Rwanda is a landlocked country in central Africa, famous as the “land of a thousand hills”. It is a popular safari vacation destination due to its varied terrain. But beyond that, there are some amazing Rwandan foods that will make your jaw drop.
What Is Special About Rwandan Foods?
Rwandan cuisine captures real African authenticity with its flavor. Though occasionally finding influence from previous colonizers, Rwandan food is mostly derived from local heritage and traditions, giving it a flavor unlike anywhere else.
Most Rwandan foods are sourced from local crops grown in the country. Some staple foods in Rwanda include sweet potatoes, bananas, cassava, and plantains.
National Food Of Rwanda
Brochettes (Rwandan Meat Skewers)
This popular Rwandan food is often considered the national dish of Rwanda. Although it was initially influenced by French colonists, Rwandans made this dish their own.
Brochettes can be spotted on the streets and in various Rwandan restaurants. Meat and fish on skewers are garnished with vegetables and lemon and marinated with spices before grilling over hot coals, making them soft and juicy.
This food is often served with fried potatoes and a special sauce called pili pili. When you order this food in Rwanda, make sure to specify the type of meat you’d like if you have a preference. Beef and goat are the two meat most popularly used for brochette.
Famous Traditional Rwandan Foods
Matoke (Steamed And Mashed Plantain)
Matoke is one traditional Rwandan food you should be sure to try on your trip to Rwanda. This Rwandan delicacy is made from plantains, which are a type of banana. Plantains are one of the most productive crops in Rwanda. As a result, several popular dishes are made with this abundant ingredient.
Matoke is a common dinner food in the country. The dish is prepared in many different ways, usually with vegetables and local Rwandan spices, which give it an authentic African taste.
Igisafuria (Chicken With Plantains And Vegetables)
Igisafuria is a healthy and flavorful Rwandan dish with chicken as the base ingredient. This is one of the few Rwandan dishes that is not vegetarian.
The chicken is cooked with onions, celery, pepper, tomatoes, and local Rwandan spices. Plantain is also added to the mix to give it a sweeter taste.
If you love experimenting with food, this is definitely one you should try. Although chicken and vegetables are staple ingredients of this dish, there is no set recipe. Therefore, you can find different variations across the country.
Umutsima (Corn And Cassava Cake)
If you are looking for gluten-free food on your travels, this one’s for you. Umutsima is a healthy Rwandan cake made with corn or cassava flour as an alternative to wheat flour. This Rwandan food can be enjoyed plain or sweetened.
Umutsima is a staple treat in many ceremonies and traditional events in Rwanda.
Rwandan Stewed Beans
Beans are another common ingredient and food in Rwanda. That said, one of the local favorite dishes is a Rwandan bean stew made from kidney beans.
The beans, soaked overnight before cooking, form the foundation for the stew. Locals add tomato sauce and onions to enhance the flavor and give it a creamy texture.
This is a very versatile and filling dish. You can enjoy stewed beans by themselves or with rice, bread, sweet potatoes, or plantains.
Tilapia is a very popular food in Rwanda. Because of the many lakes in the country, you can find this fish almost everywhere. It’s nicknamed “The Big Fish.”
Tilapia is usually served, fried, boiled, or grilled. It can be served with beans or rice.
If you want to try this food in Rwanda, go for the local grilled tilapia over hot coal. The grilled fish is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. You get to enjoy the typical barbecue smoky flavor while retaining the fresh taste of the fish.
Hot tip: Eating it with your hands can make it easier to separate the bones.
Ubuki (Banana Honey)
Given the abundance of bananas in the country, people have found innovative ways to make use of these fruits. Ubuki is a banana honey that is famous in Rwanda. This intriguing Rwandan food is an alternative sweetener for drinks. It is also often used as a sweet topping for desserts and snacks.
Several local beverages in Rwanda are sweetened with ubuki. If you are looking to give it a try, look for a special label on the drink!
Ugali (Corn Porridge)
Brochettes may be considered the national dish, but Ugali is the most popular food in Rwanda. It is a porridge usually made of corn. Heavy and filling, many Rwandans enjoy ugali as an energizing breakfast.
Ugali one of the staple Rwandan foods that is popular across the African continent, though it is known by many different names. Whichever version you try, enjoy it with a stew for the full local experience!
Ugali can taste bland as a standalone dish, but it is an awesome delicacy when paired with any of the amazing soups Rwanda offers.
Ubugali (Cassava Flour Porridge)
Ubugali is another traditional Rwandan food, made with cassava. This dish rose to fame at the expense of Sorghum dough. Cereals are some of the most farmed crops in Rwanda, and as such, sorghum dough used to be the most popular porridge in Rwanda until cassava emerged.
Ubugali is similar to ugali (corn porridge) but has a far softer texture and natural flavor compared to sorghum and corn. Sometimes butter is added to enhance its already unique taste. You can enjoy this food with any stew or soup, or accompanied by any condiment of your choice.
Soups, Stews, And Sauces In Rwandan Food
Pili Pili Or Peri Peri (African Hot Sauce)
If you step into any restaurant or food joint in Rwanda and spot a tiny sauce bowl beside your food, it’s most likely pili pili sauce.
