• cooking ugandan dishes

Cooking Ugandan Dishes

I spent five awe-inspiring weeks in Lugala, a village near the Capital (Kampala) of Uganda. Other than volunteering at the local hospital and finding adventure rafting the Nile River and bungee jumping, I met three girls who changed my life: Becky, Hilda, and Gladys, and they taught me the skill of cooking Ugandan dishes.

Thanks to two awesome Americans at the St. Nicholas’ Uganda Childrens’ Fund, I was introduced to these girls so I could selfishly get a feel of what life was like for them growing up in a Ugandan village as orphans. We spent many days together, and most of them were meal-time. I helped them purchase cooking necessities and in turn they fed me. Although, as anyone who has been to Uganda would know, even if I hadn’t offered to buy food, they would have begged me to eat- they love to feed! They are genuinely selfless people, and I am lucky to have met these girls.  We only ate meat once, on Christmas when we got a live chicken.  I want to share some of the dishes we ate and the ways they cooked.

cooking ugandan dishes“My auntie would beat you, you are so bad!” was the response to my chopping matooke skills. The knife was next given to this four year old who was “much better” than I. And he really was. 

Unlike the U.S. where I’m from, the entire non-school day for these girls is wake up, iron, market, cook, eat, chill for a little, then bed. Repeat. Most of their day is cooking over a small coal fire outside their front door. It takes all day for something to cook, so a late lunch is the ONE large meal of their day; they’ll have tea for dinner.

Typical Ugandan Dishes

cooking ugandan dishesevery day, every dish starts in the market. Eat Fresh! Pictured here is matooke, sort of a green banana (plantain), a daily staple. 

cooking ugandan dishes

cooking ugandan dishesafter chopping, they put the matooke inside leaves and tie it up. It’s sat on top of wooden blocks in a pan of water over coals to steam cook all day

cooking ugandan disheseveryone in the villages helps out either with cooking or babysitting

cooking ugandan dishesThe next most common food: irish potato. Almost everything from potato, matoke, rice, and cabbage is cooked the same way. Added is salt, water, tomato, and sometimes onion, carrot, or paprika

cooking ugandan dishesa cabbage dish that will be cooked the same way

cooking ugandan dishesYUM. rice and shredded cabbage was my second favorite dish. Somehow, even using the same ingredients daily, it always tasted great

cooking ugandan disheswe munched on fried grasshoppers while the food simmered

cooking ugandan dishesBecky is prepared ‘g nut sauce’- my FAVORITE!  (ground nut sauce) which is usually served over matoke but I liked it on literally everything. It’s made with water, salt, pepper, paprika, tomato and onion.

cooking ugandan dishes

cooking ugandan dishesfor something sweet just gnaw on some sugar cane :)




About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.


  1. J in Beijing March 27, 2014 at 8:30 am - Reply

    What a fantastic experience Rachel. I love the comment about the Aunty would beat you for being so bad at chopping and then the 4 year old being better! ha!

    • Rachel Jones March 28, 2014 at 4:35 am - Reply

      haah yeah, the kids are so independent. THis kid was lucky to have babysitters, so don’t!

  2. tammyonthemove March 27, 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Cooking with locals is THE best way of bonding and building relationships with locals. During my two years in Cambodia I learned so much more about the people and the country by cooking with locals in their villages then I ever could have by just reading Lonely Planet. And it is fun, because usually the kitchen is very different to your bog standard kitchen in Europe. :-)

  3. Kelsey March 27, 2014 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Love this story and the pictures. Bonding through food… there is no better way!

  4. Emily March 27, 2014 at 7:43 pm - Reply

    That’s great to hear the food was so tasty! How did you enjoy the grasshoppers?

    • Rachel Jones March 28, 2014 at 4:46 am - Reply

      THey weren’t bad… crispy and the butter they were fried in made it taste like any fried food. It’s the legs and antennae you have to swallow that is a little but hard.

  5. Rick March 27, 2014 at 11:45 pm - Reply

    Great post!
    – food looks fantastic and extremely healthy – just like you would find in a Westside movie star health food vegie vegan restaurant.

    BTW – you are one spunky chick (in a good way)

    • Rachel Jones March 28, 2014 at 4:48 am - Reply

      Yeah it’s great they at least get the protein from the peanuts since they rarely have meat!

  6. Chinye March 28, 2014 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I lived in Uganda for 6 months and this post brought me BACK lol. I went back and forth between Jinja and a village two hours north of Jinja, and oh how I remember living off of rice and cabbage! Did you try Katogo? That was my favorite, especially eaten with beans or fish if I was lucky. My lease favorite…Matooke and G’nut sauce. I know, but I never got into it!

    • Rachel Jones March 28, 2014 at 12:06 pm - Reply

      Don’t know if I tried katogo or not, it doesn’t ring a bell. I didn’t like the motooke, but LOVE gnut sauce! yum! I’m glad this post brought you back to such an awesome place!

  7. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown March 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Looks yummy!! We have sugarcane here too, growing at the resort I work at. Every once in awhile our boat captain will get a hankering for it and go chop some down for us. I love it!

    • Rachel Jones March 29, 2014 at 6:39 am - Reply

      Sometimes I think it’s like chewing on tree bark haha but I love raw sugar!

  8. Agness April 1, 2014 at 2:23 am - Reply

    I’ve heard that the food there was so oily, heavy and not that healthy, but after reading your post I can’t agree. It looks so yummy and delicious. I love to cook on weekends and so far I’ve been to Indonesian cooking classes which I really enjoyed!

  9. Sage Morgan May 19, 2017 at 12:36 am - Reply

    HI dear! I’ve been reading up on your blog preparing for my trip to India. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled on your trip to Uganda! I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Uganda since June 2015. I agree rafting the Nile River is a must and you did it with the very best (NRE). My heart got all excited when I saw your picture from the balcony of the River Camp. That place is one of my all time favorite hostels and I’ve been fortunate to stay there many times. Thank you so much for sharing your experience here! Safe travels and keep blogging my friend. :)

    • Rachel Jones May 19, 2017 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      Seems like ages ago I was in Uganda! I am glad you found these old posts and are enjoying them – I hope they are not too outdated hehe

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