Home to over a hundred different cultural groups, cuisine and food from Tanzania has grown to encompass a wide range of flavors and ingredients from all over the world. In addition to its stunning national parks, animals, and beaches, the country is rich in heritage and culture which is also reflected in traditional Tanzania food.
Famous for being the host of Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa’s tallest mountain), Tanzania has breathtaking landscapes, unique cuisines, and its people are delightfully welcoming and friendly.
Here, you’ll briefly learn about what makes Tanzania food so special, the most mouth-watering and popular traditional dishes, and the best street foods and dessert snacks you won’t want to miss.
What Makes Tanzania Food Special?
Tanzania has over a hundred ethnic groups, so you can expect a wide range of dishes. Many dishes on the coast are prepared with coconut milk and spices. Some of the spices used for traditional foods in Tanzania include saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, among others.
Tanzanian cuisine reflects the country’s history as well as its location. It has developed to embrace Indian and Arabic flavors with the introduction of Arab merchants on East Coast trade routes and the settling of Indian families in the 19th century. With recipes bursting with flavor and spice, the main components are plantains, coconut, rice, and cornmeal.
A few etiquette guidelines and cultural facts about Tanzania dining: first, don’t sniff your food. Sniffing something usually indicates that it is rotten or unpleasant, therefore inhaling your food is an insult to the cook. Second, it is considered impolite to decline refreshments provided at someone’s home. Even if you are not hungry, you must accept a small slice or drink.
Most Famous Food From Tanzania
Ugali Na Maharage Ya Nazi (Maize Meal And Beans Cooked In Coconut Milk)
When thinking about the national foods of Tanzania, Ugali Na Maharage Ya Nazi is at the heart of tradition. Simple ingredients have never tasted so good. Made with maize meal and beans cooked in coconut milk, you’ll notice Tanzania food features beans, coconut, and ugali (maize meal) as the core ingredients in a lot of the cultural dishes.
This starchy dough side dish is used alongside many traditional Tanzanian foods that include meat or vegetable stews. Tanzanians often scoop some ugali with their hands and crush it into a little ball, which is then dipped into the main meal and eaten simultaneously.
Ugali is more than a flavor; it is a culture in and of itself.
Popular Traditional Tanzania Food
Kuku Paka (Coconut Milk Chicken)
Kuku Paka is a Swahili term and a melting pot influenced by 3 well-known cultural cuisines: Indian, Arab, and African flavors. The name ‘Kuku’ translated into English means ‘chicken’ and ‘Paka’ is defined in English as ‘spread’. Food from Tanzania is known for its richness and multicultural aspects, and Kuku Pka is a great example of a dish that has its roots in other nations.
This mouth-watering Tanzania food is made with chicken and coconut, and the rich flavor of the broth produced from coconut milk will captivate you. The smokey flavor of the char-grilled chicken is what makes this dish so popular, but you can also substitute meat with prawns or seafood.
Mchemsho (Boiled Mixed Veggies)
Mchemsho is a traditional Tanzania food dish from Northern Tanzania consisting of a variety of ingredients such as potatoes, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, bananas, sweet peppers, and a wide range of spices.
The vegetables in Mchemsho are then combined with meat or fish to make a full and wonderful meal. Mchemsho is integral to Tanzanian cuisine and is considered a special dish made for special occasions, since it is quite expensive compared to other dishes in the country, as it involves a wide range of ingredients.
Kachumbari (Tomato And Onion Salad)
When you talk about food from Tanzania, any local will remind you of Kachumbari. It is a classic Tanzanian salad composed of diced tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. Salads are often served as a side dish with meat or fish and are an excellent way to add flavor to your dinner. Kachumbari is also commonly used as a seasoning for East African pilau rice.
The foundation of kachumbari is usually tomatoes and onions. However, cilantro, avocado, and cucumber are frequently added to the dish. This salad goes wonderfully with a simple dressing of your preference and is often served with other foods to balance out a meal in Tanzanian cuisine.
Mandazi (Fried Bread)
Mandazi, which plays an important role in traditional Tanzania food, is a deep-fried bread that is typically eaten with tea or as a snack. It has the fluffy feel of a doughnut but is not as sweet. This Tanzania street food snack is available everywhere throughout the country, including local eateries and hotels.
