Food Culture in Tanzania


History and Food
  • Primarily hunter–gatherers
  • In first 500 years A.D., vegetables, millet, sorghum, fruit, and fish were mostly eaten
  • By 800 A.D. Muslim Arabs established trade routes to and from the country, introducing citrus fruits, cotton plants, and pilau and biriani (spicy rice and meat dishes) having the greatest impact on coastal regions and the island of Zanzibar
  • Portuguese arrived in 1498 and introduced cassava and groundnuts to their diet, establishing an important staple to the culture
  • East African slaves who were brought to work Tanzania's plantations brought the discovery of cloves, a key spice to the cuisine
  • In 1873, the British introduced tea and boiled vegetables, and encouraged the cultivation of crops
  • In 1891, Germans brought coffee and cotton plantations
  • Meat isn't widely consumed. Cattle are slaughtered only for very special occasions (wedding or birth of a baby). Nyama choma (grilled meat) and ndayu (roasted, young goat) = most popular meat dishes
  • Cattle, sheep, goats are raised primarily for milk and for social status
  • Tanzanian diet based largely on starches: millet, sorghum, beans, pilaf, cornmeal
  • National dish: ugali - stiff dough made from casava flour, cornmeal, millet, or sorghum, with sauce containing meat, fish, beans, or cooked vegetables
    • It's typically eaten out of a large bowl shared by everyone at the table
  • Wali (rice) and various samaki (fish) cooked in coconut are preferred stables in coastal communities
  • Pilau – rice, curry, cinnamon, cumin, hot peppers, and cloves
  • Matunda (fruits) and mboga (vegetables)
    • plantains, ndizi (bananas), pawpaw (papaya), biringani (eggplant), nyana (tomatoes), beans, muhogo (cassava), spinach – many grown in backyard gardens
  • Ndizi Kaanga (fried bananas or plantains) very popular with Tanzanians and tourists
  • Vitumbua (small rice cakes) commonly eaten with chai
  • Vendors often sell freshly ground black coffee, soft drinks, and fresh juices (pineapple, oranges, sugar cane)
  • Mbege (banana beer) made in the Kilimanjaro region
  • Mandazi (deep-fried doughnut-like cakes)

  • 1/3 of people are Christians – Christmas dinner: pilau, chai, and chicken, red meat, or seafood dish is served, followed by a traditional walk along the beach
  • 1/3 of people are Muslim – Ramadan: no food or drink can be consumed between sunrise and sunset for a month. Eid-al-Fitr: the feast that follows, vendors sell cassava chips and tamarind juice. People eat plantains, fish, dates, and ugali. They listen to the radio and listen for the announcement of the new moon. When it's announced, children dress up and go from house to house for cake and lemongrass tea
  • On August 8 every year, Farmers and Peasants Day is celebrated: the country pays tribute and expresses appreciation to farmers and peasants for feeding the country and keeping agriculture thriving

Mealtime Customs:
  • Guests are polite and respectful when visiting a Tanzanian home
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Most meals are served seated around a floor mat or low table
  • Prior to the meal, a bowl of water and towel may be passed around to wash their hands
  • Use the right hand, left is unclean
  • Ugali is served in a communal bowl before the main meal
  • Goat, chicken, lamb is served to those who can afford it
  • Greens are popular side dishes often prepared with coconut and peanuts (mchicha) or tomatoes and peanut butter (makubi)
  • Fresh fruit most common after-dinner treat
  • It's acceptable to leave food on a plate at the end of a meal. This reassures the host the guest is satisfied
  • Typically, meals are prepared by mother and daughters on wood or charcoal fire in open courtyard or special kitchen separated from rest of the house
  • Midday meal is often largest: ugali, spinach, kisamuru (cassava leaves), and stew
  • Men and women eat separately in Muslim households, men may not enter the kitchen at all due to taboos

Politics, economics, and nutrition:
  • 40% of the population is classified as undernourished by the World Bank
  • Children under age 5: 31% are underweight and nearly 43% are stunted
  • Life expectancy: 42.3 years mostly due to malnutrition, tropical diseases, and very unsanitary conditions
  • Childhood deficiencies in iodine and Vitamin A (can cause blindness) are the most serious malnourishments

Food in Every Country. Tanzania. Retrieved from

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