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East African food

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By TzGirl - Posted on 16 September 2008

I thought it would be interesting to write a little about local East African food – what is commonly eaten, and available here in Tanzania.

Tanzania has an abundance of delicious fruit and vegetables, most of which are grown by small subsistence farmers who transport their produce on a weekly basis to the local markets for sale. (It is not uncommon to see pick-up trucks loaded with cabbages, or large bunches of bananas being transported in hand pulled wooden carts - or on the heads of eager sellers !)

Locally grown fruits include bananas, mangos, pineapples, oranges, paw paws (papaya), watermelons, passion fruit (granadilla), lemons and limes. Vegetables include potatoes, onions and tomatoes along with carrots, cabbages, baby marrows (zucchini), aubergines, spinach (and “Mchicha” which is a similar green leafy vegetable), beans and pumpkin to mention a few.

Chapati which are similar to a tortilla or pancake (made with flour) are popular here and are usually served as an accompaniment to savoury meat, fish or vegetable dishes.

Beans (like Kidney beans) are a popular staple ingredient, and are added to stews, soups and meat dishes.

Ugali (a stiff maize porridge) is a popular dish and is made by boiling course maize flour with milk, salt, water and some kind of fat and is also served with savoury meat, fish or vegetable dishes and sometimes eaten on it’s own with milk and sugar. Maize is found all over the country, and a delicious way to eat this is after it has been roasted whole over an open fire.

Rice is another staple, with “Magugu rice” being quite popular – it is a delicious rice named after the region in which is it grown and has a distinctive nutty & fragrant flavour.

Cassava, also found in many other African countries, is a staple food and lightly salted cassava chips (much like potato chips) are popular snacks. Cassava is also served mashed, cooked in stews, or boiled in coconut milk as a side dish & can be likened to potato.

Cashew nuts and peanuts are favourite snacks and can be bought on the roadside served in paper cones.

One of the most popular ways of serving meat is by roasting it over an open fire – similar to a barbecue – this style of meat cooking is called “Nyama Choma”. Chicken and goat’s meat is popular, as is beef.

Nile Perch and Tilapia are perhaps two of Tanzania’s most well known fish and other fish available include Red Snapper, Kingfish and Tuna. (Smoked and dried fish are common, due to a lack of refrigeration in many areas.)

Tanzanian “chai” (Chai means tea in the local Kiswahili language) is delicious – it is usually made very milky and sweet and is flavored with a ‘tea masala’ mix which includes spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper. (I’m tickled pink to see that “Chai” in all it’s various forms is now available in many large coffee shop chains and supermarkets across Europe, marketed as a brand !)

In parts of the country, sugar cane juice is served and in the coastal areas a real treat on a hot day is fresh coconut milk – served right out of the shell !

Food, Fun & Farm Life in East Africa