When you hear the word Tanzania, you probably think of landmarks such as the Serengeti National Park, a vast wildlife territory known for its array of African animals; or Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. But you don't often hear of how great the food is.
Tanzania is located in East Africa and is home to about 40 million people of different origins, like Asian, Arab, Afro-Arab, and European. It consists of the mainland country and the island of Zanzibar, along with other smaller tropical islands.
Traveling Tanzania may bring you a lot of great options for unforgettable responsible travel experiences like joining various safari tours in both inland and coastal areas, climbing and trekking picturesque mountain ridges of Western Africa or visiting multicultural villages and towns with a rich history.
Since Tanzania is comprised of so many different influences, you’ll find a great diversity of culture, which includes one of my favorite parts - food!
foods to try in Tanzania
Trying new unusual foods is the best part about traveling. Even though tasting foods from other cultures can be intimidating and sometimes way out of our comfort zones, it also is adventurous and opens us up to adding entirely new dishes to our daily diets.
Since Tanzania has been influenced by so many different peoples, you can expect to find a smorgasbord of foods and flavors when you are traveling around the country. And it’s definitely worth mentioning that Tanzania is literally a vegetarian heaven!
Rice and vegetables cooked in coconut milk or oil are common staples found along the coast, while beans, green bananas, maize, and millet meal are more commonly eaten by those who live inland.
On Zanzibar, you can expect to get foods from many different street vendors and nighttime food markets. Make sure you’re ready to be adventurous with your palate!
A daily staple you should try is chapati, or fried flatbread. The Tanzanians crafted their own version of this from a flatbread that originated in India, and it’s a great staple because you can eat it at any time throughout the day, regardless of whether you eat it with something or just by itself.
Chapati is made without a rising agent, such as baking powder or yeast, so it is relatively flat and is grilled in a pan. It’s definitely a local favorite, which you will quickly realize once you try it yourself.
Another common meal is ugali, which is similar to flatbread in that it is doughy and is also served with many dishes, particularly those with sauce.
Ugali is a combination of maize flour and water that is cooked until it’s doughy and then is left to cool for a few minutes before eating it. It’s most often eaten with something that it can be dipped in, such as a sauce from your main dish.
Misosi / CC-BY-SA-4.0
If you’re eating a delicious vegetable stew cooked in coconut sauce, try breaking off a piece of ugali and dipping it in your sauce. Traditionally, those individuals sharing a meal would all eat from the same bowl of ugali. Each person breaks or pulls off what they are going to eat and then rolling it into a ball, dipping it in their food or sauce, and eating it.
I know – you’ve grown up being told not to play with your food, but you won’t regret immersing yourself in the full Tanzanian cultural experience. This means rolling up your sleeves and sharing some ugali with your friends, a full fingers in culinary experience just like my favorite Ethiopian food!
This may seem out of your comfort zone, but trust me – you’ll love it. And just like chapati, you can eat this with almost anything!
Bananas and plantains are a common food item that you’ll see either by themselves, as part of a main dish, or as a side dish.
Ndizi kanga, which are fried bananas or plantains can be cooked up to taste savory or sweet depending on what types of seasonings the cook uses. You might find savory ndizi in a dish called supu ya ndizi - a soup with fried bananas or plantains with seasonings and ingredients that are common for us, such as carrots and onions.
As in most cultures, vegetables are a big hit and are found cooked up in many different ways. One popular dish is grilled corn, or mahindi ya kuchoma, which is made by grilling the corn cob and adding a little flavor to it, such as lime and pepper.
The street vendors definitely make the best version of this. Wali na maharage, which is rice and beans, can be found served with vegetables, coconut milk or oil, or with various spices common to Tanzanian cuisine, such as cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, pepper, or cloves.
When you travel to Tanzania, keep in mind that many of the foods you come across are foods you are already familiar with – they might just be cooked or seasoned differently, in a specific local way. Keep your mind open and your palate adventurous, and you will be guaranteed a tasty trip full of culture and cuisine!