To produce a smooth dough, you combine water, sugar, flour, yeast, and milk. After that, the dough is cut into little triangular pieces and cooked in hot oil. They are fried like samoosas and can be consumed plain or dipped into sauces.
Wali Wa Nazi (Coconut Rice)
Wali wa nazi, a popular local Tanzania food delicacy, is a creamy side dish that goes with a main course of chicken, fish, or red meat. Coconut rice, also known as wali wa nazi, is made by cooking rice with coconut milk and water and then topped with stewed vegetables.
The subtle notes of coconut make for a phenomenal flavor pairing with rice, and when eaten with other vegetables and meats, you can be sure to be blown away!
Wali wa nazi is mostly found near shore and coastal regions, while mainland diets are higher in beans, cornmeal, and millet. Food from Tanzania, like coconut rice, is also a popular dish in the adjoining nation of Zanzibar, which shares and combine cuisines and flavors.
Pilau And Kachumbari (Aromatic Rice, Beef, And Salad)
Pilau has its origins in the Indian subcontinent, but has become an integral part of the Swahili and lies at the heart of food from Tanzania. Tanzanian pilau is now fairly unique from the Indian variety, both in flavor and appearance, because of the spices used and how the meat is prepared.
This low-cost but time-consuming dish is usually cooked during the holiday season and brings back fond memories for many locals. Thus, it’s considered a very special part of Tanzania food and culture.
This fragrant rice and meat dish is cooked with aromatic spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, and of course, meat. It is typically served with a Tanzanian salad (Kachumbari), which consists of tomatoes and onions, and other additions like green peppers and lime juice.
Viazi Karai (Pan-Fried Potato Treats)
Viazi Karai is a quick and easy snack to prepare because the ingredients are readily available and low-cost. Across Tanzania, it’s widely popular because it may be served with several accompaniments and dishes. You can find this lovely Tanzania food everywhere, from street corners to high-end restaurants.
Viazi Karai is a Swahili name for ‘potato fritters’ and is a staple in the wide range of food from Tanzania. If you’re looking for a quick and wholesome snack, this choice will probably leave you wanting more!
Irio (Mashed Potatoes And Peas)
While Irio is a Tanzanian food, it’s also found in Kenya and originated with the Kikuyu tribe. It’s a healthy and soothing dish made with corn, mashed potatoes, peas, and greens like spinach or watercress.
Irio, which is a native Kikuyu word, literally means ‘food’, and is frequently served as a side dish to balance out any meal in Tanzanian cuisine. Both subtle and delicious, Irio is as healthy as it tastes good!
Samaki Wa Kupaka (Marinated Grilled Fish)
Samaki wa kupaka is the name of a delectable Tanzania food that consists of fish cooked over charcoal and served with a coconut sauce. Before grilling, the fish is most often prepared by marinating it in garlic, ginger, salt, oil, and lime. The sauce is made up of tamarind paste, tomato paste, chili peppers, curry powder, garlic, and coconut milk.
This traditional Tanzanian food is packed with flavor and uses simple items that are combined or mashed into a paste before being used to marinade and fry the fish. For a delicious and varied dinner, you can pair it with some Ugali or Kachumbari.
Tanzania Food – Soups And Stews
Mchicha Wa Nazi (Creamy Spinach And Coconut)
As simple as it may sound, Mchicha Wa Nazi, also known as creamy spinach and coconut, is a refreshing and beautifully balanced soup enjoyed throughout Tanzania.
As one of the easiest Tanzania dishes to make, many households frequently utilize simple ingredients to cook up a storm! Served with rice or ugali (a stiff maize meal featured in many traditional dishes), it can be eaten as a light evening meal or paired with other dishes to make for a delicious feast.
Both incredibly versatile and basic, you can add some jazz to this dish with green beans, spinach, chili, and much more. Merging modern and traditional Tanzanian food has never been more fun and delicious.
Mchuzi Wa Samaki (Fish Stew/Curry)
Mchuzi wa samaki is well-known and loved throughout Tanzanian cuisine. It is frequently prepared with “kambale” fish in northern Tanzania, and depending on where you live, you can make it with a variety of fish.
