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#DispatchesDNLee: Culinary Tour of my Tanzanian Meals

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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You have to eat. No matter what else happens in life, where we go or why we go, we can’t escape the necessity of eating, fueling up.

One of the most popular questions I get about my visits to Tanzania is: “How’s the food?”

It was different. Not bad at all. My biggest surprises was realizing how much food and our taste buds shape us culturally.  Your taste buds preferences can really tell a lot about you. For instance, being an American raised in the southern states of of the United States, I am accustomed to the Meat + 3 concept of plating. This is a meat entree item with 3 sides, with at least one of them being a starch. Plus, I am use to desserts and sweets…and our notion of what is sweet is insane compared to the palates of my Tanzanian and some of my European friends. No wonder we have such high incidences of Diabetes 2. (smh)

Moreover, I didn’t think I’d have to worry about getting vegetables. It was hard finding familiar vegetables and getting more (cooked) veggies on my plate. Meat, however, was very abundant and the roasted meat – choma – was delicious, but often tough to chew.

Here are some of the meals I enjoyed while in Tanzania.

Traditional Meals

Typical lunch meal - rice, pinto beans, green peas (but not English peas), greens (i never knew what they were, reminded me of spinach) and red gravy.

A traditional "English Breakfast": fresh fruit, bread with jam, fresh juice, eggs -served as an omelette and sausage (hot dogs to me). This was a typical breakfast meal served at hotels and tourist lodges.

Fish, Ugali, coconut rice, and "warm slaw" with fresh orange half

Whole plate of fruit: avocado, orange, watermelon, banana, pineapple, papaya - 500 Shalingi = 65 cents, USD

Big Green Salad - served and presented very differently than I am accustomed to in the United States

I don't remember what all of this is - potatoes, rice, diced veggies as relish, some sort of meat in gravy, and a fry bread of some sort. But I do remember smashing this meal. Om nom nom!

 

salad, mbuzi (goat meat) ugali

Street Food

I’m a fan of street food. I guess it’s the junk food junkie in me. I love quick, salty, deep fried, sweet (or not) tasty snacks that folks grab on the go or sit around & enjoy with friends.

Fresh eggs, Fire Roasted Chicken, beef or goat on skewers, diced veggies and chips (fries)

Chipsi myiayi (Egg Omlette with diced veggies & fries)

One of my favorite snack meals, but in Tanzania it’s considered local fast food.

 

Chai & donut (but not at all like our donuts in the States. This one is much denser & not very sweet). A very popular morning break snack.

Attempts at Western Fare

You how homesickness presents itself first – in your appetite.  It wasn’t long – 2-3 weeks in – that I found myself wishing I had something familiar to eat. (I’ve never dreamed of a plain ole cold cut sandwich more.)  There are a few hotels owned by Americans (United States & Canada) so there are some familiar items on the menu….But local ingredients & styles of cooking can throw the appearance & taste of some recipes off.

But, after being away for so long, you just want something, anything that tastes familiar.

Cheese toast w/ little chili peppers

Buffalo Wings & Fries

Cheeseburger & Fries

Chicken & Mayo Sandwich with tomato & cucumber salad

Chicken Bitting (pronounced as Biting) with mixed vegetables and chips (fries)

So, how was the food? It wasn’t bad and in some cases it was actually very good – and not just because I was hungry or homesick. There are some meals I actually miss when I’m back in the States – mbuzi, coconut rice, that ugly deep fried fish, and chai.

In fact, revisiting these pictures are making me hungry.

Karibu!

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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