Oscar-Winning Actress Lupita Nyong’o Success Secrets: Healthy Food, Family Recipe

Lupita Nyong
Photo credit: Johns PKI/Splash News

Lupita Nyong’o took the world by storm with her moving role in 12 Years a Slave, for which she won an Oscar at the Academy Awards in 2013. The actress and filmmaker’s latest movie, Queen of Katwe, is a sports drama based on a true story and is set for release at the end of the month.

Even though she’s a star and an acclaimed actress, she found it incredibly gratifying to learn how to make a family recipe recently—a favorite dish of hers that gives her comfort when she feels like her life is spiraling out of control, thanks in part to her meteoric rise to fame.

Though grateful for every ounce of her success, Nyong’o sometimes finds it stifling nonetheless. After 12 Years a Slave and all of the publicity she and the movie received, she says she felt like there was a moment where she was suffering from whiplash, almost forgetting who she was.


So she took a break from film—three years, in fact—and her latest project marks her much anticipated return to the big screen.

She admits she’s never really gotten used to having her pictures taken constantly, and she says being surrounded by cameras is not a natural environment for a human being to inhabit. Though the initial shock of having all those flashing lights in your face wears off, she says she will never be completely okay with that part of her career.

Being vulnerable in front of millions of people comes with the territory and last year, when Nyong’o slipped up on Kenya’s NTV and admitted to not knowing how to cook the country’s staple food, ugali, she received some backlash from shocked fans in her hometown.

She went on to say that she craves the dish when she’s feeling homesick but doesn’t know how to make it, though she does have the special wooden spoon, a mwiko, which is needed for cooking it.


During a visit to her parents’ home in her family’s village, where she was doing a shoot and interview for Vogue magazine, she made her first batch of ugali.

Nyong’o says that ugali is a staple for Kenyans, much like pasta is for Italians. Nyong’o’s mother walked her through the recipe to make this dough-like dish, and she shared the recipe for others to make as well.

How to Make Ugali, According to Nyong’o’s Mother

The family recipe for ugali begins by lightly roasting corn flour (or millet or sorghum) in a dry pan, which adds another dimension of flavor. The flour is then poured into boiling water (about 1 cup of flour to 1.5 cups water per person) and this mixture is stirred for eight to 10 minutes until thick and smooth. “Pour it in not so fast, not so slow,” says Nyong’o’s mother.

The mixture is stirred again for two minutes and then shaped into a dome. It shouldn’t stick to the wooden spoon at this point and should smell like roasted corn. Cover the ugali with a plate and flip it over onto the plate, keeping it covered to stay warm. Serve immediately as a side dish to vegetable or meat stew.

Bobb, B., “Lupita Nyong’o Finally Learns How to Make Traditional Kenyan Ugali and Shares the Family Recipe,” Vogue web site, September 15, 2016; http://www.vogue.com/13477734/food-lupita-nyongo-kenyan-ugali-recipe/, last accessed September 23, 2016.
Johnson, Z., “Lupita Nyong’o Looks Stunning on First Essence Cover, Talks Secret Casting Process for Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” E! News web site, December 1, 2015; http://www.eonline.com/ca/news/720200/lupita-nyong-o-looks-stunning-on-first-essence-cover-talks-secret-casting-process-for-star-wars-the-force-awakens, last accessed September 23, 2016.