In this article, we’re all about Tanzanian cuisines. There are a lot of amazing traditional Tanzanian foods you should definitely try when visiting the country, but not just that. There are also a lot of these dishes prepared internationally. Hang on tight, let’s take you on a ride.
What to Know About Tanzania
Tanzania is an East African country known for its vast wilderness areas. They include the plains of Serengeti National Park, a safari mecca populated by the “big five” game (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino), and Kilimanjaro National Park, home to Africa’s highest mountain, and let me not get started on their cuisine.
The country is situated just south of the Equator. Tanzania was formed as a sovereign state in 1964 through the union of the theretofore separate states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Mainland Tanganyika covers more than 99 percent of the combined territories’ total area. Mafia Island is administered from the mainland, while Zanzibar and Pemba islands have a separate government administration.
Dodoma, city, the designated national capital of Tanzania since 1974 (pending complete transfer of official functions from Dar es Salaam), eastern Africa, about 300 miles (480 km) inland (west) from the Indian Ocean. Dar es Salaam is the largest city and port in the country.
The Tanzania mainland is bounded by Uganda, Lake Victoria, and Kenya to the north, by the Indian Ocean to the east, by Mozambique, Lake Nyasa, Malawi, and Zambia to the south and southwest, and by Lake Tanganyika, Burundi, and Rwanda to the west.
Tanzania is home to some of Africa’s most famous national parks and natural wonders, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak. As a result, safaris and wildlife-related experiences are the most popular things to do in Tanzania and the reason many visitors visit the nation.
The majority of travelers will transit through Dar es Salaam on their way to the wilderness areas and other places. The magnificent beaches of Zanzibar lure visitors who want to spend some time soaking up the sun.
Scuba divers and snorkelers travel from all over the world to see the coral gardens, colorful fish, and crystal blue seas off the coasts of Pemba and Mafia Islands.
With over 120 tribes, Tanzanian culture is a wonderful combination of influences. Tanzania is one of the world’s most culturally diverse nations. From the towering graceful Maasai warriors to the Hadza bushmen’s traditional customs, the Wameru’s ingenious farming practices, the Makonde’s artistic talents, and the Chaga farmers and traders. Each of the 120 different tribes in Tanzania has its own distinct ways of life but together, they gracefully unite to form Tanzania.
Following two decades of sustained growth, Tanzania reached an important milestone in July 2020, when it formally graduated from a low-income country to lower-middle-income country status. Tanzania’s achievement reflects sustained macroeconomic stability that has supported growth, in addition to the country’s rich natural endowments and strategic geographic position.
Some typical mainland Tanzanian foods include wali (rice), ugali (maize porridge), nyama choma (grilled meat), mshikaki (marinated beef), samaki (fish), pilau (rice mixed with a variety of spices), biriyani, and ndizi-nyama (plantains with meat).
Vegetables commonly used in Tanzania include bamia (okra) which is mostly eaten as a stew or prepared into traditional stew called mlenda, mchicha (a kind of spinach), njegere (green peas), maharage (beans), and kisamvu (cassava leaves). Tanzania grows at least 17 different types of bananas which are used for soup, stew, and chips.
Some breakfast foods that you would typically see in Tanzania are maandazi (fried doughnut), chai (tea), chapati (a kind of flatbread), porridge, especially in rural areaschipsi mayai.
Famous Tanzanian snack foods include visheti, kashata (coconut bars), kabaab (kebab), sambusa (samosa), mkate wa kumimina (Zanzibari rice bread), vileja, vitumbua (rice patties), and bagia.
Tanzania has the largest livestock population in Africa, which makes meat very common in the local Tanzanian foods. Beef, goat, and chicken are the most common types of meats with which people cook traditional Tanzanian foods.
Tanzanian desserts are often simple, such as plain cakes or fruit combinations. There are a variety of pies available, such as the fruits of African pie, which is made with papaya, guava, apricot nectar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and whipped cream before being topped with coconut and peanuts.
Aside from the pies, there are pancakes, which are made with honey, sugar, and cinnamon and baked very thinly. Chapatti majis are small pancakes that are served as a treat or with tea or coffee. Fruit compotes are also frequently offered, and pineapple squash is virtually always included.
Tanzanian appetizers range from simple and fresh to elaborate and baked dinners, all with intricate recipes and flavors. Most of the salads include both fresh and boiled vegetables, sometimes mashed in a paste and they all have a vinegar dressing. A traditional Tanzanian salad is called salad va kamba na parachichi, also known as the avocado dream.
Tanzanian foods are pretty straightforward, satisfying, and flavorful; what it lacks in flair, it more than makes up for in delicious, substantial taste. During your stay in the country, keep an eye out for the following delicacies.
11 Amazing Traditional Tanzanian Foods You Have To Try
What is Tanzania’s National Dish?
Ugali is considered to be Tanzania’s national dish. It’s considered as one of the most eaten staple foods in not only Tanzania but in East Africa.
Ugali (Maize Porridge)
Considered Tanzania’s national dish, Ugali is a must-eat for anyone wanting to explore the culture. It is a stiff dough prepared with cornmeal, cassava flour, sorghum, or millet.
