Food and Transport Guide When Visiting Uganda
Here’s a personalized experience of my visit to Uganda, where I got to enjoy a variety of local foods. Though I experienced some challenges, I acquired some skills that worked for me.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Uganda to attend a week-long theater festival. Over time, I have learned to accustom myself with the surroundings, and people of the land of bananas. A few things, however, remain peculiar for me as a traveler and tourist.
Thankfully, due to my skin tone, most locals approach me with a knowing look only for me to disappoint them as I don’t know the local dialect- which I seek to learn in future.
In this article, I have covered my take on various things during my visits to Uganda. It is my hope that the document will make your visit and stay in Uganda easier and more enjoyable.
I enjoy good food, and Ugandans are known for this. Kenyans and Ugandans share a variety of dishes. However, the way they are prepared in Uganda is different from how we, Kenyans, make it. And that makes a lot of difference in the gourmet world.
Also known as Ugali rarely in Uganda but mostly in Kenya, the food is made from corn/maize flour. But there is a variety of posho; it can also be made from millet or sorghum flour. In some parts of Africa, the food type is also known as nsima in Malawi, banku in West Africa and Pap in Southern Africa.
Unlike Kenyan ugali, Ugandan posho is smoother and tastier. On inquiring, I was informed that Ugandan flour is finer than ours, and the taste is due to using banana/plantain leaves to cover the posho while it simmers.
As the name suggests, the sauce is made from groundnuts. G-nut, as is commonly known, is blended groundnuts cooked and served as an accompaniment with other gravies like beef, chicken or fish stew.
My first experience with the sauce was, however, misleading. I had earlier tried it at Kenya’s coast, and later on in Uganda but I didn’t like the unfamiliar taste. Hence, I was skeptical of eating it in subsequent trials. But after being urged by a friend, I tried it during this visit. I was not disappointed.
During a walk through Owino Market in Kampala, I found merchants pounding on the G-nut paste. My friend confirmed that the sauce is prepared differently by various people, leading to a change in tastes.
My advice, though, is trying the sauce on your own.
What we call yams in Kenya is not what I was served in Uganda. Apparently, while the name is shared across the board, it refers to different things in both countries. Although both the food types are edible tubers, in Kenya yams are perennial herbaceous vines with a firm white-cream flesh on the inside. You will find most Kenyans enjoying the tuber when roasted. In Uganda, yams are what Kenyans call arrow roots. These tubers mainly grow in swampy areas and can be boiled, roasted or used to prepare gravy.
When I first arrived in Uganda, I was taken aback by their transport system. The city centre is dotted with bodas (motorcycle used for transport) everywhere. Hundreds of bodas compete with vehicles in the traffic. The atmosphere is noisy- cars and bodas honk as they pass by. Yet the traffic flows swiftly without accidents- at least during my stay there.
As we stroll home from the festival one night, my friend quickly pulls me away from the road as a boda approaches. “Be careful” she warns, “Sometimes the boda riders can snatch your handbag as you walk” she adds as I clutch my handbag even tighter as if my life depended on it.
But my nightmare is what they call a taxi, and what we have proudly named matatu. In Kenya, matatus are well labeled and can clearly be distinguished by route numbers or destination names. During my stay in Kampala, I deliberately chose to move in bodas instead of the taxis as they are not labeled at all.
You have to rely on the conductor’s word. What’s worse, the pronunciation of some names can be misleading to a visitor. Take for example Kamwokya- a location within Kampala city. In Kenya, if you are not from the Kamba community, the last syllable ‘Kya’ takes the ‘ka’ pronunciation. In Uganda, however, it should be pronounced as ‘cha’. Imagine you are boarding a taxi, and you tell the conductor you are alighting at ‘Kamwooka’ instead of ‘Kamwoocha’.
Another thing, when you want to alight, you call on the conductor or the driver to ‘park’ instead of ‘stop’, as we commonly say in Nairobi. Amazingly, the taxis are never in a hurry. In fact, passengers pay when they get to their destination. In Kenya, the matatus are always in such a hurry that they sometimes drive off with people’s luggage and change.
In general, my stay in Uganda was interesting. I met and interacted with artists and art lovers. I had an opportunity to enjoy delicious traditional meals and learn a few things about Ugandans. Next time, I will be more conversant with the happenings, act and possibly talk like Ugandans- tongue in cheek.