What is Ugali and How to Cook it?

4 mins read

Are you curious about Ugali, the beloved staple food of East Africa? From its humble ingredients to its central role in various traditions, Ugali offers more than just sustenance – a testament to the region's heritage.

Learn all about Ugali, the iconic East African dish, in this informative guide. Uncover its cultural significance and follow simple steps to master the art of cooking Ugali like a pro. Delve into the heart of East African cuisine today!

What is Ugali?

In 2017, this dish earned a prestigious spot on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It's commonly called "sima," a robust porridge crafted from hard maize flour cherished across East Africa. Sima takes form from a medley of varied flours, such as millet and sorghum, with the occasional addition of cassava flour. It is also considered to be eaten daily and is one of the national dishes of Kenya.

The cooking process involves boiling the mixture in water or milk until it becomes a resilient, dough-like texture. It is traditionally served alongside nyama choma – succulent grilled meat – and complemented by kachumbari, a zesty tomato and onion salad.

Other Names for Ugali

Ugali answers to various names across different regions, including Sima. In Nigeria, it's referred to as fufu, while South Africa knows it as pap. Malawi recognizes it as Nsima, and in South Africa, it goes by the names ubugali, vuswa, and mielipap. Other names for ugali include posho, bogobe, kimnyet, ovuchimagauli, gima, isitshwala, kuon, obkima, oruhere, sadza, umutsima, ngima, nshima, oshifima, and phutu.


Crafting this hearty feast of ugali recipe requires just two simple ingredients.

1. Coarse Cornmeal

2. Water

In keeping with tradition, salt is omitted from the mix, leaving room for the dish to be enjoyed alongside a flavorful, well-seasoned stew. However, feel free to enhance the taste with a pinch of salt according to your preference.

Cooking Instructions

Preparing a ugali recipe is a straightforward task with little deviation from its traditional method. While making ugali can be an enjoyable experience, some may find it a bit tiring and opt for baking – though that does stray from the authentic process, which we're only jokingly approving!

  • To start, set a consistent and moderate heat. Going too low might yield an undercooked result, while excessive heat could easily scorch the bottom of your pot.
  • The next step involves heating suitable cups of water, depending on the quantity you intend to prepare. Once the water is bubbling, introduce maize flour in portions while stirring with a wooden spoon to create a smooth paste.
  • Allow a brief moment for the added maize flour or coarse cornmeal to absorb heat, then introduce more flour in small increments. Maintain thorough mixing of the ugali dough, employing a cooking stick to press the ugali dough against the pot. This diligent mixing guarantees a uniform mixture. With consistent heating and regular turning of the flour, you'll attain a wonderfully cooked piece of ugali.
  • With your meal now prepared, it's time to serve and savour. Enhance your experience by enjoying it alongside a vegetable you prefer, opting for the delightful addition of cassava leaves.
  • The cooking time of ugali hinges on the quantity being prepared and the heat applied. Larger quantities will demand more time, while smaller ones will be ready sooner. When employing a medium heat setting and utilizing approximately 2 cups of water, the cooking process typically lasts 10-15 minutes.
  • Re-cooking - the leftover ugali can be easily cooked back again. To repurpose leftover ugali, a straightforward approach is to cut it into small pieces and reintroduce the leftover ugali into boiling water.

Additional Tips

  • Maintaining a continuous mixing of the mixture and ensuring the breakdown of lumps is crucial. Avoid serving ugali with any lumps present.
  • Consider incorporating an additional ½ to 1 cup of water to achieve a softer consistency.
  • For optimal results, preparing Ugali just before you're ready to enjoy your meal is advisable.
  • The cooking time will naturally differ based on the amount of ingredients employed.

What to Serve with Ugali?

Ugali has a neutral taste, sometimes serving as a side dish along with vegetables such as Sukuma Wiki (collard greens), stews, and soups.

To relish your ugali meal, a harmonious pairing can create a soothing experience. Thankfully, this dish offers a plethora of combinations, including vegetables and kachumbari. Crafted using fresh tomatoes and your preferred greens, kachumbari adds a raw and vibrant element to the meal.

One can also serve Smothered Tofu, Vegan Lentil Stew, Chickpea Stew, and Vegan Jackfruit Stew along with ugali meal.

Ugali Nutrition

Regarding its nutritional composition, ugali predominantly provides a substantial amount of carbohydrates to the human body. Beyond this essential nutrient content, ugali also contains significant levels of vitamins A and C and a noteworthy fibre content that plays a vital role in promoting digestion and preventing constipation.

Furthermore, specific variants of ugali, particularly those made from sorghum and millet, offer additional benefits. These varieties contain essential minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium. These minerals serve diverse bodily functions, including supporting the development of strong and healthy bones.


In conclusion, Ugali is more than just a staple dish; it's a symbol of cultural heritage and sustenance for many. With its simple yet versatile ingredients of cornmeal and water, Ugali offers a canvas for culinary creativity. Embracing various forms like sorghum and millet, Ugali introduces an array of essential minerals that contribute to overall health. As we savour the comfort and connection Ugali brings, we're reminded of its profound role in shaping our plates and traditions.


What does ugali taste like?

Ugali's taste mildly resembles that of popcorn.

How is ugali called in English?

Cornmeal mush.

What is ugali called in South Africa?

Pap or Mealie pap.

Why is Ugali famous?

Ugali forms the backbone of traditional Kenyan cuisine.

Akihito Chakma

Akihito is a postgraduate student at Central University of Rajasthan, having completed his graduation from ICFAI University of Tripura. His passions lie in writing and art, making him a dedicated writer and artist.

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