What to eat in mainland Tanzania?
No visit to the world's best safari destination is complete without delving into the local cuisine of Tanzania. Most foods are made from scratch using organic, home-grown vegetables, grass-fed meat, and fresh milk. Because of this, expect a visit to a local restaurant to be ‘pole-pole’ (translation: quite slow!). Relax and enjoy the Swahili way of life!
Mandazi (Tanzanian donuts) and Chai (hot tea)
A breakfast staple that resembles a triange- shaped dounut these are best eaten still warm. To prepare mandazi, dough is made from wheat flour, cardamom, baking powder, and a bit of sugar. The dough is then deep fried. Mandazi are traditionally served with a cup of chai ya maziwa (milk tea). You can find them in small local roadside shops; ask your guide where!
Wali Maharage (Rice and beans)
Wali Maharage is a simple yet delicious dish that is a staple of the Tanzanian diet. Soy or pinto beans are usually cooked over an open flame creating a unique, smoky flavour and served over white rice. Many Tanzanians have a few slices of avocado or even sliced raw banana with their beans and rice
Ugali (Maize porridge)
When in Tanzania, love it or hate it, you have to try ugali! Ugali is finely ground white corn flour boiled in water with a bit of salt until a thick, heavy porridge is formed. Once all the water is boiled out, each person is served a large ball of ugali to eat with their hands. The trick to eating ugali is to pinch off a small amount, roll it into a little ball and poke a hole in the middle, almost like a spoon with no handle. Then, use the ugali to scoop up freshly cooked mboga za majani (greens such as spinach or kale), mchuzi (gravy), or maharage (beans). Remember when in Tanzania, it's impolite to use your left hand to eat so always roll and eat your ugali using your right hand. It may be messy the first time but ‘Hakuna Matata’ (No problem!); the locals will love to see you giving it a go!
Nyama Choma (grilled meat)
Nyama Choma is an Arushan speciality. It is meat that has been grilled over charcoal or an open flame. Arusha is home to the Maasai tribe who traditionally lived a nomadic and pastoral lifestyle with a diet consisting of meat, milk and blood from their livestock. Now most Maasai have a more diversified diet but their love for red meat has not changed. Don’t be surprised if you go to a local restaurant for Nyama Choma and see a table of Maasai men ordering two or three kilos of meat at a time! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself doing the same because the flavor of Tanzanian Nyama Choma served with roasted bananas just can’t be beat!
Pili Pili (Chili)
Tanzanians love spice! If you are looking to add some heat to your meals, make sure to ask for ‘pili pili’. Each restaurant will have their own version of homemade pili-pili to add to your food. Some serve sliced habanero peppers while others cook up tomato or even mango based hot sauces. If you don’t like spicy food, tell your server, “Sipendi pili pili” (I don’t like pili pili).
What to eat in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar cuisine differs considerably from the mainland. Most dishes are prepared with locally grown spices such as ginger, cardamom, curry, and black pepper. Fresh fruit also flourishes in this tropical paradise so be sure to stop at a fruit stand or local market for juicy mangoes, papayas, jackfruit, and rambutan.
Pilau (spiced rice) with Kachumbari (Tanzanian salad)
For weddings, parties, and special holidays like Easter and Eid, Tanzanians on the mainland and in Zanzibar celebrate with Pilau. We recommend you try this traditional dish on Zanzibar though because the island spices make it even more flavourful. A meal in itself, pilau is rice cooked with cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices. Meat and potatoes are added to the rice to make a fragrant, filling meal. Kachumbari, a salad made of thinly sliced tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers seasoned with salt and lime juice, is a perfect fresh and crunchy side to eat with pilau.
Samaki (fish) and Pweza (octopus)
Make sure to study the words samaki and pweza before you head to Zanzibar because you don’t want to miss out on Zanzibar’s fresh seafood. Caught, cooked and served up on the same day, Zanzibar restaurants and beach-side cafes will serve all types of fish curries, stews, and grilled fish and octopus. Fresh seafood is an absolute highlight of Zanzibar and we can highly recommend the grilled octopus at Forodhani Gardens- an unmissable night food market in Stone Town.
Visitors often chuckle at the name, “Zanzibar pizza,” and think that this treat must be made just to appeal to tourists. Surprisingly though, Zanzibar pizza is a local snack enjoyed in traditional homes throughout the islands. Zanzibar pizza has little resemblance to Italian pizza but is just as delicious. This savory snack consists of a thin crepe-type dough spread around a mix of minced beef, vegetables, and a bit of mayonnaise and folded into a rectangular shape. A quick flip on the skillet and the snack is ready to be enjoyed. No need for a fork or even a plate, Zanzibar pizza is served wrapped in brown paper and often eaten on-the-go. Sweet Zanzibar pizzas filled with fruit, peanut butter, or nutella are also found in larger food markets if your sweet tooth is calling.
Sampling the cuisine of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar is definitely all part of the safari experience! If you are stuck for ideas, our guides are always happy to share their ideas of what to eat on your trip to Tanzania. Our safaris are designed to allow our guests to connect with Tanzania in an authentic and personalised way.
Do you have any burning questions about a bucket list trip? Please contact us, we would love to help you.