Discovering Lamu’s sweet treat: Halwa

lamu - halwa - susan wong

Sticky, sweet, high in calories and dangerously addictive – Halwa, pronounced as Hal-u-wa, is a must-try dessert in Lamu.

The sweet aromas of brown sugar, richness of ghee (clarified butter), floral notes of rose water, and perfume of cardamom permeate the air in Kenya’s coastal communities.

Garnished with pistachio, almond slithers and sometimes toasted sesame seeds; the sweet and sticky jello-type dessert made of tapioca starch is the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of spiced tea or kahawa (black coffee).

Halwa’s velvety texture, as smooth as a baby’s behind, comes from the care that goes into ensuring that there are absolutely no lumps when heating the mixture.

The most important thing when making Halwa is to continue stirring during the entire process. From combining the ingredients, to watching everything melt and becoming a thick translucent jello, to carefully pouring the mixture into a dish to cool – keep stirring or else your final product will have unsightly lumps.

A little red food colouring is usually added to the mixture to give it a palatable look. Sometimes homecooks opt to use a few strands of Saffron instead.

Halwa Around The World

The dense and gelatinous Halwa is generally served across the Middle East, East Asia, East Africa’s coast, North Africa and Eastern Europe.

There are several different versions depending on which country you’re in, but the core virtue of Halwa being a dense confection sweetened with sugar or honey, and mixed with butter or oil, remains true.

In some regions, the confection is made with flour or Semolina, which gives the Halwa more of a dry and crumbly texture.

In East Africa’s coast, Halwa takes on a translucent texture thanks to the use of tapioca (from Cassava), rice flour, and cornstarch.

On the streets of Zanzibar, vendors often sell it with a drizzle of fresh coconut milk. And in the dreamy streets of Lamu, Halwa is generally purchased by the kilo, wrapped in plastic, and formed in the shape of a brick where you’ll need to slice it into small pieces – perfect to be shared with friends, during afternoon tea time by the pool, as you gaze onto the ocean.


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