Tanzanian food is a reflection of its people’s diverse traditions and history. It also shares strong culinary influences from other cultures such as Indians, Arabs, Persians and Portuguese who came to this part of Africa between the 15th and 19th century. The cuisine of Tanzania also shares several key similarities with its neighboring East African countries of Uganda and Kenya. It also comes in different flavors, textures and aromas.
There are many foods you will find here: from international cuisine served in major restaurants to local delicacies. But the best part of experiencing the local culture while travelling is having time to try new foods. And there is no better way to do this than trying to sample what the locals like to eat.
Tanzania offers a lot of local dishes that are delicious and nutritious. And some of the best ways to explore the local cuisine in Tanzania is by booking a cultural tour or food tour or even visiting local food joints. But before we dive deep into the best food to try during your Tanzanian safari, there are few key highlights to know about food in Tanzania. One, the best dishes to try on a Tanzania safari will largely be determined by the region you’re visiting. For example, food in mainland Tanzania mainly features traditional foods which often use maize or rice in their main foods, while food in Zanzibar largely features a Swahili cuisine. Zanzibar cuisine is more diverse and also incorporates varying spices, seafood and coconut. Two, food cooked in Tanzania is largely based on locally grown crops. These include plantains, maize, vegetables, maize, beans, coconut, and rice. Various forms of meat, such as beef, pork, chicken and seafood, are also incorporated into various dishes.
There are a variety of dishes to try in Tanzania, and the best part is, they are readily available and affordable. From charcoal grilled meat and fresh seafood to soups, Swahili curries, desserts, street food to traditional foods, you’ll be spoilt for choices when it comes to local food while you’re visiting Tanzania.
Here are 18 best local foods you should try during your Tanzania safari.
Ndizi nyama is one of the most popular dishes you’ll find all over Tanzania.
It simply refers to ndizi (plantains) cooked together with nyama (meat). Other ingredients such as coconut milk, onions, tomatoes and spices such as garlic, ginger, cayenne, curry powder and pepper are also added to the meal to make it more delicious. It is served on its own or on the side to the main course which is usually ugali or rice.
The second dish that you should try while travelling in Tanzania is pilau. This spiced rice dish has its roots in the Indian cuisine. Pilau is a popular Swahili dish in Zanzibar as well as other towns lying along the East Africa’s Indian Ocean coast. This food item is made from rice that cooked with meat and spices. The most common spices used in making Tanzania’s version of pilau include cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and cumin.
Another specialty rice dish in Tanzania is wali wa nazi. Nazi is a Swahili for coconut, whereas wali refers to cooked rice, which are the two major ingredients used.
Simply put, it is white rice cooked in coconut milk. It is a popular Swahili cuisine in the coastal regions of Tanzania.
It can be served alone or as an accompaniment with other dishes such as curries (beef, fish) or with meat stews or vegetables or beans.
Chapati is essentially round flatbread made with no yeast or other raising agents. Compared to roti, chappatis are thin. It is one of Tanzanian favorite dishes. Wheat flour, water, salt and oil are the ingredients used in making chapati.
It is usually served alongside with curries, beans or stews. It is also served with tea during breakfast.
Ugali or sima is basically stiff cornmeal porridge- like dish, which is Tanzania’s staple food. Maize flour is cooked in water until a thick consistency is achieved. Maize flour and water are the ingredients used. But depending on what is available in different regions, maize flour can be substituted or used together with cassava, sorghum or millet flour.
Ugali is usually served with sukuma wiki (collard greens) or other vegetables or meat stews or beans.
Another interesting traditional dish in Tanzania is makande ya nazi, a meal made from maize and beans flavored with coconut milk. Combination of dried beans and maize are soaked overnight, and then boiled until ready. Green maize can also be used too. When ready, onions and spices are added, then simmered over low heat with coconut milk.
Chipsi mayai is an omelet-like dish that is also popularly referred to ‘zege’ locally. It is among the top street delicacies in Tanzania. It entails cooking French fries (chipsi) together with scrambled eggs (mayai).
