This delicious Kenyan, and Tanzanian pan-fried omena (dagaa) stew with lemon is bursting with flavour! Made using simple kitchen ingredients such as tomatoes, onion, and garlic, this fish recipe is guaranteed to stand out each time you serve it!
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This is a fish dish that you absolutely have to try! It is tasty, easy to prepare, and nutritious as it is packed with protein and other useful nutrients. Love Kenyan and Tanzanian recipes as I do? Then make sure to check out my Chips Mayai, Mahamri, Kuku Paka, and Classic Kenyan Beef Stew recipes.
what is omena?
Omena (Rastrineobola argentea) is a small fresh-water fish that resembles sardines. The name omena is actually derived from the Luo language and simply refers to the silver cyprinid fish, in English. It is a popular source of food in Kenya, Tanzania, as well as other parts of Africa, where it goes by several names such as Lake Victoria sardine, Dagaa (Tanzania), or Mukene (Uganda). It is normally prepared into a stew, shallow-fried, or deep-fried.
nutritional value of omena
Omena is a healthy, protein-packed dish with numerous health benefits. 100 grams of omena provide 210 calories, of which 0 grams are from carbohydrates, 10 grams from fat, and 29 grams from protein. It has 3mg of sodium, and 544mg of potassium. Use this nutritional calculator for a more comprehensive calculation.
how to cook omena
Here is a video showing you how to cook omena with lemon. A detailed recipe card with full measurements and ingredients has been provided at the bottom of this page.
refrigeration, freezing and serving omena
- Refrigeration and freezing:- refrigerate your cooked fish in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. You can keep your dagaa in the freezer, in suitable freezer-friendly containers for up to 3 months.
- Serving suggestions:- Dagaa (omena) paired up with some ugali is by far the best way to enjoy this dish, alongside some Sukuma wiki and Kachumbari. Additionally, you can also serve it with some white coconut rice or your preferred side dishes.
more delicious East African Recipes
Here are more tasty East African dishes for you to try!!
- Chipsi Mayai (Zege)
- The Best Pilau Masala Spice Recipe
- Kenyan Tangawizi Chai
- East African Kuku Paka
- Fried Chicken Hearts
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Dagaa Omena Recipe
- 2 cups dried omena fish
- 2-3 small jugs hot water (or more, depending on how dirty your omena is)
- 3-5 tablespoon cooking oil (plus a third a cup to briefly fry the omena)
- 1 medium-sized onion (chopped)
- 2 small cloves garlic (finely minced or crushed)
- 3 medium-sized tomatoes (finely diced or blended)
- 1½ teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 medium-sized bell pepper (pili pili hoho)
- 1 small diced chilli pepper or dried chili flakes (optional)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
- ⅓ cup water (optional - for the stew)
- one small bunch of coriander (cilantro) (chopped, leaves and stems separated)
- ½ small lemon
- Place your omena on a kitchen tray and run your fingers through it, to check for stones, and any other unwanted debris such as shells.
- Use hot water to rinse your omena until clean. Next, using two cups of water, boil or soak your fish covered, for 10 minutes (see notes). Add more water if needed.2-3 small jugs hot water, 2 cups dried omena fish
- Using a sieve, drain the water and set the fish aside. In a pot or pan, heat oil under high heat. Add the sieved omena (dagaa) and fry for about 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has dried up, stirring from time to time. Once done, set it aside in a bowl and prepare the stew.2 cups dried omena fish, 3-5 tablespoon cooking oil
- Using the same pot or pan, heat oil under medium heat then fry the onion until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Next, add the coriander stems, curry powder, salt, chilli pepper or dried flakes, then stir to combine.3-5 tablespoon cooking oil, 1 medium-sized onion, 2 small cloves garlic, 1 small diced chilli pepper or dried chili flakes, 1 teaspoon curry powder, one small bunch of coriander (cilantro), ¾ teaspoon salt
- Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stir, cover and allow the tomatoes to cook for about 10 minutes or until most of the water has evaporated and the tomatoes have softened.3 medium-sized tomatoes, 1½ teaspoon tomato paste
- Stir in the fried omena and bell pepper. Add a third cup of water or more as preferred, if you like your omena to have the consistency of a stew. You can also use milk or coconut milk, instead of water. Cover, and allow it to simmer for a further 5 minutes.1 medium-sized bell pepper, ⅓ cup water
- Once cooked, drizzle some lemon juice on top, and garnish with some chopped coriander (cilantro). Serve hot, with some ugali.one small bunch of coriander (cilantro), ½ small lemon
- You can choose to boil or soak the omena in hot water before frying. Just bear in mind that boiled omena will generally turn out softer than the soaked one. Use the soaking method if you prefer your fish crunchy.
- add more water for more sauce, but not too much as it may turn out watery and not tasty.
- add some oil, a little at a time, if your pan feels too dry.
- use regular milk, coconut milk, or cream instead of water, for a creamy taste.
answering your questions
1. First, make sure to buy your omena from reputable sources, to ensure it is fresh, and doesn't have any mold. Speak to your local vendor, about how she sources her fish.
2. How bitter omena tastes depends predominantly on how it is prepared post-harvesting. Omena that has been fried immediately after harvesting has a grey colour to it and only has a minor bitter taste if any. The variety which has been sun-dried for a couple of hours and then fried has some golden colour with a hint of gray and is more bitter than the one fried immediately. Finally, the last type of omena is the kind that has been sundried the whole day then fried the next day, or not at all. This kind is most bitter and is normally used as chicken feed. This means that when buying omena, try and select the kind that has been fried immediately after harvesting as it has the least bitter taste.
3. Also, smaller omena varieties tend to be less bitter, compared to the larger ones.
4. Soaking the fish in some water that has been mixed with lemon juice also helps reduce the bitter taste.
Omena is a naturally smelly fish but there are a few things you can do to reduce the strong smell:-
1. Soak or boil it in hot water.
2. Remove the heads - this is, however, a very tedious process. Also, you end up wasting a lot of food, unless you want to feed the removed heads to a pet. The head is also packed with calcium, so it may not be wise to throw it away.
3. Use vinegar or lemon juice. These not only reduce the strong taste but also enhance the flavor. However, be careful when using lemon juice or vinegar, as omena tends to be slightly acidic in taste, and adding too much of an acidic element may irritate the intestines, especially for those with stomach problems such as ulcers. If you suffer from stomach ulcers, always speak to a healthcare professional about whether it is okay for you to eat dagaa, try using fewer tomatoes, and cook your omena in milk or coconut milk.
4. Use aromatics - garlic, herbs such as coriander and parsley, and various seasonings introduce a wonderful aroma and help mask the strong smell.