• Indulging in the flavors of barbecue, curry, and an array of delightful cuisines—traveling anywhere on the African continent inevitably leads to trying a special dish: Ugali. Also known as Nshima, Sagtulga, or by different names in various countries (I tasted it in Tanzania’s wildlife reserve!), this dish is popular throughout sub-Saharan Africa. With its easily obtainable ingredients and simple cooking process, it’s no wonder Ugali has found its place on the dining tables across the region.

    But what exactly is Ugali? How is it made? What ingredients are used? Is it consumed on its own, or is it paired with other foods? If paired, what complements it? And if you want to try making it yourself, what recipe should you follow? Below, I’ll answer all your questions.

    What is Ugali?

    As the title suggests, Ugali is a staple in many African kitchens. Essentially, it’s an African-style porridge. The term “Ugali” originates from Swahili, and most countries have their preferred local names for this dish.

    What is Ugali Made Of?

    Typically, Ugali is made from maize flour or cassava flour. In the case of Nsima in Malawi and Zambia, other grain flours or sorghum flour might also be used. The flour is cooked in boiling water or milk until it reaches a thick, dough-like consistency.

    What are the Variations of Ugali?

    Many countries have their own variations of Ugali. In Ghana, it’s called Sagtulga, prepared by boiling cornmeal with water and adding a bit of dry cassava flour. In Malawi and Zambia, known as Nshima, it’s made by cooking maize flour in water to a porridge-like thickness, then molded into a mush and eaten with meat and vegetables. In South Africa, it’s called Pap, made from coarsely ground maize flour and can be consumed in various ways. In Nigeria, this dish is referred to as Akamu and Ogi, with a consistency similar to American pudding, served with tofu or bean cakes.

    The History of Ugali

    The history of Ugali can be traced back to the introduction of maize (corn) to the African continent between the 16th and 17th centuries from the Americas. Initially, sorghum and grains were predominantly used. However, maize quickly became the primary grain, especially in arid and sub-Saharan regions.

    By the second half of the 20th century, maize had almost entirely replaced the use of other crops. While sorghum flour might still be occasionally used, especially where maize yields are low, cassava flour might substitute for maize.

    What Does Ugali Mean in English?

    Though not its exact meaning, the English term you might find on a menu for Ugali is “cornmeal mush.” This seems to be an accurate way to describe this simple staple! You can also refer to it as “maize porridge.”

    How to Make Ugali

    If you’re interested in trying your hand at making Ugali at home, it’s not a difficult dish to prepare. You also don’t need to buy many ingredients to get started. You’re free to choose what you want to pair it with—whether fish, meat, or vegetables.

    Basic Ingredients for Making Ugali:

    • 1½ cups of flour (preferably maize flour or cornmeal)
    • 2 cups of water

    Here’s a recipe following traditional preparation techniques:

    1. Bring water to a boil.
    2. Once boiling, slowly add the flour while constantly stirring.
    3. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue stirring. If there are any lumps in the porridge, crush them with a wooden cooking stick or spoon (traditionally, a stick called mwiko is used).
    4. Eventually, the mixture will start forming dough-like chunks. You’ll stir and knead the dough, squeezing out chunks from one side to the other. This might take around 15 minutes, but if you want your Ugali to maintain a smooth and solid consistency during cooking, it’s worth it!
    5. Once you believe your Ugali is ready, you can take it out of the pot and pair it with your chosen sides. You can serve it as is or shape it into a form.

    Traditional Pairings and Consumption of Ugali in Africa

    Your ideal Ugali should be solid enough to be picked up with your hands and used to scoop up your accompanying meat, fish, or vegetables. While you can use a fork, eating with hands is the traditional way!

    Typically, you pull off a piece from the chunky or strip-shaped Ugali and then dip it into a stew or sauce made with vegetables or meat. Beyond merely dipping, Ugali is often used to scoop up meat and vegetables from the sauce.

    Now equipped with the knowledge of Ugali’s origin, variations, and the traditional way of enjoying it, you’re ready to embark on a culinary adventure to savor this African delight! 🌍🍲


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *