The Food of Tanzania

I wanted to give you a mouth-watering insight on the versatility of Tanzanian cuisine. I’ve asked my co-workers what they like eating, as they are coming from different places. I’ve asked about festive food, and I’ve eaten a whole lot of different meals myself.

But there it is: The festive food is nowhere near exquisite as the Imperial cuisine of China. Festive food in Tanzania has two main ingredients: pilau rice and meat. And the practice of schooling kids 1000 km away during Tanzania’s socialist years may have leveled the national taste somewhat. Dar es Salaam is a melting pot and is offering pretty much all kind of local food. So it looks like I may have reached the width and breadth of food after only two months.

Let me know if you have a different opinion – there still are a few weeks left for me to try out new things! I guess that’s also why my favorite food blogger Mark Wiens of Migrationology left Tanzania after only describing five food places. Ha, ha, just kidding.

Undisputed star of the Tanzanian cuisine is Ugali, a pale polenta. Some of my coworkers claim they could eat it every day for the rest of their lives. They generally like the wholemeal version (dona) over the processed one (sembe). One fellow regularly receives the wrong kind, either because he forgets to specify or the staff bring him the wrong kind. Poor guy. Another one likes only rice and nothing but rice, except for breakfast when he eats boiled cassava or dough that has been fried in oil (Chapati, Andazi, Sambusa and local bread all qualify). A lot of locals seem to eat breakfast consisting of toast and milky tea or coffee.

For my colleague from the lake region the fish is the highlight. It is mostly Tilapia but could also be nile perch, both are freshwater fish with large bones that’s easy to eat. I found out that there are different ways of eating fish: my way of picking out chunks of meat and leaving a mess on the plate and the lake-zone way of really eating the fish until it is but a small pile of clean bones.

The Masai from the north like their food without fancy seasoning or sauce. The coast-dwellers are a bit more into spices and once you end up in Zanzibar the spice feast is on. That’s where you find the fragrant pilau rice that makes normal food into festive food.

Food is eaten by hand, even if a spoon is provided for the sauce. As a nice gesture water is brought to the table and poured into a plastic bowl to wash the hands before and after the meals. As for eating by hand I’ve encountered two challenges. I’m left-handed which is the unclean hand in Tanzania so I had to change sides. Digging into ugali I  burn my fingers every other time. Seems that my spoon-fed lips are better trained in measuring temperature than my fingers are.

My absolute favorites are the fruit (soft, ripe, sweet and cut to handy cubes) and the fragrant milky tea. BBQ-ed semi-sweet bananas are a dream and fish with tomato sauce is very tasty. Deep-fried onion bhajias are well seasoned, spicy and juicy – I like! But here I’m already straying to Indian cuisine which even after three generations in this country still does qualify as  local.

The list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning BBQ or Nyama Choma. Tanzanians are very skillful at roasting meat to perfection. Unfortunately the goats and cows I’ve had so far were tough and dry, except the one time I had pork BBQ where different cuts can be ordered. This is called Kitimoto (which literally means hot seat) and there is a whole other story behind.

Have a look at the gallery, where all foods are described with price tag (1 USD at the time was 2150 TZS).


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