This is a staple sauce in Rwandan cuisine, and it’s also popular in many other African countries. If you can’t handle hot spice, maybe pass up on this sauce. It is extremely spicy, credit to the hot scotch bonnet chili peppers used in the preparation.
Pili pili is used to marinate fish or meat. It can also be served for dipping dishes like Sambaza, fried potatoes, and brochettes.
Isombe (Cassava Leaves Stew)
Isombe is a hearty dish in Rwanda originating from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). It is made from cassava leaves pounded into a paste.
You can enjoy this food as a vegetarian with other veggies like spinach and eggplant. For meat lovers, you can also add meat stock to this sumptuous Rwandan dish.
While isombe can be consumed as a standalone dish, it really shines when paired with rice, bread, boiled potatoes, or beans.
Snacks, Light Dishes, And Street Food In Rwanda
Mandazi (African Doughnuts)
Mandazi is a popular snack in East Africa. Though its origin is unclear, this dish is perfectly at home in Rwanda. Ironically, this Rwandan food is not as sweet as a normal doughnut, and it’s not round either.
Mandazi is common during wedding ceremonies and family gatherings in Rwanda. You can enjoy this dessert by adding toppings like cinnamon, peanut butter, jelly, powdered sugar, and honey.
You can also have this snack with fruit juice, coffee, or some Rwandan tea.
Kachumbari (Rwanda Tomato And Onion Salad)
This is another common and simple food in Rwanda. While its origins are a mystery, it is popular in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This dish is enjoyed more as a side dish than a main dish. There are different variations of this food in these countries. Some add cucumber, avocado, cilantro, and other ingredients, but the common ingredients remain tomato and onions.
Ibiraya (Sweet Potato Fries)
Ibiraya is a traditional Rwandan food made with sweet potatoes – one of the most plentiful crops in the country.
They are similar to french fries and readily available. You can get them in restaurants and at street vendors in Rwanda. On your trip, be sure to try ibiraya with brochettes (barbequed meat) and urwagwa (Rwanda’s local beer).
Groundnut is a famous street food in Rwanda. It is eaten with roasted plantains, packaged with sliced fruit, or added to fried and baked foods.
There is also a special sauce made with groundnut, similar to peanut butter, often called groundnut sauce or G-nut sauce. You can enjoy other foods like garden eggs and bread with G-nut sauce.
Sweets, Desserts, And Pastries In Rwandan Food
Sambaza (Rwandan Deep-Fried Fish)
Sambaza is a tiny freshwater fish dish popular in the lake regions of Rwanda. This food is often enjoyed as a dessert or side dish. The tiny fish assume a silver color after deep frying.
You can enjoy Sambaza alone or accompanied by fresh vegetables or fried plantain. For the best local experience, eat your sambaza with pili pili (traditional Rwandan pepper sauce) or mayonnaise. Locals also like to make it into a curry dish that goes superb with rice.
Mizuzu (Fried Plantain)
A popular dessert in Rwanda that taps into their abundance of plantains.Incredibly simple yet deeply satisfying.
Mizuzu is a dish of finely chopped plantains, deep-fried to golden brown and glazed with honey.This food is popular in the country, and you can often find it served in restaurants with vanilla ice cream.
Iconic Drinks In Rwandan Cuisine
Urwagwa (Banana Beer)
This is the poster boy of all drinks in Rwanda. It is famous in many East African countries and is believed to have originated in Uganda.
Urwagwa is a banana-based beer. This beverage is made from bananas, sorghum, and millet. Urwagwa is prepared locally, so if you love sampling local beverages, this is definitely one drink to try in Rwanda.
Icyayi (Rwandan Black Tea)
One of the well-known facts about Rwanda is its production of tea and coffee. These are two of the country’s major exports. Icyayi is a popular black tea in Rwanda, often enjoyed with snacks and any midday meal.
Like other tea, Rwandans love taking Icyayi hot with honey, milk, and/or sugar. Some even take the tea plain without additives.
Rwanda tea was first grown in the early 1950s, and since then, it has become a staple of Rwandan cuisine and the country’s economy. You can try icyayi on your trip to Rwanda at almost any café or street shop in the country.
This is a popular milk beverage in Rwanda. Ikivuguto is a versatile drink that can be served with different levels of sourness and thickness. The best ikivuguto can be found in Kigali, the country’s capital. At its highest density, this drink can look more like a yogurt smoothie than a milk beverage.
But a typical ikivuguto is a thick milk beverage with a tangy taste. This drink is often sold at dairy/milk bars. Be sure to grab some nice Rwandan snacks like mandazi or groundnut to enjoy with your ikivuguto.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Foods In Rwanda
Rwandan foods are some of the best in central Africa, and it is a great option if you are looking to explore authentic African flavors. So while you are enjoying the famous safari and exquisite crafts don’t forget to sample some of the country’s great food too. Rwandan cuisine offers tasty treats for both vegetarian and meat lovers, so there’s something for everyone.