Traditional Kenyan food
Kenya is home to some of the most delicious East African cuisine. Moreover, traditional Kenyan food has a lot to offer for vegetarian African food lovers—for example, the exciting foods Kikuyus and Luhya love. If you want to try new Kenyan recipes or want a simple treat for your friends and family, mandazi/ndao are sure to impress. Locals make them for breakfast, snack on them during the day, and enjoy them with chai (tea) late in the afternoon. You’ll find these tasty treats at local shops and hotels, with street vendors, and on the menu in most ceremonies. In other words, Kenyans love maandazi not only for their pleasant taste but also because they are pocket-friendly and so easy to prepare. Want to learn how to make mandazi? We got you 😉. Don’t forget to subscribe for monthly updates.
Related: Explore East African Cuisine
Related: Full-Bodied Chai Ya Mkandaa
What is Mandazi?
Mandazi is deep-fried bread, more like a doughnut but triangular or round. It originated from the Swahili people of Kenya, although there is not enough evidence of how it became part of East African cuisine and Kenyan recipes. It then spread to other parts of Kenya and became a very popular traditional Kenyan food.
Formerly, a typical Kenyan ndao and mahamri were two different things. For a local, the difference was in the ingredients- mahamri had everything Mandazi had except for coconut milk/powder/shredded coconut, and you’d use yeast instead of baking powder. Also, mandazi was popular in the upcountry, and mahamri was a treat on the Kenyan Coast, paired with mbaazi (soaked pigeon peas cooked in coconut milk) for a healthy vegetarian African food. But presently, mandazi and mahamri are terms used interchangeably to refer to this favorite Kenyan snack. So, what do you need for fluffy, soft maandazi?
Related: Kenyan Homemade Maziwa Lala
What’s so amazing about how to make mandazi is that you can excite your taste buds as you like. That is to say, mandazi has so much room for creativity. No wonder the popularity among Kenyan recipes. Just a slight adjustment to the ingredients, and there you have a new exciting sweetness. Before you do the happy dance, remember not to overindulge because, just like other wheat and deep-fried foods, too much is neither healthy nor figure-friendly.
That said, our recipe makes this vegetarian African food without eggs and milk. The final product is tasty fluffy mandazi that stays soft for days. You can batch-cook your mahamri and re-heat them before feasting on them. Store them in an air-tight container for up to 5 days, in the fridge for about a week, OR freeze them for a month. And the ingredients are so easy to find.
First, we use all-purpose flour, water, and baking powder to make the dough. Locals make it even easier by using self-rising flour, so no baking powder is needed. We added salt and sugar to taste. At this point, even with no more additions, these few ingredients make tasty mandazi. But this is where you can play around with a variety of flavors.
We added a pinch of cardamon powder for a blend of sweet, fruity, and almost menthol-like flavor. In addition to its amazing aroma, cardamon has impressive medicinal benefits, as detailed in this full-bodied chai ya mkandaa. Unsurprisingly, it’s among the many spices in East African cuisine and Kenyan recipes. Be careful not to add too much to your mandazi dough, as it can be slightly bitter. We love vegetarian African food because you can make them as simple as this Mali Food for delicate taste buds. However, if you find spices irresistible, check out our lifestyle content for amazing ideas from different African cuisines.
How does maandazi or n’dao taste?
I made maandazi before to sample it and was impressed by how easy it was to assemble and cook. The first trial (which I didn’t publish until it was perfected) tasted like any donut because I didn’t add coconut milk or cardamon. This batch of Maandazi turned out so well! It tastes fluffy, not too sweet. Also, this portion is perfect for a one-person household.
Note: The cardamon taste is not as strong, so you can add more. Be careful not to overdo it.
Lastly, I added coconut shreds for a gentle sweetness and slightly nutty creamy touch. You will need some oil for deep-frying. Find details on how to make mandazi in the recipe card at the bottom of this page. Also, consider subscribing to our newsletter to get more of these delicious vegetarian African food.
Mahamri or Mamri
What’s so special about food names is the memories they invoke. Isn’t it lovely how we Africans have many names for one dish? For most locals, the name mahamri takes them to the Kenyan coast with the alluring aroma of a mix of sweet spices. As much as these terms can be used interchangeably, you will surely have that authentic experience in every piece. Curious about a no-animal-meat food lifestyle? Check out our Instagram page for real-life inspirations 😊.
- 1 Cup Unbleached Flour
- Half Cup Plant Milk (almond, oat, soy, cashew etc)
- Half Tsp Yeast
- 3 TBSP Sugar
- Half Tsp Cardamon powder
- 1 TBSP grated sweetened-Coconut (Optional)
- Half TSBP Vegetable oil
- 1/8Tsp Salt (less than 1/4tsp)
Making the Dough & Set to Rise
In a large bowl, combine and stir the dry ingredients (flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cardamon, and grated coconut). After that, add the wet/liquid ingredients (plant milk and oil) to the flour mixture. Note-If your dough is wet, add 1.5-2 TBSP of flour and that should fix it. You want to be able to handle the Mandazi dough without it sticking to your fingers.
Next, on a clean flat surface, knead your dough for 2-3mins. Some people do it longer, but I didn’t because it will sit and rise eventually.
After kneading your Mandazi dough, form it into a big ball and put it in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a tight lid to allow for rising. I used cling wrap and covered it with a plate. Place, the bowl of dough in a warm dark space so it can rise for 1 hour. Note- If you have an Air-conditioned home, you want to place your dough in an area where warm heat can generate to allow the yeast to rise.
Prep Mandazi & Fry
After 1 hour, the dough should double in size. Coat your hands with flour to scoop the dough from the bowl and put it onto a clean flat surface. Cut the dough into two large sizes so you can work with it better. Do not knead further; it's unnecessary.
Next, coat your rolling pin and work surface and begin to roll the dough. You want to roll it until it is flat but even. As you roll it to be flat, notice how airy and springy it is, that is good because it leads to soft Mandazi. At this point, you can use your cookie-cutter to make nice shapes or just cut the dough into squares as is the case in traditional Kenyan food recipes like this one. The cookie-cutter makes it take longer, just FYI. Oh, at this point the nice coconutty smell is giving!
After cutting the Mandazi into desired shapes, cover them and set them aside (you can refrigerate or put them in the same warm spot).
On medium-low heat, fill a medium cooking pot with frying oil (avocado, canola, or corn). Once the oil becomes hot, put the mandazi raw dough into the hot oil 3-4 pieces at a time(do not over-crowd them). Once the bottom side is done, flip it gently so both sides can cook. Each side should have dark caramel-brown color. It should take about 1 minute or less than 2 minutes to fry each batch.
Fry them all and drain excess oil using napkins or cotton cloth.
That’s it, your mandazi are ready to eat! Like excess sugar? coat them in sugar or dazzle them with honey too 😊. Furahia-Enjoy!
I used coconut cream instead of coconut milk so the coconut flavor is very present. Highly suggest using coconut cream if you like the flavor present; just know it will mask the cardamon taste.
I coated some of the Mandazi in sugar, but I added a little bit of cardamon and cinnamon to the sugar mixture before coating them.
Note I didn’t refrigerate this batch at all because we are making traditional Kenyan food. When in Kenya…
Warning- If you eat this with fruit, they will all be gone! Fruits seem to make this meal extra light so you are likely to inhale them all.