Green peppers, tomatoes, carrots, onions, coconut, and fish are also used in Mchuzi wa samaki, and the flavors combined make a powerful and intoxicating stew. When serving this Tanzanian food, you can also add lemon juice and curry powder to enhance the taste.
Mtori (Banana Soup)
Mtori is a famous Tanzanian stew that consists of bananas and pork, although it also includes potatoes, milk, or cream.
The soup originated in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro highlands, more specifically, the Moshi-Arusha region. Plantains/green bananas are a common source of starch in this region and throughout Africa and thus feature in many Tanzania foods.
Mtori is a sauce that features the much-loved plantain banana, and while it originated as a basic staple meal for the Chagga people in this region, it has expanded to become a favorite across the countries of Africa and is now an important part of the food from Tanzania.
Tanzania Food – Sweet Snacks
Kaimati (Sweet Dumplings)
Kaimati is a popular delicacy on the East African coast and is a delightful snack made with ordinary flour, baking powder, water, and yeast that is combined and formed into little balls.
The dumplings, a local and famous Tanzania food, are then deep-fried and liberally coated in a sugar syrup made with sugar, water, rose flavor, or sometimes cardamom.
The beauty of Kaimati is that you can eat it at any time: as an appetizer before your dinner, as a dessert with a cup of coffee/tea, or even for breakfast in the morning.
This meal is typically served in Zanzibar during the holy month of Ramadan, but can also be found throughout the country in cafes and on street corners as a perfect choice of Tanzanian snacks.
Chapati Za Maji (African Pancakes)
Tanzania food is often different from the rest of the world, but every visitor will undoubtedly fall in love with the taste of Chapati. This delectably soft flatbread is a staple in Tanzania and other East African nations and is beloved by many.
Made with basic ingredients like flour, sugar, salt, and ghee, Chapati Za Maji has become one of the most popular choices of desserts. Like many dishes, the food from Tanzania is known for its simplicity, but delicious versatility.
This adaptable meal may be coupled with several savory or sweet ingredients; and on Fanjove Island, you’ll find it served with a classic East African curry.
Vitumbua (Coconut Rice Pancakes)
On the surface, it’s golden and crispy, with a delicate cardamom-scented interior. Vitumbua is a famous street food from Tanzania and is made up of rice, coconut, sugar, yeast, and fragrant spices.
Some versions use rice or rice flour, and you can toss them in cinnamon and sugar, or serve them with spicy strawberry jam. These doughnuts are also vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free: this tasty treat has it all!
Popular Tanzania Desserts
Mkate Wa Kumimina (Gluten-Free Rice And Coconut Cake)
Mkate wa Kumimina, also known as Mkate wa Sinia, is at the heart of Tanzanian food and traditional dishes in East Africa – and especially along the coastal regions. Simple ingredients are used to make this phenomenal cake, such as yeast, sugar, eggs, water, cardamom, and coconut milk.
‘Mkate’, a Swahili word, means ‘bread’, and ‘kumimina’ means ‘to pour’. Because this traditional cake is made with yeast, the name ‘mkate’ was given to this special and delicious food from Tanzania.
There are several ways you can prepare Mkate wa Kumimina. The first is by using a pan to cook the bottom and then using an oven to cook the top, giving it a lovely golden brown crisp.
The second method is by using an oven to bake and fully cook everything from start to end. The third is by using a more traditional method and cooking the Mkate wa Kumimina over a charcoal stove in a sufuria (a flat-based cooking pot with no handles).
Kashata (Coconut Peanut Brittle)
Kashata is a tasty peanut brittle found throughout Tanzania and other East African nations. When it comes to Tanzania food and desserts, this snack is highly popular and hard to resist! It can come in a variety of forms and sizes and can be flavored with different spices, such as cardamom, honey, and coconut.
Halfway between a bar and a sweet, Kashata has become a very common sweet treat and street food in Tanzania. You can be sure to find this delightful coconut peanut brittle at market stands, on street corners, and inside cafes.
Tanzanian sweets are often basic, such as plain cakes, pancakes, or a variety of pies. However, when it comes to indigenous fruits of Tanzania, they feature strongly in after-dinner treats and dessert choices.