Mchemsho is meat (chicken, / fish / beef) boiled together with different fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, chilies, green peppers, onions, and eggplant. Different aromatic spices are used. This highly nutrious meal is a popular traditional dish for tribes living in Northern Tanzania, such as Chagga. When fish is used, this meal combination is referred to mchemsho wa samaki while with chicken it is referred to as mchemsho wa kuku.
Another food not to miss out in Tanzania is nyama choma. Nyama choma is fire – roasted meat that is a popular street food here. Goat or beef can be marinated before being grilled on open fire. It is mostly served with ugali/polenta or roasted bananas.
The flavor can be enriched by marinating the meat with ginger, garlic and pepper mixed with lemon juice.
Kiti moto is another mouth-watering dish that Tanzania has to offer. It’s a plate of fried or roasted pork that is served with fried/ boiled green bananas or ugali/polenta. While it can be found in almost every corner in Tanzania, it is particularly very common in Dar es salaam. Besides the two major ingredients, other common additions used include red chili, cooking oil, onions, tomatoes curry powder and garlic.
It is one of the most famous desserts in Tanzanian streets, especially in Zanzibar. It simply refers to coconut rice fluffy pancakes. Finely ground rice flour, coconut milk/ grated coconut, yeast, sugar, and cardamom powder/ ground cardamom seeds are mixed then cooked together.
Zanzibar pizza is another culinary treasure in Zanzibar and other Tanzanian islands that should not be missed. This meal feature dough topped with a mixture of fried onions, tomatoes, peppers, capsicum, minced meat, mayonnaise, eggs, and cheese. The mixture is folded together into a packet and deep fried or grilled until they become crispy pancake in texture.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might want to try sweet Zanzibar pizza. This crispy pancake variant uses sweet fillings such as bananas, nutella, mango, chocolate, and peanut butter.
This is meat marinated in blended spices and aromatic herbs, put on skewers and the grilled over open charcoal. Beef is the most common type of meat used, although chicken; goat and octopus are also available depending on the region.
This popular Tanzania street food incorporates ingredients such as tomatoes, chilies, onions, and black pepper.
Fondly dubbed as ‘Zanzibar mix’, urojo is a spicy Tanzanian soup. It is made with grated raw mangoes, flour (Atta + gram flour), potatoes, and coconut milk as the major ingredients. It is popular in Zanzibar and Dar es salaam. A mix of spices and herbs such as cumin, coriander, chilies, turmeric are usually added to the soup. It can be taken alone, but it is usually served together with almost any meal, including barbequed meat, vegetables and bhajias.
This popular seafood in Tanzania refers to grilled marinated fish with coconut sauce. A mix of spices such as chilies, turmeric, garlic/ginger, tamarind powder/paste and chilies are grounded or blended together. Then salt, coconut milk and lime are added to the mixture and simmered together into a thick paste/sauce.
Fish is then fully coated with paste before being charcoal grilled. This is mostly served with ugali, rice or chapatti.
Locally referred to as ‘pweza wa nazi’, which is a Swahili for octopus and coconut octopus curry, is no doubt the best seafood dish that is enjoyed by locals and visitors in Zanzibar. While there are so many different dishes of octopus to try to taste in Zanzibar, octopus curry is the most popular. The octopus is pre-boiled, added to the coconut curry and then cooked together over low heat.
Coconut curry is made with onions, garlic, curry powder, tomatoes, turmeric powder, oil, salt, red chili / pepper and coconut milk. And since Zanzibar is rich in seafood, there are other sea food curries that are readily available besides octopus curry, which includes shellfish, prawns and lobsters.
Mtori is a traditional plantain soup in Tanzania made from a mixture of bananas, meat, and salt. It is a specialty in Northern Tanzania. Coconut milk/ grated coconuts and spices such as garlic, black pepper, and ginger may be used to improve flavor. This delicious soup is a common breakfast meal.
And what better ways to end your day after safari than sipping dawa as you watch the sunset? This is a Tanzanian cocktail made with honey, fresh limes, ice cubes and vodka. It is available in Tanzania restaurants.
If you are planning to visit Tanzania, this ultimate Tanzania Food Guide will help you to discover some of the top food to sample during your Tanzania Safari.