Life. Love. Food

Lemon Infused Chili Omena

I know many of you must have a serious sneer on your face just at the mention of omena. Omena sends fear, repulsion and salivation in equal measure to different people across the country. These are small fish in the same family as anchovies caught in Lake Victoria, sun dried then sold. They are very popular with comunities at the lake basin, but are slowly taking root all over the county. These little fishies can be quite challenging to prepare but once you get it right, it is nothing but bliss.

In my book, EVERYTHING can be made delicious, just as everything can be made to taste boring. You have the choice, and the ability to decide where you want to fall. Growing up, we rarely had omena. When I finally tasted some at a family friend’s house, I was far from impressed and like many other people, I just disliked it. But that experince pushed my mom to get a recipe that works. And she did land on one. Today’s recipe is her’s together with some twists of my own. It is nothing short of splendid. Really, you must try this out!

omena_lemon infused chili omena_kenyan food blogs_kenyan food bloggers_how to make omena_african cuisine

COOK TIME: 40 MINUTES                                            SERVES: 5

Omena Ingredients

125g of sun dried omena

3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

1 lemon, squeezed

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

1/2 a teaspoon of black pepper seeds, crushed

6 cloves of garlic

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 thumb sized ginger root

1 birds eye chilli

2 tomatoes, grated

Coriander, finely chopped


Now, to my BOMB Omena recipe

Place your omena in a bowl. Add some hot water and the apple cider vinegar and allow this to soak. The first rinse is always the dirtiest and the smelliest, but hang in there. So let them soak for ten minutes, drain the water, then add fresh hot water and a tablespoon of ACV (apple cider vinegar). The second round, let them soak for 15 minutes. Then, for the last round, add another round of fresh hot water and ACV and let it soak for 20 minutes. After this,you can drain the water and set aside or you can put this in a sufuria and boil on low heat for 3-5 minutes. I chose the later since that further softens the fish and rehydrates them even more. By this point, the smell is 80% gone.

NOTE: This soaking will apply ONLY to dried omena. For fresh omena, you can skip this entirely.

soak omena in hot water together with apple cider vinegar makes them alot more tender and elivated the smell that this kind of fish inherently

The soaking in hot water serves several purposes. This step rehydrated the omena, which were thoroughly sun dried. It removes bacteria if any especially when coupled with vinegar. And it freshens them up. Do not miss the soaking phase for dried omena. it is very important!


Some people say: Utamu wa omena ni harufu (the beauty of omena is in its smelliness). I personally CANNOT eat stinky omena, even if my life depends on it. But if you prefer your omena with that odour, feel free to skip the soaking step. That’s the beauty about cooking, no one way is the only way. We are different people and we have different preferences, and that’s totally OK. But if you want to have your omena the #K way, follow the recipe as is. :))


As the soaking is going, crush your black pepper, garlic and chili in a kinu (pestle and mortar) until it forms a paste.

smash the chilli, ginger, garlic and black pepper until it forms a paste _how to make omena delicious

Heat your oil and add the red onion, add the minced garlic and ginger paste and saute this until it becomes fragrant. Add your tomatoes and tomato paste and let this simmer down for about 5-7 minutes.

sautee the red onion together with the garlic chilli paste you have made so that the flavors

Add your rehydrated omena and pour the lemon juice over it.

adding the omena to the tomato reduction makes a rich base for the omena_how to make

kenyan food bloggers_kaluhiskitchen.com_Squeezing fresh lemon juice to the omena livens up their flavor and ties everything up_kenyan food_kenyan food bloggers

Mix it in and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and allow it to cook for a further 10 minutes. Lemon goes really well with fish and this is no exception. I added both lemon juice and lemon zest to add a touch of freshness to my omena. The zest has a more assertive flavor and totally eliminates the funk omena usually has. Be sure to use both too.

lemon zest intensifies the taste of lemon in the omena making this dish very delicious and palatable_kaluhiskitchen.com_best kenyan food blog_food bloggers in kenya

Add your finely chopped coriander and remove from the heat.

Serve omena while hot_garnish with coriander and eat it with


How much of a slurpfest does this look though??? If you are reading this post as an omena-hater, count this recipe as the one which will change your outlook FOREVER baby! Plus, it was too easy to make!

chili and lemon omena_kenyan food _food bloggers in kenya_african cuisine_kenyan

The omena was totally soft, well re-hydrated and totally complimented by the lemon flavor.  Even though the lemon was the most pronounced flavor, you could still taste the garlic, get hints of the pepper and feel the heat of the chili. Perfect!

kenyan food_kenyan food blogs_lemon infused chili omena_how to make omena_kenyan food

All I need now is hot ugali, creamed managu and I am good to go!

