Updated: Feb 3, 2019
It has been said that the art of cuisine, when fully mastered, is the one human capability of which only good things can be said. To us, cuisine defines not just the food that is served but the manner and culture that surrounds the dish. Influenced often-times by the environment, cuisine draws in the energy of a people and is the anchor of many a social interactions.
We decided to take on Tanzania as the first of a series of East African Wanderlust Series and specifically the Coastal town of Dar-es-Salaam. Our story was meant to be a tale of cuisine only but as fate would have it, it turned out to be a tale of immersion. Subsequent blog posts will give a detailed revelation of theft, loss, hospitality and a deeper look in to Dar from the eyes of a foreigner.
But for now, we shall talk food!
We sampled various dishes and in diverse environments thus we shall explore the various kinds of cuisine one can experience in this deeply cultural Swahili town, taking in to account time of day, budget and area.
The idea of vendors selling food on streets to passing customers is not unfamiliar in most cities/towns across the world. Street food gives away the delicacies of a people. We ended up indulging in a lot of street food due to the variety, you literally can’t get enough! Not to mention the soft effect it has on your pocket, very budget friendly.
Evenings in the streets of Dar, the road sides come alive with one particular delicacy. Chips mayai with fried chicken. It was our first time to eat chips mayai and what it is exactly is a fantastic cholesterol overload! The fries are fried with eggs and a topping of salad and tomato sauce added on top. Think of an omelet. However instead of tomatoes, onions and chillies, you have you fries. It is absolutely delicious but we cannot speak of its health benefits (or rather the lack of it). We were able to buy a full fried chicken with 4 servings of chips mayai for 18,000 TZS. (about 900/-, rule of thumb being divide the TZS by 20 to convert to KES).
Another common delicacy is pweza (octopus). You choose your portion, ranging from 800-3000 TZS, decide between the head or tail, and it’s cut up in to a bowl and soup is added. You could then add chilli and salt and take a seat by the road to enjoy. Being new to it we got in to an animated conversation with the lady who was serving us and she was happy to be the first one to serve us. She even gave us a bit of an urban myth associated with pweza. It apparently acts like Viagra for men. Amused as we were, we did not however set out to bust this myth.
Being a coastal town, there is a lot of sea food by the road, prawns and red snapper fish being quite common.
Fruits are also a plenty. The watermelons are incredibly large and there are also palm-sized mangoes known as sindanos. For 1000 TZS you get a bagful of them and they are delightfully sweet.
In case you get parched while being about town, you can settled down at a sugarcane juice stand and refresh yourself with some cold sugarcane juice.
Vibandas (Road Side Restaurants)
We managed to only eat dinner once at a kibanda and the one we visited didn’t have a lot of options. We all ended up having ugali samaki with maharage. The ugali is soft and the fish is fresh. Unfortunately we didn’t explore this side of Tanzanian gourmet.
Our breakfast option was a bakery close to our accommodation which served an array of freshly baked delicacies. Pancakes, vitumbua, beef mshikaki, chicken mshikaki, kaimati, kebab, bhajia made from kunde were but some of the options. It is worth noting that such bakeries were across town and offered a ready solution to breakfast woes.
Of the restaurants we visited, two are worth writing home about.
The 1st, Rissa Barbecue. Set on the road side of Lumumba Avenue, one parks their car on the curb and grabs a seat and table on the pavement. They served the tastiest shawarmas which were smartly wrapped so the shawarma didn’t come undone as one ate it. This was a nifty convenience that made all the difference. Mshikakis were available on all the available meat; samaki, chicken and beef. Due to the variety everyone ordered a different dish and we were able to sample various dishes that way. The highest rated after our post meal polls were the shawarma and the full samaki. Prices ranged from 5,000 to 10,000 TZS. Each meal came with a side of fries. This spot seemed to be popular with many locals and foreigners and it was easy to understand why. The food was wonderful and the ambience was set right in the heart of the City Center.
The 2nd restaurant was Samaki Samaki. Set in the uptown side of the city known as Masaki, Samaki Samaki is both a restaurant and a night club. Before you even settle down to order your food, the décor will blow you away. Everything is written in Swahili and there are a lot of cultural artifacts strategically placed to set up a cool Swahili Feng Shui. The most impressive was a wall with black and white portraits of famous world leaders and a sculpture of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in the middle of the room. We had a seafood platter, which seemed only right because of the name of the restaurant. The meal was impressive, especially the red snapper and the price about 18,000 TZS.
This category is not so much a review but a special thank you to our host Adrian and his family for hosting us for a farewell dinner. By far the best ugali with omena and maharage that we ate while in Tanzania.
For any lover of food, Dar-es-Salaam is a place you need to experience. A vibrant and cultural city, everything about their cuisine reflects the city and its people.
Full of life and full of spice.
Have you had your personal experience with Tanzanian cuisine? Please share with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.