Ugali is a cornmeal or corn flour-based starch that resembles stiff polenta or a very thick cream of wheat. Most Tanzanian meals include a hearty amount of this Tanzanian food, which acts as a simple, filling complement to the main course, similar to fufu in West Africa or bread and pasta in the Western diet.
Tanzanians love this distinctive polenta-like side dish, which is traditionally served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This Tanzanian food is made by rolling a little amount of creamy, thick cornmeal paste (made from cooked white maize) in one’s hand until it forms a ball then indenting it with one’s thumb. It becomes an edible spoon that is often dipped into various stews and sauces.
The fact that it doesn’t stick to your fingers is an indication of an excellent ugali. The whole thing is frequently dipped in a savory sauce before being popped into one’s mouth.
Serve this dish with fish, meat, cooked vegetables, or bean sauce.
Click to view the Ugali recipe
2. Mshikaki (Marinated Beef)
Mshikaki is a famous street food dish in Tanzania and Kenya. It is skewered marinated meat, such as beef, goat, or mutton. The meat is marinated in a combination of various herbs and spices that are popular along Africa’s eastern coast, that’s grilled slowly over hot coals.
This Tanzanian food is usually eaten for dinner and is prepared by marinating meat of choice in a bowl with ground coriander, paprika, ground cumin, chili powder, turmeric, freshly grated ginger, mashed cloves, tomato puree, oil, lemon juice Black pepper & salt, and then leaving the mixture in the refrigerator overnight for at least 4 hours.
Afterward, Skewer the meat on water-soaked wooden skewers. Grill the meat skewers on an open coal barbecue, basting with marinade until cooked. There are a number of meats available, but goat, beef, and mutton are the most popular. The grilling is not rushed, and you may have to wait a bit longer than usual, but the gradual cooking is what gives it its lovely flavor and makes it all worthwhile. Serve with pitta or wraps and salad leaves.
Order at least five or six, since if you only order one or two, you’ll soon find yourself back in line.
3. Wali (Rice)
Wali is a popular choice among members of the Swahili population living around the Indian Ocean’s coast. Wali means rice in Swahili often prepared with coconut milk, it is a creamy and highly delicious meal that can be served with meats, curries, poultry, and fish-based sauces.
There are different versions of this Tanzanian meal depending on what they are eaten with. For example; Wali na maharage is a Tanzanian dish made with red beans and rice. The rice is usually cooked with coconut milk or oil, while the beans are cooked until mushy. The dish is seasoned with a variety of spices such as pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin. It can be served as an accompaniment to vegetables, fish, or meat.
On the other hand, Wali wa nazi is the actual starchy side dish made from rice cooked in a coconut milk and water mixture. It’s normally merely seasoned with salt. This creamy dish is typically served as a side dish to curries and chicken, fish, and meat meals.
4. Nyama Choma (Grilled Meat)
The nyama choma is a specialty of grilled goat meat or roasted meat. It is very popular in Tanzania and Kenya where it is considered the national dish. This Tanzanian dish is often made with goat meat but beef can also be used.
From the finest restaurants to roadside shacks, roast goat meat is served up as a kind of social lubricant, often aided by copious amounts of local beer. This Tanzanian food is always eaten with the hands, and common side dishes include kachumbari salad and ugali.
One can’t talk about this Tanzanian food without talking about the Nyama Choma festival. Nyama Choma Festival at Kijitonyama Postal Grounds, a two-day festival with lots of barbecue and music. The festival which is one of its kind in East Africa is going back to its roots with the event taking place at TTCL Kijitonyama Grounds.
Thi festival began June 4th, 2011. It is the only event in Dar es Salaam ( the largest city and business capital of Tanzania) that gives a once-in-a-lifetime experience every four months. Attend and be fed by the top bbq pitmasters from around Dar es Salaam in this one-of-a-kind bbq extravaganza that has different bbq pitmasters all styling their bbq techniques.
The Nyama Choma Festival Is Registered and Accredited By The Tanzania Meat Board. This festival has made this Tanzanian food very popular on international soil.
Click here to view the Nyama Choma recipe
5. Samaki (Fish)
Mtuzi wa samaki is a Tanzanian food made with onions, oil, garlic, curry powder, tomatoes, water, and lemon juice, and it’s made with fish. Freshly chopped coriander is frequently used to enhance the flavor of the dish. Mtuzi wa samaki is a very tasty fish curry meal that pioneered on the tiny island of Zanzibar. The presence of Indian-style curries in Zanzibar’s cuisine is a good evidence of its history as a crossroads of trade. Over time, mtuzi wa samaki has become popular throughout the coastal region of East Africa.
On the other hand, Samaki wa kupaka, a variant of this Tanzanian food, consists of grilled fish with coconut sauce over charcoal. Before being grilled, the fish is frequently marinated in garlic, ginger, salt, oil, and lime, and the sauce is made out of tamarind paste, tomato paste, chili peppers, curry powder, garlic, and coconut milk.