Kenyan Food_Kenyan Food recieps_African Cuisine_Best african food bloggers_how to make

This is the year you try out new things. Step out of that comfort zone and thank me later!



Get the recipe here:

Kenyan food blog_downloadable recipes

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  1. Jodie


    • kaluhiskitchen

      Hope you try it out too :))

  2. Leah Mumbi

    I wish you would have included how to remove the eyes ????????????….I am a Omena hater but I will definitely try this, because I trust your Kitchen

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Imagine how taxing it would be to remove eyes from 1000+ little omena…It is plenty of work, and in my opinion, not too necessary. Trust me :))) I had also been an omena hater, but the right recipe will always turn things around :))

  3. Namuh

    I think I went trigger happy when I found this omena recipe. Long story short, I have been up the whole night scouring your blog. Plus I have downloaded all your recipes,LOL. Keep up the good work. You have a new fan. Of course I have already recommended you to my friends *winks*

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Welcome to the #KKFamily! I am so happy you found the perfect omena recipe. I hope you try out all the rest too ;))

  4. adashofpepper

    You are right Omena is one of the foods that most people avoid as we are not sure how to prepare it. Will definitely try this.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Very true! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did :)).


    I think I will be unstoppable now. I ate omena that was ok around 5 years ago, and I knew that I would not be eating omena again.
    Then this recipe! Looks amazing, and will try it.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      You will be unstoppable without doubt! As I said, every meal can indeed be transformed into a masterpiece :))

  6. Pumzi

    HA!! Oh my gosh!! This is definitely not something I expected to see here! It makes me sooooo happy!! 😀 I’ve been eating these little guys my whole life man! Back home (Zambia), we call them Kapenta 🙂 and they’re several ways to cook them but this is by far the most creative I’ve come across. I need to pray and ask God to increase my love for being in the kitchen so I can try out your recipes. Seriously, you’ve got so many that I’d love to dig in to! But I get lazy when I remember that I’d have to get up and make them myself and can’t just reach out and grab the plate off the screen *sigh* I’ll get there. I saw someone commented that they downloaded all your recipes, I scrolled back up and hadn’t even noticed that little feature was there! Best believe I’m gonna be on that downloading tip too. Thanks Kaluhi! I promise to get my butt to the kitchen one of these days! xx

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Wo! That is so interesting to know! We have plenty in common, the only difference comes in methods of preparation. I am glad this gave you a bit of inspiration, even though you do not like being in the kitchen. That alone is enormous! Just start with one very easy dish and with time, your butt will always find itself whipping up stuff in the kitchen LOL

      Stay blessed dear!

      • Pumzi

        Yes! I will do exactly that, bit by bit! Thanks again for sharing, you’re the bomb-diggity!

  7. Daizy

    Where I come from, Omena, we actually call them (Kisumu Boys) are an obvious delicacy.
    I must try this the next time someone from home comes to visit. I have a good feeling about this…….

    • kaluhiskitchen

      I find that moniker for omena so hilarious :D. I am sure you will enjoy this as much as I did.


  8. Humphrey Olilo

    too much soaking aka ‘removing the smell’…unaharibu omena yawa! just saying 🙂

    • kaluhiskitchen

      To each their own.I personally cannot eat smelly omena, but some people find the stench appealing. This is my method and you are totally free to stick to what you prefer. This recipe is not cast in stone :))

  9. Kevskie

    Preparing this took a lot more than 40 minutes. Other than that everything else is splendid. Awesome recipe!

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Preparation time will always vary from person to person because we do not cook or prepare at the same speed. Probably I cooked this faster coz I have done it plenty of times before, and maybe you took longer because it was a new recipe you were trying out. Time will always vary bruh, unless it is baking.Regardless, I am thrilled that you enjoyed the best omena recipe on earth :))

  10. Gathoni

    If my son realized this is your recipe and not mine……. Minus a child I be Lol!

