Ugali / Fufu

What is this round softball sized mound of stuff which has just been presented to you as lunch?  A soup or sauce of some kind goes along with it.  What are you supposed to do with it?  Is it edible?  It’s like white play dough.  It looks like pure starch.

One popular and inexpensive staple all over Africa (& in variations, much of the rest of the world) is a white starchy substance.  In East Africa (Swahili), it’s called Ugali.  In West Africa, it’s called Fufu.  It has many other local names, as well.

Most commonly, Ugali or Fufu is made of corn, but it is also often of cassava, plantains, yams, or just about any other starchy staple food.  The staple is ground to flour, or less commonly pounded into powder, and mixed with water to the desired consistency.  While Ugali and its look-alikes are a staple food for the poor, they also often have a deep cultural significance.

Ugali is (usually) similar in taste to grits (because it is corn, after all), but similar in texture to very firm mashed potatoes.  Usually a sauce or soup is served with Ugali.  Some of these sauces can be extraordinary!  For special occasions such as visitors, they may include meat such as goat or fish.

To eat Ugali or Fufu, tear a hunk off of the big ball.  Roll it into a smaller ball, and use your thumb to make a depression.  Use this as a scoop in the sauce.  If there is a hunk of meat, capture it in the depression and wrap the Ugali around it.  In many areas of Africa, it is very important that you do all of this with your right hand.