Just Flour and Water: The Dish Eaten ‘Round a Continent

Tuesday, June 20th, 2023

It’s called by many names. 

In Sierra Leone, it’s called fufu or foofoo. In Uganda, it’s posho. In Kenya, it’s ugali. But all over Africa and the Caribbean, people are (essentially) eating the same thing. With its worldwide adoration, I was surprised I’d never heard of this dish until I started working at The Water Project (TWP).

To make it, chefs mix flour derived from all kinds of starch: cassava, corn, yucca, and plantain with water or milk and pound it (and sometimes ferment it) until it’s a smooth, thick dough.

“It’s like a staple. It’s like Italians and pasta,” said Lupita Nyong’o in this Vogue video, where she learns how to make ugali on her family’s farm in Kenya. She reported being shamed by fans for not knowing how to make the African cuisine staple.

At TWP, many staff members know African food well from their experiences living in and visiting Africa. Here, the reports on how ugali/fufu/posho tastes are…mixed.

Program Officer Samuel Ngidiwe eats it almost every day with his supper. “I do love it,” he said.

Posho and beans! Mmmmm,” said Director of Operations Dan Kim.

“I love ugali, mostly because of its mild flavor,” said Marketing Director Courtney Feild.

But not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

“Ugali is not enjoyable in my opinion, but paired with a heaping of sukuma wiki…it is manageable,” said Program Officer Tom Murphy. Sukuma wiki is a Kenyan dish with collard greens, tomatoes, oil, and spices.

“I have mostly eaten posho/ugali, and I have strong opinions (and strategies) here,” said Director of Program Spencer Bogle. “The key is the sauce. Whereas the posho/ugali is bland and heavy, it is completely socially acceptable to leave it on the plate once the soup/greens are finished. A working person’s food sticks with you for a while.”

“Nope to all the Sudza/Xima (what it’s called In Mozambique), but a big YES to all the beans, sauces, and greens,” said Program Services Reporting Officer Andrea Pavkov. “Breaking off a chunk and rolling/scooping it just right to scoop up all the real goodness.”

These varied reactions are why I was shocked in a recent staff meeting with members from our in-country teams to hear that ugali/fufu/posho is several staff members’ favorite dish of all time. As with many of the favorite foods shared on that call, the dish is often associated with memories of family and times gone by.

“For someone who has never eaten ugali, I can tell you that you are missing a lot,” said Protus Ekesa, a Program Coordinator working in Western Kenya. “This is a very delicious meal that is easy to prepare. [It] has got no complicated process, does not [need] a lot of ingredients to prepare, can be served with [a] variety of stews, [and] can be used as tea escort in the morning.”

“I belong to the Luhya community of Kenya, which is widely recognized in my country for its deep appreciation of ugali and food in general,” said Allan Amady, an IT Specialist for our Western Kenya WaSH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) program. “Growing up, I was raised in a humble environment where my parents didn’t have much to offer, but they always shared what they had with immense love and care.

“Every evening, after a day of hard work, my mother would gather my two brothers, my sister, and myself around the fireplace as she prepared ugali. This meal was easily accessible and affordable at that time. We would engage in storytelling, make jokes, and share laughter while my mother cooked. Once the food was ready, we would all sit around a mat, say a prayer to express [our] gratitude to God for [the] provision, and enjoy the meal together as a loving family.

“These experiences and moments have ingrained in me a deep appreciation for ugali. It symbolizes the love and cherished memories we shared as a family. As I grew older, I learned how to make ugali, and I continue to carry on this tradition with my immediate family. I have taught my wife the importance of bonding with our three-year-old daughter, Kelsey, through storytelling while preparing meals. I hope that she, too, will grow to love this tradition and pass it down to future generations.”

“I grew up in a small village in [the] Port Loko district,” said Deputy Country Director in Sierra Leone, Mohamed Turay. “My father was an only child, and when my father left for the United States to study, my grandmother was in great despair, thinking that my father [would] never return. I was sent to stay with her at the age of five years. 

“Her only source of income at the time was selling fufu made from cassava. As a woman, she was not allowed to own land passed down to her by her father. The land was then willed to my father even though he was in the States. She used the land to plant a large farm of cassava for making fufu. My grandmother never had any money, and fufu is very heavy when eaten. Fufu can be eaten with any sauce. Early in the morning, she [would] cook the fufu for me before I [would] tag along to sell the fufu at the market at the chiefdom headquarters. It is a six-mile walk roundtrip. I grew up seeing and eating fufu every day. My grandmother passed away in 2014 from old age. Every time I eat fufu, I remember my grandmother, carrying me on her back, walking the six miles every day.”

In Sierra Leone, fufu is fermented before it’s cooked. 

“The smell of the uncooked fufu might not be pleasant, but when cooked, it is delicious,” Mohamed said. “It is best with slippery sauces. Start off eating fufu with groundnut (peanut) soup with raw fish, chicken, or beef. The reason for starting out with groundnut soup is [that it’s] easier to eat for starters instead of starting with okra.”

Below is Allan’s recipe for Kenyan ugali. This recipe will taste and feel different than Mohamed’s fermented cassava version despite serving the same soup- or stew-vehicle purpose in a meal.

Kenyan Ugali Recipe:


  • 2 cups of water
  • 4 cups corn flour
    • Not corn meal or cornstarch – corn flour is made from an entire kernel, while cornstarch is made only from starch.
    • Optimally, the flour should be white and smooth, not yellow and coarse. The latter kind will give your ugali a rough or grainy texture.
    • This can usually be found in the Asian or Latin American section of a grocery store in the U.S.
  • Some chefs may want to add a pinch of salt/sugar to taste, but it is not included in Allan’s recipe!


  • Start by boiling 2 cups of water in a pan. 
  • Once the water reaches a boiling point, gradually add maize (corn) flour while stirring gently. Continue adding flour until the mixture resembles a dough-like consistency. Stir consistently to avoid any lumps forming. 
  • Once the mixture is well-mixed and soft, cover it and allow it to steam for approximately 2-5 minutes over low heat. Look for a crust forming on the sides of the pan and a delightful aroma, as these signs indicate that your ugali is ready.
  • Shape the ugali into a ball-like shape and serve it, preferably with soup or stew.

“Remember, ugali tastes even better when shared with others,” Allan said.

How to Eat Ugali:

Pinch a small piece and hold it between your fingers on the palm, shaping it into a ball. Use your thumb to create a hollow indentation in the ball-shaped ugali. This indentation acts as a scoop for the accompanying stew. Take a bite of the ugali and stew, savoring the flavors as you chew and relish this delicacy. Alternatively, you can cut the ugali into smaller pieces and use a fork to enjoy it alongside your desired accompaniment.

One thing you’ll notice is that this African food staple would be impossible to make without water. You can help us get safe, reliable water to the people who need it most in sub-Saharan Africa. Click here to find a community still waiting for a source of water and see the lives you can change.

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Jamie Heminway

Jamie is a storyteller by nature. In joining the Water Project, she’s finally found a workplace where that pesky bleeding heart of hers can be put to use (and, less importantly, that BA in English Language & Literature from New England College).