How to Cook Kenyan Ugali

Kenyan ugali is more than just a staple food; it is an essential part of Kenyan culture and identity.

Often referred to as the “soul food” of East Africa, ugali is a simple yet delicious cornmeal-based dish that complements a wide range of Kenyan dishes.

Whether you’re a culinary enthusiast or just curious about trying something new, learning how to cook Kenyan ugali will take you on a journey to the heart of East African cuisine.

In this recipe, I will guide you step-by-step through the process of making this beloved dish.


  • White maize flour (cornmeal)
  • 4 cups water
Photo by Jacek_Sopotnicki via Getty Images

Step-by-Step Guide:

  1. Boil the Water: In a large pot, bring four cups of water to a boil over medium-high heat. The amount of water can be adjusted based on the desired consistency of the ugali. More water will result in a softer and lighter ugali, while less water will make a denser, stiffer ugali.
  2. Gradually Add Maize Flour: Once the water is boiling, lower the heat to medium and start adding the maize flour to the water gradually. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the mixture continuously to avoid lumps from forming. The key is to achieve a smooth, thick, and lump-free consistency.
  3. Keep Stirring: Ugali requires constant stirring to ensure that it cooks evenly and doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. As the mixture thickens, it will become harder to stir, and the ugali will begin to pull away from the sides of the pot.
  4. Check for Doneness: Cover the pot and allow the ugali to steam for a few minutes.  If it is still sticky, it needs more cooking time. If it feels firm and smooth, it is ready.
  5. Shape and Serve: Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove. Using a flat wooden spoon or a plate, scoop the ugali out of the pot and onto a serving platter. Traditionally, it is served in large portions, and diners can shape it into small balls or use it as a base for various stews, meats, or vegetables.
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Enjoying Ugali:

Ugali is best enjoyed with flavorful Kenyan dishes such as sukuma wiki (collard greens), nyama choma (grilled meat), mchuzi wa samaki (fish stew), or any other sauce or stew of your choice.

It serves as the perfect accompaniment to soak up the rich flavors of Kenyan cuisine.

Learning how to cook Kenyan ugali will not only expand your culinary skills but also offer you a taste of East African tradition and heritage.

As you savor this humble yet delightful dish, you’ll understand why it holds a special place in the hearts of Kenyans, bringing people together over shared meals and memories.