By Wanambwa M. Rogers

Recently on campus, I happened to meet a group of international students studying here at Kampala International University (KIU). As they went for lunch, we got talking about food generally. I was intrigued by what they think of the Ugandan food and the lengths they go through to get something edible enough for them.

This article is dedicated to these brave souls. 

KIU Foreign Students I interacted with

While we got talking, my first question was, where do they usually eat from? They gave a myriad of answers ranging from the university canteen and the likes; “because it should be able to cover my hospital bills if I fall sick from food poisoning,” one of them; Joy – a Kenyan, pursuing Bachelor in Telecommunication Engineering joked. This got them riled up, and they all laughed. In response, I noted that, although I hold that name (university canteen), it is privately owned by an individual doing business within the campus, but not the university (KIU management) enterprise. However, what was funny and queer at the same time was that all of them preferred cooking for themselves because ‘Ugandan food just tastes so different and, is difficult to get used to!’ So, in my queer state, I decided to engage them the more, to learn a thing or two from them, which led to a series of question and answer along the way.

So, my next question was; why is the Ugandan food different? Collectively, they all concurred that our food (Ugandan food) is just ‘too plain’. I was confused, “too plain?” I asked. Ginabell, a Kenyan also pursuing a Bachelor in Telecommunication Engineering answered by saying; “Ugandans just don’t know how to add spices in their food.” I agreed with this too. 

“Where do you go to eat where you find this horrible food then?” was my next question. Peter Maswi, a Tanzanian pursuing a Bachelors in Law who has been in Uganda for some time, and to me, was more tolerant to Ugandan food of all the people I interviewed, said that mostly the challenge comes with the restaurants in and around the campus. To this, Emmanuel, a Nigerian student, added a rather annoying issue – the hygiene of these eateries. “Can you imagine they cook matooke in buveera?” Ndaliko, a Congolese exclaimed. I had to explain to the others that it meant polythene bags, to which they all wondered whether we as Ugandans are ignorant of cancer and their causative factors.

Considering they all had said about cooking for themselves, I had to ask where they buy their raw food and ingredients from. Masisani, a Zambian, said he usually gets his from supermarkets and sometimes he goes to the local markets for spices (apparently, all these chaps are really serious about their stance). They all complained about the size of our rice. This was somewhat perplexing to me, but to them, rice is supposed to be of small grains. Ours is ‘big’, weird, right? And its smell is odd to them also.

When they all said spoke in unison about the nature of the local Ugandan rice, my next question was, which kind of Ugandan food they liked then? Unanimously, they all shouted “ROLEX”. Wow, I could not believe it. I guess the Tourism Minister was right to make it a tourist attraction. We (the government of Uganda), should have it patented already before someone else does. Notwithstanding that, they still raised the issue of hygiene, especially concerning street food, which to them was ‘so in the open’ and the roads are all dusty. I had to agree with them on this too.

On the other hand, as we were concluding, they all had to appreciate the fact that in Uganda, 

1. There are varieties of food; one can never be without an option.

2. Food has its natural taste, no additives.

3. Food, sauce and fruits are all always fresh

4. You get huge portions of food at all restaurants.

A common concern they all echoed was that they are overcharged because of their different status. And that our local soups are ‘so watery’, something they attributed to lack of enough spices. Though, on my own, I saw it from the perspective of food vendors trying to maximise profits, whereas if you ask these vendors why their soups are so watery, they tell you “most Ugandans (being their major customers), want it that way”. So, I ask, how do we create a balance in this kind of scenario?

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