Fresh fruits from the region are a common Tanzania food and dessert choice, as it offers a simple but wholesome treat. Plus, it’s often cost-effective for the locals who struggle to make ends meet.
Coconut is put over virtually anything, and the combinations of local fruits and pineapples are the most popular. Fruits are also made into a wide range of refreshing drinks that are downright delicious, like the traditional African drink known as squash.
The Best Tanzania Street Food
Although it shares the same name as the well-known Italian specialty, this Zanzibari version has little in common with Italian pizza.
This phenomenal and unusual Tanzania street food is created from unleavened dough that’s been stretched thin and stuffed with a variety of fillings. When the sides are wrapped around the filled pancake, it is fried in ghee until golden, crispy, and delicious. Tanzania food truly has it all!
The filling can range from meat (such as beef or chicken) to fish, vegetables, cheese, or even eggs. Sweet variations frequently include mixes of chocolate spread, bananas, mangoes, or peanut butter. The combination of sweet and crunchy textures is out of this world!
Mishkaki (Grilled Meat Skewers)
Mishkaki, a famous Tanzania food and Kenyan street cuisine, is made with skewered and marinated meat such as beef, goat, or mutton that is slowly grilled over hot embers until perfectly tender. The meat is marinated in a mixture of herbs and spices common throughout Africa’s eastern coast, and grilled with spicy peppers, ginger, and lemon.
This local delicacy is commonly eaten as a snack, usually with fried potatoes in a dish known as “chips mishkaki.” It also pairs well with grilled or smoked plantains and crispy cassava.
Street vendors will prepare and sell these delicious Tanzania foods along the streets in the evening, as many vendors begin frying their Mishikaki after dusk. When the sun sets, the smells of local cuisine are out-of-this-world.
Chipsi Mayai (Chips And Eggs)
Chipsi Mayai, which means ‘chips and eggs’ in English, is a popular breakfast meal and Tanzania street food. Tanzanian chips differ from Western french fries in that the potatoes are freshly peeled and hand-cut before being cooked to a beautiful crispy crunch.
Most local cafes and outdoor food markets sell Chipsi Mayai, which is typically eaten with a toothpick and a splash of tomato sauce.
Nyama Choma (Grilled Meat)
The Swahili word for ‘grilled meat’ is Nyama Choma. And this dish is at the heart of Tanzania food culture.
Once on the grill, the meat is allowed to slowly cook over hot coals, enriching the meat with a rich and smoky flavor. It might take 45 minutes to an hour to cook, so groups of friends will often gather and have a few drinks while the Nyama Choma is on the grill. As many locals will say, it’s part of the community and connection that makes Tanzania so special.
At roadside kiosks and restaurants, traditional Tanzanian food like Nyama Choma is commonly served with beer and side dishes such as salad and ugali.
Samosas are a well-loved Tanzanian food that is filled with meat, veggies, or a mixture of the two. The pastry is usually deep-fried until crispy and is a fantastic meal if you enjoy the wonderful world of savory tastes. They are often called samboosa or sambusac.
These crunchy and delightful snacks are a wonderful example of the blend of Indian cuisine in the East with the traditional styles of food from Tanzania.
On most street corners and cafes, you can be sure to find these delicate and delicious treats, ready and waiting to be devoured!
Ndizi Kaanga (Fried Plantain Banana)
Ndizi Kaanga is a popular Tanzanian food that is often eaten as a snack or as a side dish with bigger meals. It’s made up of fried banana plantains that are typically unsweetened, although a pinch of sugar can be added before frying to bring out the sweetness.
Plantains can also be roasted over hot coals and then seasoned with salt or sugar to give them a lovely flavor and enjoyed as a street-side snack in the afternoon. Plantains have played an important role in Tanzanian cuisine and meals, and you’ll find many recipes that feature this well-loved fruit.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Tanzania Food: A Taste Of Africa’s Lesser Known Cuisines
Tanzania food and cuisine are often straightforward, but flavorful and oh-so-satisfying. Many of their popular and traditional dishes remain unknown to the world. But with the greater connection people of the world are enjoying online, you can enjoy the unique and wonderful traditional flavors of food in Tanzania. You may just find your new favorite meal!