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Cuisine and Etiquette in Uganda

A sampling of Ugandan food

A teacher shares insights about mealtime customs in Uganda.

By a Ugandan Teacher

In Uganda, the staple food is matoke (cooking bananas). Other food crops include cassava (manioc), sweet potatoes, white potatoes, yams, beans, peas, groundnuts (peanuts), cabbage, onions, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Some fruits, such as oranges, pawpaws (papayas), lemons, and pineapples, are also grown.

Most people, except for a few who live in the city centers, produce their own food. The responsibility for preparing the family's meals belongs solely to women and girls in the home. Men and boys of age 12 and above are not even expected to sit in the kitchen, which is separate from the main house. Cooking is done on an open fire using wood for fuel.

Most families eat two meals a day. The two meals are lunch and supper. Breakfast is just a cup of tea or a bowl of porridge.

When a meal is ready, all members of the household wash their hands and sit down on [floor] mats. Hands have to be washed before and after the meal because most Ugandans eat with their hands. At mealtime everybody is welcome; visitors and neighbors who drop in are expected to join the family at a meal.

Food is served by women. They cut it up into small pieces for each member of the family. Sauce, which is usually a stew with vegetables, beans, butter, salt, and curry powder, is served to each person on a plate. Sometimes fish or beef stew is served.

Normally a short prayer is said before the family starts eating. During the meal, children talk only when asked a question. It is bad manners to reach for salt or a spoon. It is better to ask someone sitting close to it to pass it. It is also bad manners to leave the room while others are still eating. Everyone respects the meal by staying seated until the meal is over. Leaning on the left hand or stretching ones legs while at a meal is a sign of disrespect and is not tolerated.

People usually drink water at the end of the meal. It is considered odd to drink water while eating.

When the meal is finished, everyone in turn gives a compliment to the mother by saying, "Thank you for preparing the meal, madam." No dessert is served after the meal. Fruits like papaw, pineapple, or sweet bananas are normally eaten as a snack between meals.