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Pilau, The Swahili Delicacy

Updated on July 17, 2015


I remember growing up, my mother used to make some of the best African dishes. These dishes were the ones that were all spicy, hot and sweet, keeping you begging for more even before finishing your share. Among these, is my all-time favorite, pilau. Over time, I’ve had friends visit Kenya and a couple of times when I’m out of the country; I like to carry my heritage with me. Pilau has always worked for me. Last December, I had two friends hosted from Australia. Apart from the good time at the safari and the white-sand beaches, all I could remember of them was that they called me after they had left to inquire about the pilau recipe I had treated them to. Whether it’s getting to make someone to cheer up or at a big event such as a weeding, a hot dish of pilau always works the magic.

Origin and Spread of The Cuisine

Pilau is, originally, a Kenyan dish, common in the coastal regions of the country and east Africa. It is a common delicacy that holds its roots deeply embedded in the culture of the Swahili communities. Some sources state that this cuisine originated somewhere in Asia because of the fact that rice is the staple food in this region. Many other countries, including Turkey, the Middle East, the Caribbean and North India have adopted this special delicacy. However, you haven’t tasted pilau until you taste pilau prepared by a true Swahili woman. The original recipe is a simple but carefully designed cuisine that requires the patience and skill of perfect timing of a master chef. It is quite fortunate that these days’ recipes are items of skill that can be easily passed on without having to spend months and years of time learning through apprenticeship. Current society has been deeply interacted and culture has been diversely spread. It is possible to locate numerous restaurants across the world, apart from Kenya, that prepares pilau just as good the Swahili Kenyans do. What makes this meal more appealing and tantalizing is the mere fact that the process of preparation is so simple and gracefully performed. As the saying goes, “there is nothing greater that perfection done with simplicity,” pilau holds its great fame among the Kenyan folks from its simple touch of marvel.


  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 tablespoons pilau masala, this can be bought at grocery stores or market stalls
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil, preferably coconut or sunflower oil.
  • 4 medium-sized pieces garlic, ground
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 300ml cups rice
  • 1/4 kilogram meat, cooked and preferably beef
  • 4/1/2 300ml cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, mixture of black and red peper


  1. First, preheat the pan for 5 minutes under moderate temperatures of 80 degrees. Add the oil into the pan, followed by the onions and garlic for 5 minutes.
  2. Continue, by adding the tomato paste into the ingredients in the pan. stir for 5 minutes and add the pilau masala and pepper as you stir the contents. This is to avoid the contents from sticking onto the surface of the pan.
  3. add the cooked meat into the contents of the pan and let it fry for another five 3 minutes, while maintaining the stirring process.
  4. Add the water into the contents of the pan, making sure the water turn to brown. this is to personal preferences, as different people may prefer different shades of dark on their pilau.
  5. Leave the water to boil for approximately 15 minutes before adding the salt and rice.
  6. Stir the added rice and leave it to simmer and soak out all the water.
  7. Pilau may be seasoned with beef stew, masala sauce, salad or kachumbari (Swahili salad).
  8. Serve the Pilau while hot.


3.5 stars from 2 ratings of Pilau

Cook Time

Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 50 min
Ready in: 1 hour 10 min
Yields: serves two to for people

Nutritional Facts

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: per 95grams (tablespoon)
Calories 35
Calories from Fat9
% Daily Value *
Fat 1 g2%
Saturated fat 1 g5%
Unsaturated fat 1 g
Carbohydrates 5 g2%
Sugar 2 g
Fiber 3 g12%
Protein 4 g8%
Cholesterol 1 mg
Sodium 120 mg5%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

© 2014 Rogan


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    • rogananjili profile image

      Rogan 3 years ago from Kenya

      Hi Tim,

      I took quite a while to get into it, but I'm finally here. Mchikicho? I think I know somebody who can prepare a dish of that. I'll send my regards to all of them. Do reciprocate too. Cheers and thanks.

    • Anjili profile image

      Anjili 3 years ago from planet earth, a humanoid

      Hi Rogan,

      Glad to see you here. Your recipe on the mouth-watering dish was sounded quite appetizing. It makes me feel like heading to Mombasa for a bite. I also yearn to see how the dish looks like especially when garnished with onion rings, slices of tomatoes, parsley and a slice of lemon.

      By the way, what happened to mchikicho down coast? I've never forgotten it ever since I last took a bite. Please SMS some to me when you prepare it next time.

      Regards to all Pwani pals including Randy. Cheerio. Enjoy your stay in Hubpages and welcome