    • kaluhiskitchen

      As long as the child is happy, then that’s all that matters :DD

  11. Ythera

    I read this as an omena hater. I shall try this one day. Only if you assure me I’ll not need to air freshen the entire house.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Let me be honest. Cleaning the omena is not the most rosy process. But by the time you are done with the cooking, there is really no smell. But during the first rinsed with hot water, the smell is there because that is what you are trying to get rid of. But have an open mind and once you have enough courage, give this a try :))

  12. Rae

    when buying the omena, is there a bad type of omena to avoid? I’m asking cos a neighbour suggested that omena may turn out really bad if you buy the ‘bad’ kind of omena…

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Hey Rae,

      What exactly does bad omena mean? For me, it is all good unless she is referring to the grades of omena. Just purchase your omena from a good source, are hygenically packaged and ensure the fish look good ( i.e are whole and not broken up, have no spots). The rest will fall in place once you start cooking :))

      • Judy

        Hi KK
        Where can I buy quality omena? The ones in supermarkets aren’t exactly appealing.

        • kaluhiskitchen

          I bought mine form the supermarket. If i am not wrong, I have indicated that on my post. Personally, I find them just as good. Just make sure they are whole and not broken up and fresh. Might I ask, What makes them not appealing to you?

  13. Fridah

    You are absolutely amazing in all ways.. You make me try out new ways of making meals and I have loved all of them.. I haven’t had omena in almost 10years now.. Last time I ate was kwa jirani????????????. Been asking around how to prepare them and well, I am now armed with the best tips. Absolutely adore you. Thank you dearie ????????????

  14. Om3naH8R

    Omena Hater, especially due to the rank smell… but it is all I can find in the house. Let’s hope it works.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      I also hope it works!!! Try this out and let me know how it goes :))

  15. Danzee’ve really played with my emotions… I’ve never cooked omena before and what I’ve eaten is nothing to write home about but this got me salivating. I just got my goodies from Kenya (I’m in San Francisco) and among my to-bring items was Omena (thanks to you!!) so after I’ll be making this after Thanksgiving and give you feedback. Your recipes are off-the-chain. Btw I’m a pretty good cook and I can tell a good recipe even before trying. Thanks for sharing.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Hi Danzee!!! So glad to hear form you and to know that you are keen on adding a Kenyan twist to Thanksgiving! Let me know how it goes and take lots of pics :)))

  16. Noreen murigu

    Wanna try this out but a have kids .if i left out the chilli and black pepper will it lose zing or can i substitute with something else.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Hi Noreen, To be honest, if you remove all hot spices, you cant substitute it with anything else and still get the same hot effect. You get? It is like removing water from juice, but looking for another water substitute. I dont know if that makes sense. For this recipe, if you do not want hot spices, but still want hot omena, it is not possible. So either you just make them without the chili or with the chili. There is no other option.

      • Dorina

        I am also a big fan of your recipe but chilly tastes are just not my thing.
        I’ll definitely try this out but sans the chilli… hope it will have an amazing taste nonetheless

        • kaluhiskitchen

          Totally ok without the chili. I am sure it will be just as bomb!! :))

  17. Mama Ramos

    Reading your recipes to me sounds like a story i would read out loud to my baby before he sleeps. I love omena, i always put milk in the end but this one is a new one. Will try it out. Where did you land from Kaluhi?

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Maybe your baby would actually love the stories I tell 😀 You never know…..

  18. Maindealer

    These bad boys have more protein than ground beef and also a good source of zinc and calcium

    • kaluhiskitchen

      For sure!!! Such a gold mine of nutrients!!

  19. Joy Wainaina

    Hi Kaluhi!
    could you please add WhatsApp onto the share icons?

    • kaluhiskitchen

      I’ll work on that :))

  20. Bella

    I love omena but I always add milk to mine at the end. Trying your recipe now without the milk

    • kaluhiskitchen

      And I will try your recipe too! Sounds delicious!

  21. Natasha

    Always have had a problem cooking these. My husband loves them and I normally can’t stand the taste. I am learning how to like fish , I tend to hate the skin on the fish so this is normally too much for me to handle . But your recipe is different from how I’ve seen other people prepare this dish. I am definitely going to try this and then I will post my feedback here!

    • kaluhiskitchen

      Looking forward to your feedback.


    Hey I am blessed to have found you in 2019. Now how do I download your recipes if I can. I never was a foodie but I fell ill and I just recovered and suddenly all I care about now is good food.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      We all deserve to eat that good food!! Happy to have you here <3

  23. Gray Nick

    Hello Kaluhi; I love your recipes to bits… i am grateful to find this in 2019 because i too dont like cooked omena that is still stenchy…. one question though, I would like to know whether soaking the omena for long and boiling them afterwards reduces any of the minerals in the omena? Thanks in advance.

    • kaluhiskitchen

      No, its ok


    I totally loved the recipe and the illustrations are dope! I am definitely gonna try this and you gained a new fan.

    • Kaluhi

      Welcome to the family my love!

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