Mombasa, Kenya: Ultimate Travel & Food Guide

Welcome to Mombasa, Kenya! This vibrant city along the Indian Ocean offers a perfect blend of breathtaking scenery, rich cultural heritage, and mouthwatering cuisine. Kenya’s oldest city and the first capital of British East Africa, the city dates back to 900 AD. It was a prosperous trading center for centuries and was instrumental in the ivory trade and trading networks around the Indian Ocean. Whether you are a sun seeker, history buff, or a food lover, a trip to Mombasa will take you on an unforgettable cultural journey through this captivating destination.

For some much-needed relaxation, take a load off and enjoy the sun and warm waters of Mombasa’s beaches. Or you can explore the city’s fascinating history as you wander through the enchanting streets of the Old Town, admiring the intricate architecture and vibrant markets that tell stories of a bygone era.

A bustling market street in Mombasa, Kenya | Davidsbeenhere

Of course, we can’t forget about the food. Mombasa is known as Kenya’s street food capital, and it more than lives up to that moniker. Its blend of African, Arab, and Indian influences is evident in the city’s biryani, samosas, and chapatis. Don’t forget the fresh seafood, mishkak, and shawarma. I explored it all with my guides Sam and Obed at Kumbukumbu Tours and had the time of my life.

Spices at Marikiti Market | Davidsbeenhere

Mombasa is a city that has it all – from stunning landscapes to rich cultural experiences and delectable culinary delights. So pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and get ready to explore the food and culture of Mombasa, Kenya.

Explore the Street Food Scene at Mama Ngina Waterfront Park

If you have an adventurous palate, there’s no better place to explore Kenyan street food than Mama Ngina Waterfront Park. This strip by the ocean is home to many street food vendors offering snacks and savory favorites. You’ll find a variety of foods and snacks, from crispy fried cassava chips to fresh coconut to roasted maize.  

The roasted maize I tried was hot, sweet, and buttery. But the sweet potato had an interesting flavor and texture that reminded me of Caribbean breadfruit. They even added some cayenne to give it a spicy element.

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Incredible grilled chicken at Mama Ngina Waterfront Park | Davidsbeenhere

I also saw vendors working with raw cassava, and others offering roasted corn rubbed with lemon and cayenne. It was both tangy and spicy, with a citrusy pop of flavor. Further on, toward the Old Town, we sampled a tasty chicken shawarma.

Eating delicious street food in Mama Ngina Waterfront Park in Mombasa, Kenya | Davidsbeenhere

The mishkak (Kenya and Oman’s local term for kebabs) was heavenly and tender. But the chicken tikka, or boneless chicken, stole the show. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender and came with a zesty and fruity tamarind sauce that paired nicely with the savory meat!

Eat Kenyan Street Food for Breakfast

In Mombasa, Kenya, street food isn’t only popular at night. It’s also a staple in the mornings for breakfast! To get a taste of a Kenyan street food breakfast, I recommend visiting Maalim Café, located in a local market. There, you can try several dishes, including beef samosas (small, fried savory pies that originated in India), sweet chapatis, and crispy fried potatoes. I also tried sweet, tropical dish made with boiled bananas and coconut milk.

Inside the cafe, I also recommend the bhajia, chapatis, fried fish, and maharagwe (kidney beans in coconut milk). The maharagwe had a bit of sweetness to it and a wonderful texture. I also loved the generous serving of minced meat in the sambosa.

Our Kenyan-Indian breakfast spread at Maalim Cafe | Davidsbeenhere

I also must mention the supa ya nyama, a tender and flavorful Kenyan beef soup with a spicy chili gravy. Get some viazi vya rojo (a thick tomato stew with potatoes) on the side with some fried red snapper. Bring lots of friends or family with you so everyone can get a taste of everything!

Visit Marikiti Market: The Biggest Market in Mombasa, Kenya

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is to get a taste of local life. In most destinations, including Mombasa, Kenya, that means visiting a local market. Marikiti Market is the largest market in the city, and is a one-stop shop for spices, produce, clothing, and food.

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Produce vendors at Marikiti Market | Davidsbeenhere

There, you’ll find vendor after vendor selling curry powder, turmeric, ginger, chili paste, chili seeds, mangoes, coconuts, honey, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and okra. I even tried an incredibly spicy chili that was so hot, it nearly made me sick! You can also buy coffee and tea, sports jerseys, kitchen utensils, and even fresh meat from the butcher section!

Eat Kenyan Biryani at Amoo Hadi Café

As you explore Kenya, you’ll quickly learn that there’s a prominent Indian community there. People from India began immigrating to Kenya in 1895 after the creation of the British East Africa Protectorate. Most of them live in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya, and they brought their food with them!

One of the best places to have Kenyan Indian food is a biryani spot called Amoo Hadi Cafe. Outside the cafe are large vats of biryani being cooked on the street. I tried their mutton biryani, which I ate the traditional way, with my hands. The mutton was tender, flavorful, and mixed well with rice, chilies, and potatoes. The masala on the chicken was also unreal!

