Tanzania is well-known for being the destination of choice to see the big five animals (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos, and rhinoceros) and especially for a first safari experience. However, do you have any idea of what to expect at mealtime? Can you name the traditional foods of Tanzania? If not, keep reading!
There are a few things that you ought to know about the Tanzanian cuisine to avoid any surprises at mealtime. Therefore, I have outlined here some interesting facts about the Tanzanian traditional dishes along with some that you should try on your safari adventure in Tanzania.
First off, to better understand what makes the Tanzanian cuisine so unique we need to go back in time!
Origins of the Tanzanian Cuisine
Tanzania is in East Africa. Geographically speaking, Tanzania encompasses a mainland and the islands of Zanzibar, Mafia, and Pemba.
Nowadays, there are about 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania along with people from European and Asian descent. The rich diversity found in Tanzanian cuisine comes from these cultural influences.
The main contributors to the Tanzanian cuisine:
- The Muslims set up the trade routes going in and out of Tanzania around 800 A.D. As a result, spices from India and citrus fruits were able to reach Tanzania. The Muslims’ influence is mostly present in the coastal region and on Zanzibar Island; the latter is well-renowned for its spice farms.
- The Portuguese introduced the cassava, a root containing a large amount of starch, and the groundnuts, both staple ingredients of the Tanzanian cuisine.
- The British are responsible for the presence of tea plantations in Tanzania.
- The Germans established coffee plantations.
The Basis of the Tanzanian Cuisine
The Tanzanian cuisine is delicious, nutritious and quite filling! The reason for this is the usage of starches such as millet, beans, cornmeal, sorghum, and pilaf within almost every dish!
Beyond the starches, the Tanzanian cuisine is based on the three following ingredients:
- Coconut and its derivatives are used to cook most of the dishes.
Every Tanzanian meal contains one or a combination of these ingredients. Finally, the groundnuts are used as spices to add some flavors to the dishes.
Some traditional dishes that you should try while on your Tanzanian safari adventure:
Coconut Bean Soup
- Wali wa Nazi (rice in coconut milk)
- Supu Ya Ndizi (Plantain Soup)
- Ndizi Kaanga (fried banana)
- Mchuzi wa Samaki (curried fish in coconut milk)
Mishkaki (beef or chicken kebabs)
Quick Facts About the Tanzanian Cuisine
- The National dish of Tanzania is Ugali.
- Ugali is a dough made of cornmeal and served along with a sauce made of either meat, fish, beans or veggies.
- The traditional way of eating Ugali is with your right hand by forming a ball with a dent and dip it into the sauce.
- Pilau (or Pilaf) is a rice dish with the following spices: curry, cinnamon, cloves, hot peppers, and cumin.
- The Pilau is the meal of choice for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, Holidays, and ritual ceremonies.
- Very popular dish within the coastal region and on Zanzibar Island.
- The Nyama Choma is a typical Tanzanian meal of grilled meat (barbecue).
- Chicken, goat, fish or sheep are the preferred meat for the Nyama Choma.
- Contrary to South Africans, the Tanzanians do not eat much meat, mainly because it is expensive.
- Most Tanzanian families only eat meat on special occasions (weddings, rites of passage, Holidays).
Typical Tanzanian Meals
First off, Tanzanians eat their meals sitting on a floor mat or a low table.
One of the Tanzanian customs entails hand washing at the table prior to the meal, using a large bowl of water and a towel. You must at all times only use your right hand even if you are left-handed! The reason for this is that the right hand is perceived as ‘the pure hand’ whereas the left hand is considered to be unclean.
The breakfast usually consists of Chapatti, flatbread or of Mandazi, a fried dough (donut), and served with tea or as the locals would say, Chai.
The lunch usually takes place around 1:00 PM and is the biggest meal of the day. The meal includes either Ugali or rice along with beans, veggies such as Mchicha, which are a variety of spinaches and chapatti bread.
When it comes to supper, it is very similar to lunch with an added meat portion from time to time. Usually, dinner is less lavish than lunch. Coffee is the beverage of choice.
The most popular drink in Tanzania is by far the Chai (tea). It is quite simple to make. If you want to learn how to make the Chai, watch the video below:
The plantains are not only an important component of the Tanzanian cuisine but also of the alcoholic beverages! The Mbege (banana beer) is among the favorite drinks of the Tanzanians. This local brew consists of fermented bananas and originates from the Kilimanjaro region.
The Samosa is a very popular snack and is made of minced beef, onions, garlic, and spices all enclosed in a pastry shell and deep-fried. There is also a veggie version of the samosa.
Tanzania is not only the destination of choice for safaris but offers a unique culinary experience as well. Tanzanian cuisine is a reflection of its cultural diversity. The food is delicious and nutritious.
Now that the Tanzanian cuisine holds no more secrets for you if you want to learn more about a safari adventure of a lifetime in Tanzania, read my full review here.
If you have any inquiries about the traditional foods of Tanzania or would like to share your recipes of the African cuisine, please leave a comment below. I am looking forward to hearing from you.