanks to the lovely Nasim for treating me to a wonderful bowl of mix as well as a catch up during my last trip to the coast.
So what is mix? It is exactly what the name suggests and is a mix of potatoes, chickpeas, spices, coconut sauce, dashes of chutney, raw mango, sev, chevro and bhajias. It is divine! It originated in Zanzibar but East Africa has adapted it and it has become somewhat of a speciality in Mombasa too. This dish is the perfect example of multiple cultural influences on the cuisine of Kenya.
Finally who doesn’t love samosas? Triangular parcels of delight! These are an example of an Indian snack adopted by Kenya and it even has an alternative name which is Sambusa! These can be filled with vegetables or meat and are best eaten hot!
Do you have any favourites in Mombasa? Would love to know in the comments section below.