Cheap Food and Drinks in Uganda

In Uganda, food and drinks are so affordable that a traveler can eat cheaply almost anywhere for under $2. And for all-inclusive Uganda safari travelers, your safari manager usually takes care of picking the hotel, lodge, or camp that can serve your meal choices. We have prepared a private traveler’s guide to eat and drink when traveling on your own in Uganda!

Eating out

If you are not too fussy and don’t mind a lack of variety, you can eat cheaply almost anywhere in Uganda. In most towns numerous local restaurants (often called hoteli) serve unimaginative but filling meals for under US$2.

Typically, local food is based around meat or chicken stew eaten with one of four staples: rice, chapati, matooke, and ugali (posho)—starchy cornbread eaten throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Matoke is a cooked green banana dish, served boiled or mushy heap, and the staple diet in many parts of Uganda. Another Ugandan special is groundnut sauce and katogo, matooke with meat or groundnut dish preferred mainly by locals for breakfast.

Mandazi, the local equivalent of doughnuts, are tasty when they are freshly cooked, but rather less appetising when they are day old. Mandazi are served at hotelis and sold at markets.

You can often eat very cheaply at stalls around markets and bus stations. Cheap it may be, but for most travelers, the appeal of this sort of fare soon palls.

The typical choice for travelers is the “Rolex”—not a watch but a roll of the tasty omelet in a chappati (like Indian flatbread), tasty and filling and made in almost every town around Uganda.

Rolex food and drink in uganda
Rolex, a common quick meal in Uganda

In larger towns, you’ll usually find a couple of better restaurants (sometimes attached to upmarket or moderate hotels) serving Western or Indian food for around US$5-10. There is considerably more variety in Kampala, where for US$10 per head, you can eat very well indeed. Upmarket lodges and hotels generally serve high-quality food.

Vegetarians are often poorly catered for in Uganda (the exception being up-market or Indian restaurants). People on guided tours should ensure that the safari operator is informed in advance about this or any other dietary preference.

Note that Swahili names for various foods are widely used in Uganda, so it may come in handy catching up on those Swahili or Luganda words.

Cooking for yourself

The alternative to eating at restaurants is to put together your own meals with ingredients purchased at markets and supermarkets. The variety of foodstuffs you can buy varies from season to season and from town to town, but in most major centres, you can rely on finding a supermarket that stocks frozen meat, a few tinned goods, biscuits, pasta, rice and chocolate bars.

Fruit and vegetables are best bought at markets, where they are very cheap. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes, bananas, sugarcane, avocados, paw-paws, mangoes, coconuts, oranges and pineapples are available in most towns.

If you have specialised requirements, you’re best off doing your shopping in Kampala, where a wider selection of goods is available in big international supermarkets like Shoprite and Game. Big chains like Quality supermarket also provide a great variety of international choices.

Some safari lodges have chefs that will allow you to use their kitchen facilities, be sure to ask  before hand. If you want to enjoy your own space, rent a fully furnished apartment and have the whole place to yourself.

Beers in Uganda

Drinks in Uganda

Brand-name soft drinks such as Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and Fanta are widely available in Uganda and cheap by international standards. If the fizzy stuff doesn’t appeal, you can buy imported South African fruit juices at supermarkets in Kampala and other large towns.

Tap water is reasonably safe to drink in larger towns, but bottled mineral water is widely available if you prefer not to take the risk.

Hot Beverages

Locally, the most widely drunk hot beverage is chai, a flavored sweet tea where all ingredients are boiled together in a pot. In some parts of the country, chai is often flavored with spices such as ginger and or cinnamon leaves. Another standard hot beverage is African tea, which’s whole milk boiled with tea and flavored with ginger.

Coffee is one of Uganda’s major cash crops. Still, you’ll be lucky if you ever meet a Ugandan who knows how to brew a decent cup — coffee in Uganda almost invariably tastes insipid and watery except at upmarket hotels and quality restaurants.

Beer

The main alcoholic drink is lager beer brewed by two leading players; Nile Breweries and the pioneer Uganda Breweries. Jinja’s Nile Breweries (a subsidiary of SA’s SABMiller) brews Nile Special, Club, Eagle, and Castle. In contrast, Uganda Breweries (a subsidiary of Kenya’s East African Breweries) at Port Bell near Kampala brews Bell, Pilsner, Tusker Export, Tusker Lager, and Guinness. Heineken and Moonberge are the other lesser-known breweries in the country.

All local beers come in 500ml bottles, which cost US$1 in local bars and up to US$3 in some upmarket hotels. Nile Special is probably the most popular tipple for travelers, though some prefer the milder Bell Lager. If you’re serious about getting drunk, try Eagle Extra, which has an alcohol level of 6.5%.

Two of Africa’s most pleasant lagers, Kenya Tusker and Congo Primus, sometimes sold in towns near the respective borders, are now readily available. If you’ve never been to Africa before, you might want to try the local millet beer (Marwa). It’s not bad, though for most people, once is enough.

Wines

A selection of superior plonk-quality South African wines is available in most tourist-class hotels and bars, as well as in many supermarkets for about US$10-20 per bottle. Outrageous to South Africans who know that precisely the exact wine would cost 20% of that in a supermarket at home, but not unreasonable in international terms. Based on our experience, all wines — white or red — of more than two or three years’ vintage are best avoided in preference for younger bottles, presumably because they are poorly stored.

Whisky

Bond 7 Whisky and a local gin called Uganda Waragi can be bought very cheaply in various bottle sizes —very convenient for hiking in remote areas or taking with you to upmarket hotels for an inexpensive nightcap in your room.