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July 28th in 2016 by Chef Henry Osapati

Luwombo or Oluwombo is a Ugandan traditional dish. It is both a royal and a fairly common dish cooked especially during the holidays. It was originally created in 1887 by the personal chef of kabaka Mwanga, an interesting king who ruled the Buganda kingdom (Ugandan region where the country got its name from) at the end of 19th century..

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The basic history of Uganda is rather an interesting one. Indigenous kingdoms flooded in Uganda in the 12th century. Among them were the Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, and Busoga. As the centuries passed, the Buganda people (Baganda) dominated the kingdom. The tribes in Uganda has plenty of time to pen out their hierarchies as there was little incursion of Uganda from the outside until the 19th century. In spite of the fertility of the land and its capacity to grow surplus crops there were no trading links with the East African coast. Then finally contacts were made with the Arab Traders and European Explorers in mid-19th century. As these traders stormed Uganda, they brought along with them their own customs and traditions which influenced Uganda’s own customs and traditions, relating to everything, from food, shelter, to even clothes. After the Treaty of Berlin, that resulted in defining the various European countries’ sphere of influence in Uganda as it became one of the British protectorates. The colonial administrators brought in coffee and cotton as cash crops. The Ugandan cuisine is Traditional, yet with Uganda’s historical background, we are not too surprised to see the influence it has had on its traditional cuisine.
Ugandan cuisines consists of traditional and modern cooking styles, practices, foods and dishes in Uganda, with English, Arab, Asian and especially Indian influences. Most of the tribes in Uganda have their own delicacy or speciality. Most dishes are prepared from numerous vegetables, bananas, yams, potatoes, cassava and other tropical fruits.
Cooking traditional and authentic Ugandan cuisine requires some tact. One extremely popular dish in the Ugandan cuisine is Matooke which is made from bananas of the plantain type and is cooked or boiled in a sauce of groundnuts, fresh fish, smoked meat or entrails. Matooke really goes well with any relish. Most of the tribes in Uganda eat their fish either smoked or fresh whereas the others dry it after washing in a salt solution and drying it under the sun for days. Sun-dried fish is a scrumptious dish in the Ugandan cuisine. There are great tasting authentic and traditional cuisines in the cuisines of Uganda, which needs special skills and delicacy to prepare for complete enjoyment of the cuisines.


Preparation process
The preparation of matooke in Buganda culture follows a laid down sequence from the time it is hacked from mother plant to the time it is served on a plate.
Before getting the banana, the mother plant is cut from the middle. The upper part is supported so that it comes down gently to avoid scratches on the bananas. After supporting the upper part down, the banana leaves are removed and spread across the floor of the garden to support growth of young plants. The harvested banana is carried home in its entirety. Traditionally, we remove one cluster from either side of the bunch so that we mix the mature bananas with young ones.
After peeling, the matooke fingers are washed before being placed into the cooking pan. “After peeling, the fingers are tied up into a bundle of banana leaves, (wrapped into banana fibers forming a reef knot at the top), which is then put in a cooking pan with just enough water to steam the leaves”. Here the banana fibers are used like bandages when bundles of matooke are being wrapped up for steaming. Strips and chunks cut from the banana tree stem or cluster stem (locally called ebikolokomba) can be used as a foundation at the bottom of the cooking pan so as to avoid the boiling water touching the bundle of the matooke being steamed.
When properly ready and tender, the bundle is removed and squeezed to get a smooth soft and golden yellow mash, served hot with all the banana leaves around to keep it hot. In Buganda, matooke is traditionally served using two-steamed banana leaves covered into the bundle during cooking.
When serving food especially matooke in Buganda culture in mid 19th century, a wife kneels and uses two steamed tender banana leaves, one in her right and another in her left hand. The right hand portions out a piece of mash and the left scoops it out for distribution.
Matooke is food for hard workers, privileged people and much respect was attached to its preparation and preservation. Like many cultural practices; however, matooke production and importance has also been changing. Some people prepare matooke without banana leaves, naked inside the pan, while some prepare it in kavera (plastic bag) due to limited banana leaves in urban areas. But none of these has changed the importance that people, especially in Buganda, attach to matooke; preparing and eating it. A meal for Muganda is nothing without matooke.