Apart from being the tallest mountain in Africa, Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro is the site of the highest ever pizza delivery. In 2016, a pepperoni pizza was delivered there at an altitude of 5897 m after a journey of 745 km over four days!
But, there is definitely far more on offer in Tanzania than four-day-old pizza!
With its hot, humid shore, thick forests and fertile plains, the country has a dynamic landscape and climate and its food differs widely from region to region. It is bordered by the three great lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, and Malawi. These are home to many species of fish and so is the warm and extensive coastline (flanked by the archipelago that makes up Zanzibar). It’s no surprise that fish and seafood are popular in local cooking.
Samaki wa nazi (coconut fish curry)
Serves about 4
1 x 1 kg firm-fleshed, white fish – gutted and scaled
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
2 cups unsweetened coconut cream
Season the fish with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil on medium in a large, deep pan.
Brown the fish lightly on each side.
Remove, set aside and keep warm.
In the same pan fry the onion for about four minutes, until lightly browned.
Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
Stir in the tomato paste, curry powder, garam masala, chilli and lemon juice.
Cook for two minutes until fragrant.
Add the coconut milk and bring to the boil.
Reduce the heat to low and gently add the fried fish.
Simmer for about six minutes, or until the fish is cooked through and sauce has thickened.
Serve with rice.
Tanzania is home to many ethnic groups and languages. The original inhabitants were the Hadza and Sandawe, both who were hunter-gatherers. Around 4000 years ago, Cushitic-speaking cattle herders from the Horn of Africa were thought to be the first migrants. They introduced pastoralism and cultivation. Then, early in the first millennium came Bantu people from the west, bringing iron tools, new farming methods and crops.
Key crops today include maize, millet, sorghum, rice, wheat, beans, potatoes, cassava and bananas.
Certain varieties of cassava contain prussic acid, so they require careful preparation. The root is often grated, fermented or soaked before being cooked, which removes the poison. In Australia, it’s only the ‘sweet’ variety of cassava (which is not poisonous!) that is sold as food. Here, you can purchase cassava from markets and Asian grocers – it’s great boiled, roasted or made into chips.
The varieties of bananas grown in Tanzania are also numerous and feature in a number of local dishes.
Ndizi na nyama (bananas and beef)
The bananas in this dish are not the sweet, ripe kind we’re probably used to in Australia. Green, unripe, starchy bananas or plantains are used, so when you’re shopping be sure to try and find the right thing!
8 medium-sized green bananas (‘cooking bananas’ – you should be able to find these here at an African or Asian grocer or from any international market)
750 g lean beef pieces
2 medium red onions
2 cloves garlic
½ a jalapeno pepper, seeds removed
2 large tomatoes
1 large carrot
1 bay leaf
1 l chicken or beef stock
½ cup coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Halve the bananas widthways.
Place each banana piece in a bowl of water so it doesn’t blacken.
Season the beef with salt and pepper.
Chop the onion, garlic, tomato, pepper and carrot.
Place the beef, vegetables and bay leaf in a heavy-bottomed pot.
Add enough stock to cover.
Bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down and simmer for about half an hour.
Add the bananas and coconut milk to the pot.
Stir gently to combine with the beef and vegetables.
Cook for a further 10 minutes, or until the bananas are cooked without being mushy.
Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Arab traders began visiting Tanzania from about 800 AD. They brought with them Islam and other traditions and introduced spices and dishes like pilau and biriani. Merchants who sailed to Africa’s east coast also came from as far as India, some settling along the shore. Another wave of Indian migration occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, mainly in the form of labourers working on projects, like the railways. The Indian impact on local food remains strong, particularly in Zanzibar.
In the late nineteenth century, the Germans arrived. They set up the German East Africa Company, made treaties with local chiefs and formed the colony of German East Africa. The British had already made the island of Zanzibar a protectorate. They signed a treaty allowing Germany to retain the mainland but, after World War I, much of German East Africa became a British mandate and went on to be governed as Tanganyika.
British rule ended in 1961 and Zanzibar’s Arab dynasty was overthrown a few years later. Soon after, Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged and became the United Republic of Tanzania.
Tanzanian tastebuds and culinary customs have retained some British influence, such as the fondness for tea and biscuits and the popularity of tea rooms in places like Dar es Salaam. There is also a Tanzanian dish called chipsi mayai with ingredients that are unmistakably British. Yes, you heard right, it’s an egg and chip omelette!
4 medium potatoes
1 l oil (for deepfrying)
2 tbsp oil (for the omelette)
Peel four medium potatoes.
Slice them into chip-sized pieces.
Fill a pot or deep fat fryer half full with oil.
Fry at 180°C for about eight minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and add salt to taste.
Scatter a selection of chips in a medium-sized frying pan with a little oil.
Turn the heat up to medium-high.
Beat the eggs.
Pour the beaten egg over the chips.
Cook on one side, then flip and cook the other side until the desired texture is achieved!
Chipsi Mayai is often served with a healthier partner, kachumbari, a Swahili salad that accompanies many Tanzanian (and Kenyan) meals. The word originates from the Indian Sanskrit word for salad ‘Kachumber’ or Koshumbri.
Kachumbari is served at almost every table in Tanzania.
2 red onions, finely sliced
5 large tomatoes, deseeded and finely sliced
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
2–3 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp oil
salt and pepper to taste
Soak the sliced onion in warm water with a teaspoon of salt for half an hour. This will reduce the raw taste.
Drain the onion and rinse under cold water.
Toss the onion, tomatoes, chilli, coriander, lemon juice and oil together in a bowl.
Season with salt and pepper.