Here are the best Tanzanian samaki recipes:
Pilau Rice is a popular spicy rice dish informed by the country’s rich Indian inspirations. It simply refers to rice mixed with a variety of spices, but this Tanzanian food differs from jollof rice in that the result of the two is very different in terms of taste and color. The pilau is dark brown while the Jollof is red.
The pilau masala is made with five different spices in Tanzanian pilau recipes: black peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Tanzanians use more spices, particularly cloves, than other African countries for the preparation of Tanzanian foods. Cardamom is significantly more popular in the Horn of Africa.
This Tanzanian food can be made as a simple vegetable dish that can be coupled with beef, lamb, or chicken to make a complete one-pot supper. When prepared as a complete pot meal, with tomatoes added occasionally, the result is strikingly similar to the West African rice dish Jollof.
7. Ndizi Na Nyama
Ndizi na nyama is a very popular Tanzanian food made with plantain or banana stew (Ndizi) and meat (Nyama) as the main ingredient. The stew can also be made with curry powder, cayenne pepper, oil, onions, tomatoes, tomato paste, and coconut milk, and then made to simmer. The greenest unripe, starchy bananas are used, which seemed both interesting and distinctly East African, making this dish an easy choice to feature.
This Tanzania food is very popular and quick to make as plantains are easily accessible due to Tanzanian’s high plantain production. Tanzania grows and exports about four million bananas and plantains each year. Bananas and plantains are a delicacy for many people in the country, as such, you will find them in many homes and restaurant menus.
This is one Tanzanian food you don’t want to miss out on.
8. Zanzibar Pizza
Tanzania’s special pizza is made with unleavened dough that is stretched thin and filled with various ingredients. When filled, the sides are wrapped, and this pancake-like creation is then fried in ghee until it is golden and crispy. Its popular savory combinations include ground beef, chicken, and mushrooms or—the vegetarian option—mayo, processed soft, white cheese, chopped veggies, and egg. Those with a great liking for sweet-tasting foods might prefer Zanzibar pizzas stuffed with Nutella or mango and cheese.
This Tanzanian food is related to Nairobi’s mkate wa nyama (meat bread) and Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and India’s packed grilled pancakes (mutabbaq). But it’s the local sauce, the fusion of styles, and the inventive stuffing combinations that distinguish a Zanzibar pizza. It also looks a lot like Italian pizza but tastes nothing like it.
The origin of this Tanzanian food has not really been known, but travel research by BBC Travel suggests that a generation ago, a similar dish called mutabakia had gained some popularity in Zanzibar, but this version of the Zanzibar pizza was plain and duller as it was made using only meat and onion, but is now made like the Indian chapati.
Another study suggests that this Tanzanian food originated nearly 30 years ago when an inventive cook named Haji Hamisi traveled to Mombasa and was inspired by Kenyan’s famous egg chapati (a stuffed, pan-fried meat omelet).
Since the introduction of this Tanzanian food to the market, the Zanzibar pizzas have become the hottest-selling item. There are at least 30 Zanzibar pizza spots on Unguja and Pemba.
Tanzanian’s spinach and peanut curry is one Tanzanian food you wouldn’t want to miss out on. This Tanzanian food is traditionally made with amaranth greens. Spinach has a similar flavor and is frequently used. It’s frequently served with ugali, an east African staple made from maize flour boiled into a smooth mush or porridge. This African food can also be served with rice.
In Swahili, Mchicha itself means spinach, a plant that belongs to the same family as amaranth. This East African country’s salad veggie is highly popular. It grows close to the ground and only reaches a height of 30 cm. Its green leaves are softer than kale’s and can withstand freezing temperatures. Because it is more difficult to come by than other greens, it has become a premium vegetable.
10. Chipsi Mayai
Chipsi mayai, commonly called zege, is a famous Tanzanian street snack. This Tanzanian food is a simple potato-egg omelet in its most basic form. It may be found in most parts of Tanzania, from the most rural communities to the largest cities. This Tanzanian food is prepared to order in both indoor and outdoor food stands.
This Tanzanian food is made using hand-cut potatoes that have been peeled and fried until crispy and golden, then combined with eggs and cooked into an omelet.
It can also be mixed with peppers and onions, and it’s usually served with a tangy kachumbari of tomatoes, onions, and chilies. Top it with a spray of ketchup and eat it with a toothpick, as the locals do.
Mchemsho is a traditional Tanzanian dish made up of a variety of ingredients such as potatoes, green beans, carrots, bananas, and spices. This Tanzanian food is one of the most delectable local dishes and is known as exceptional Tanzanian cuisine. Although, due to the high cost of the ingredients required to prepare this dinner, it is not one that is consumed on a regular basis. It is often saved for special occasions instead.
Ingredients for a delectable recipe would be; carrots, potatoes, green beans, eggplant, cabbage, onions, bananas, tomatoes, ladies finger, sweet pepper, and spices to make this dish. Add either meat or fish for protein.
When it comes to Tanzanian foods there is so much to try. Whether you’re taking a trip to trying out something new in your kitchen. They are hearty meals that are perfect for families.