Customs and Cuisine of Tanzania
Tanzania is located on the east coast of Africa and is known for its tropical beaches, great lakes, huge game areas, and majestic snow-capped Kilimanjaro. The native language spoken there is Swahili. “Hakuna Matata,” anyone? Popularized by the Lion King, it’s the English translation is, “no problem,” or “don’t worry, be happy.”
Food throughout much of East Africa is similar, but if a dish contains coconut or bananas you can be sure it is of Tanzanian origin. Ugali, a type of cornmeal porridge is the major staple. The Ugali is used as a “spoon” to scoop up other components of the meal. Food is consumed using the right hand, and hands are washed before and after the meal. Your meal is taken seated upon a mat, so loose, comfortable clothing would be appropriate.
Tanzania sits at the crossroads of the spice trade routes from India. You may have heard of the Spice Islands, well that would be the island of Zanzibar and other smaller islands just off the coast of Tanzania. In particular, the islands produce cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. Pilau masala is a unique spice blend that combines the above-mentioned spices, and is used in many rice and stew recipes, giving Tanzanian dishes a distinctive flavor.
Dessert is always a fresh fruit of the region, and honey and coconut are often consumed with fruit, especially with pineapple or mango.
The outdoor market of Dar Es Salaam is quite the experience. Vendors crouch beside their stands selling all manner of fruits and vegetables, chickens, live pigeons, fish, and spices. You will also find many mysterious potions for sale, ranging from those that claim to be a cure for snake bite to those that get rid of an unwanted lover. OR, if the opposite effect is intended, you can buy brightly colored powders which you would sprinkle on your lover’s Ugali in order to make them more amorous!
The people of Tanzania are friendly and hospitable, and a guest is shown great honor. It’s hard to leave Dar, and when the time comes you say regretfully, “Kwa heri ya kuonana.” (Farewell, ’til we meet again.)
Tanzanians greatly value and respect the person who cooks the food. One rule to keep in mind is to not smell your food. Smelling food indicates that the food is bad and so is the cook. In general, smelling anything implies that it is rotten or smells unpleasant. When offered food or drink in someone’s home, don’t refuse. This is considered rude. Take a small portion of it even if you are not hungry.
Ugali, a type of thick cornmeal porridge is the major staple at meals. Tanzanians typically do not use eating utensils. Instead, the ugali is used as a “spoon” to scoop up other components of the meal. Food is always consumed using the right hand, and hands are washed before and after the meal. Do not put your left hand on bowls. When one communal bowl is present, eat from the part of the bowl/plate in front of you.
Meals are taken seated upon a mat or a low stool; so loose, comfortable clothing would be appropriate.
View Recipes from Tanzania