Try Kenyan Snacks and Chai

The street food culture in Mombasa, Kenya is a reflection of the city’s diverse influences from India and the Arabian Peninsula. By the waterfront, I came across a popular tea stall locals relax while eating and enjoying the view. The stall offers black tea, coffee, and chai. They also serve coconut fritters and bateta champ, a fried potato fritter with minced meat and Indian spices.

Crispy coconut fritters I ate along the waterfront in Mombasa | Davidsbeenhere

I also tried viazi karai (fried potatoes) with a spicy coconut chutney, which tantalized my taste buds and had me craving more. I washed it down with a warm ginger chai and a creamy masala chai. Chai is one of my favorite aspects of Indian cuisine, and now Kenyan as well!

Enjoy Kenyan Street Food in the Old Town of Mombasa, Kenya

During our visit to Mombasa, Kenya, we explored the Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its well-preserved buildings dating back to the 9th century. Its most famous site is Fort Jesus National Monument, and you can also meet local artists there.

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Elsewhere, you’ll find vendors selling grilled fish and mishkak with a sweet tamarind sauce. The accompanying cabbage salad added a nice touch of heat. We also found sugarcane juice with lemon and ginger, a refreshing drink that helped beat the heat. I even tried a local stimulant called khat, which gives you a burst of energy but numbs your tongue!

The Swahili Pizza with a salad at Barka Restaurant | Davidsbeenhere

I also enjoyed some amazing chicken tikka and shawarma at Barka Restaurant. Another highlight was the Swahili pizza, which came topped with minced beef and eggs. They grilled it on a tawa, making it a delicious, savory turnover-like pastry. It was divine with the tamarind sauce and cabbage salad!

Visit the Villages of Mida Creek

Roughly three hours north of Mombasa, Kenya is Mida Creek, a marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for its diverse ecosystem, the area is also home to several traditional villages where travelers can experience true local life.

There, my local guide Ali took me to see locals climbing palm trees. They collect coconuts and ferment the liquid inside into wine. The wine is sweet with a slight, fermented flavor, similar to toddy in Kerala, India. I also got to see locals frying fish, grinding corn into flour, and preparing a meal. They also skewered cuttlefish and crabs and cooked them over a fire.

A humble village in the Mida Creek area north of Mombasa, Kenya | Davidsbeenhere

My meal consisted of sukuma wiki greens, coconut rice and corn, cassava cooked in coconut milk, roasted cassava, and crab meat. The coconut rice and corn was quite tasty, as was the coconut milk cassava. I also enjoyed the bitter greens with the rice and cuttlefish. The meal and its preparation were a great showcase of the cultural traditions in Mida Creek!

Explore the Street Food Markets Near Pirates Beach

Roughly three hours north of Mombasa, Kenya is Pirates Beach, a famous getaway for people in the city. The area is also popular for its nightlife and street food, which I recommend exploring! During my time there, I sampled lentil samosas, potato fritters, a salty fried fish called una, and donut-like pastries called mithai. The mithai was fluffy and sweet and loved the flavor of the una.

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Street food isn’t the only offering among the vendors. Some sell clothing and accessories, and I even found one man who sells authentic Maasai-made sandals. He gave me a crash course on Maasai culture, including how they’re the only people in Kenya allowed to carry machetes.

A man selling Maasai-made sandals near Pirates Beach north of Mombasa, Kenya | Davidsbeenhere

At a second market, I tried a slightly sweet fried cake. I learned that, in other parts of Kenya, it’s called mandazi, but here, they just call it cake. It was quite tasty and would have gone well with coffee or chai!

Eat Kenyan Shawarma in Mombasa, Kenya

If you’re looking for good shawarma in Mombasa, Kenya, Damascus Shawarma needs to be on your itinerary. The oldest shawarma spot in town, this restaurant sells tasty, tender, and fatty shawarma that’s full of flavor.

Fresh Shawarma at Damascus Shawarma | Davidsbeenhere

Their chicken shawarma is a winner. It comes with lettuce, mayo, chili sauce, and tomato sauce. The chilies add a nice kick of heat, and best of all, the shawarma costs less than $2 USD!

Book a Trip to Mombasa, Kenya

When I first started planning my trip to Kenya with Kumbukumbu Tours, they told me I would love Mombasa. But I didn’t know how much I would love it until I got there. The people were open and friendly, and the food was among some of the best I’ve ever had on the African continent.

Enjoying Kenyan-Indian biryani with my guide Sam in Mombasa, Kenya | Davidsbeenhere

As someone with a deep love of Indian food, those influences in the cuisine warmed my heart. But it was other dishes, like the mishkak, that took me by surprise. If you’re a foodie looking to expand your palate, take a trip to Mombasa, Kenya. I promise it’s a food city you’ll never forget!

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