Delicious Deep Fried Whole Tilapia Fish

During my trip to Kenya a few weeks ago I was very excited to try out some of the dishes that are not readily available in my neck of the woods.

I always enjoy trying other peoples culinary skills thus was really looking forward to visiting a few restaurants….. and home dinner tables of course.

There is such a big variety of restaurants in Nairobi, with many of them serving authentic Kenyan cuisine!

So I did make a stop at a Mom and Pop Restaurant that was serving authentic Kenyan cuisine specialising in food from the lake Victoria region. This visit ended up being a major highlight of my culinary tourism in Kenya in that trip.

Their speciality was deep fried tilapia, stewed with fried sukuma wiki (kale) and ugali (cornbread).

The tilapia was cooked whole after removal of the gut and served whole. It was topped with sautéed kale and ugali on the side. This meal was very simply made with no spices except salt. As simple as it was , it was still very delicious!

In most Mom and Pop Restaurants tilapia are served as one plate meals. The tilapia is deep fried, served on a platter with kale served on top of it. The ugali is served on a separate plate. It is common for such meals to be shared by several people on a table.

Whole Tilapia
This is what the fish should look like after step 4

Below is the recipe for this delicious meal.

Deep Fried Tilapia Recipe


  • 250 – 400 grams Whole Tilapia
  • 4 cups canola oil
  • I 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • I large onion cubed
  • 3 medium sized tomatoes- diced
  • 375 mL water

The How-to:

  1. Wash the fish.
  2. Cut off the gill covers and the tail.
  3. Remove the gut.
  4. Make shallow cuts approximately 1-1.5 inches apart on both sides across the body of the fish (pictures can be found above and below!).
  5. Pat dry the fish with a paper towel. This is done to reduce water from the surface of the fish to avoid oil splatter when the fish is put in hot oil.
  6. Take 1 tsp salt and rub it on the fish, ensure that you rub on the cuts as well to flavour the inside of the fish
  7. Heat the oil to 300 degrees in a non stick pan
  8. Deep fry the fish till slightly brown then flip. Ensure both sides are slightly brown ( there is also the option of broiling this fish in the oven. The end result is the same)
  9. Put 1 tablespoon of the oil used to deep fry fish in a different pan, add onions fry till soft
  10. Add diced tomatoes and the remaining salt and fry this mixture until the tomatoes are soft and mushed
  11. Add the water into the mix, stir, then add the fried fish and simmer, allowing the fish to soften and the water to reduce.
This is an easier way to portion the fish for ease of frying and service. Rub the salt and an/ or spices (if added) in the cuts

How to season whole fish

Various spices can be used to season fish prior to frying or baking. In this recipe we only use salt , however curry powder, tandoori spice also work really great.

Deep frying the whole Tilapia

Delicious fish baking option

This is what should be done when baking, line the baking sheet with foil then put a wire rack on the baking sheet then line with foil again. Puncture he foil so that any liquids from the fish sips through as it broils, so they do not get soggy

Tilapia served with Ugali and Kale

Deep Fried Tilapia finished in sauce

Deep fried tilapia added in sauce, let this simmer for about 10 minutes
Deep fried Tilapia finished in sauce is usually eaten with Ugali and a leafy vegetable like kale

Did you manage the delicious feat? If you did and have had your fill I strongly advise that you lie down and relax – the ugali accompaniment tends to keep one satisfied for a long time!

I grew up on ugali, this was a staple that we ate with many dishes, and I enjoy it a lot. There are different types of ugali however the most common one is the one made from white corn meal( maize). Ugali is very easy and quick to cook, its original version is a two ingredient dish. Today we get creative with ugali and can make it with different types of grain and root vegetable flours and other added ingredients.

This is my go to meal when I have visitors from Kenya and want to take them back to their Kenyan roots but within the confines of my dining table.

Thanks for reading, and leave a comment below to let us know how the recipe turned out for you!


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