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Ugali [African Cornmeal Mush & Tilapia]

a plate of food

The true taste of Africa is found in the common Ugali (cornmeal mush) & Tilapia delicacy.  Any person who has visited the shores of Lake Victoria will tell you they have never tasted anything like it. But, this does not mean you have to make a trip to the sandy Western shores to have a taste of this delicacy, you can in fact have your own piece of the shore side from your kitchen. Ugali is an African food commonly made by mixing water with cornflour. To take Ugali, one pinches a sizable lump with their fingers, and mushes it with the same fingers to make a round shape. Instead of using cornmeal, you can opt for millet, sorghum, or coarse cassava flour. If you want very soft Ugali, then you have to use more water and vice versa. In the villages, most people prefer a heavier flour that is made by grinding maize in a maize mill, without sifting or removing any of the nutrients. This type of Ugali is denser in consistency, and tends to be more filling and nutritious (in my opinion). 

Ugali goes perfectly with tilapia from Lake Victoria. Suddenly, the tilapia fish has become too expensive even for the very people who toil in the lake, braving mosquito bites to haul catches ashore. The fish has become a preserve for the elite in Kisumu, Nairobi and even overseas. The tilapia leaves the beaches as soon as it is landed; middlemen haul it into waiting vans to supply it to leading hotels in major towns. When the youthful, casually dressed billionaire-Mark Zuckerberg visited Kenya, he swallowed lumps of Ugali and tilapia and licked his fingers, his pictures from the historic lunch had made a million laps across the globe and thrust Lake Victoria tilapia on top of the world. Barack Obama, former US president, has also talked of how he used to eat Ugali with his sister as they hailed from Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria. 

As Lake Victoria is bordered between three countries-Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, each country has its own way of saucing the delicacy. From ground peanut sauce in Uganda, to coconut milk sauce in Kenya, and masala sauce in Tanzania, each flavor is unique. The savory delicacy will definitely make one ask for more.

Mahfudh Khamisi