Food and drink in Tanzania
In this page we look at the food that the average Tanzanian typically eats – and what you’ll be eating too. We also look at Tanzanian drinks, too, including a lengthy study on what beer is best for celebrating your Kilimanjaro climb.
Note that this page deals with the food and drink that you’ll be consuming when you’re not on the mountain. Please follow these links if you want to find out about food on Kilimanjaro and drink on Kilimanjaro.
An in-depth look at Tanzanian food is, of course, beyond the scope of this website. The Tanzanians have developed their cuisine over many millennia, and many of the ingredients may be unfamiliar to those of us in Europe and North America. The country is also big, so when you’re talking about the food of Tanzania, you are of course talking about several different cuisines, each with their own specialities. A good website that includes a section on Tanzanian dishes is Food by Country.
So all we’ve done here is pick out two dishes that you will probably come across if you venture out from your hotel.
The first is nyama choma. If there’s one dish that could be described as quintessentially Tanzanian, indeed East African, it would be nyama choma. This is just plain and simple grilled meat. If the restaurant is any good they’ll add some sauces, which are often curry and usually fiery.
To accompany your meat and the whole lot will usually come with rice, chips, plantains or the ubiquitous ugali. This is a stodgy cornmeal or cassava mush. Usually served in a single cricket-ball sized lump that you can pick up with your fork in one go, ugali has the consistency of plasticine and gives the impression of being not so much cooked as congealed.
It’s hard to hate ugali, simply because it’s so bland. It really does taste of very little indeed. Nevertheless, it does perform a vital role as a plate-filler. It also acts as a soothing balm when eating some of the country’s more thermogenic curries.
You probably won’t be served ugali on the mountain unless you specifically request it. But you will still see it on Kili, as all the crews eat little else. And you’ll almost definitely see people eating it if you spend any time out of your hotel.
The food of the dominant tribe of the Kilimanjaro region, the Chagga, is dominated by bananas. This is not surprising, because you’ll see bananas growing all over the lower slopes of the mountain. The fruit, together with its cousin the plantain, crop up in dishes such as mchemsho, a kind of banana and meat stew.
What other kind of Tanzanian food is there?
Surprisingly, perhaps, for most of your time on your trip it’s likely that you won’t actually be eating Tanzanian food. Fast food – burgers, pizzas etc – are as popular in East Africa as they are everywhere elsewhere on this planet. There’s plenty of international cuisines too, including Chinese, and some great Indian restaurants. (Tanzania has a significant Indian population and Indian cuisine is very popular throughout the region.) Indeed, the cuisine at a top-notch Indian restaurant in Tanzania is amongst the best served outside Britain or India. Arusha can even boast its own Korean restaurant too.
The cafes and coffee houses of Moshi and Arusha are lovely places to hang out and while away an hour or two. Whether escaping from the heat or the noise of the outside world, they are little havens of peace, safety and tranquillity. Some of the better ones may also include on its menu an example of authentic Tanzanian food as well as more familiar, Western dishes.
Drinking in Tanzania
The usual world-brand soft drinks are on sale in Tanzania. Juices are widely available and pretty cheap, though be warned: a lot of upset stomachs are caused by insanitary juice stalls. Far safer, coconuts are ubiquitous on the coast and Zanzibar.
Alcoholic drinks include a range of beers including the tasty Serengeti (our favourite), Safari and Kilimanjaro from Tanzania, Tusker from Kenya, and the Chagga home-brew mbege, or banana beer. While you may well be offered some mbege, be warned. As Tanzanian drinks go, it’s very strong, and seldom hygienic.
- The people are lovely there, of course.
- There’s lots more to do after you’ve finished your Kilimanjaro trek, such as heading off on safari to the Serengeti or Ngorongoro, or simply kick back and build sandcastles on Zanzibar.
- It’s also one of the more peaceful parts of the region, at least when one compares it to its neighbours Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya – all of which have suffered some sort of civil strife to a greater or lesser extent over the past few decades.
But there is one more reason which, though often overlooked, is more valuable than all of the above for most trekkers – at least at that point when they finish their climb. I am talking, of course, about their beer.
Tanzania has a fantastic brewing industry and many a decent beer emanates from the country that would put other, more established beer-producing nations to shame. It makes drinking in Tanzania both an absolute pleasure, and a real experience.
The question is, therefore, what beer is best to celebrate a successful assault on Africa’s highest mountain? Well, if it’s an appropriately named beer that you’re after, there is of course only one answer… Kilimanjaro Lager – it is the bestselling beer in the country.
The only problem is, while I love the label, and have a Kilimanjaro beer tray in my home (where it’s one of my prized possessions). I have to say I find the stuff itself a little, well, tasteless. True, it’s fizzy, cold and alcoholic; which, after seven days on the mountain, is probably all you want from your first pint. But it is, to this writer’s taste at least, a little bland.
Thankfully, there are several rivals to the ‘Kilimanjaro Crown’. One beer that I do enjoy is Serengeti, a deeper, tastier brew, slightly stronger at 4.8%, made by Serengeti Breweries, part of the Dar-based East African breweries. It’s delicious and, once again, the label on the bottle is a treat, a leopard with its back to the drinker on a black background, with a leopard-print frame. Reviewers on one beer website talk continuously about the “grassy flavour of Serengeti” – as if they were drinking the plains themselves. But I have to say this author’s palette isn’t sensitive enough to discern this.
However, even this pales into comparison with Ndovu Beer, my favourite Tanzanian brew, made with crystal malt and just delicious. The name, incidentally, means elephant, hence the picture of a tusker on the label (though I don’t think elephants appear anywhere in the ingredients).
This is not the end of the story, however, for while Ndovu might be the best flavour, can it really be considered the most appropriate beer for a post-trek party when elephants are rather rare on the mountain? The winner, therefore, of the best beer for after your Kilimanjari climb goes to Kibo Gold. This is another from the Tanzanian Breweries stable – and the perfect compromise between taste (because it is bloody delicious) and of course, suitability for Kili trekkers. The only problem is finding the stuff. It’s pretty hard to track down though the Indo-Italiano in Moshi had some when I was there last. Ask them to keep some in the fridge for you for when you return from your expedition. As drinks in Tanzania for after your trek go, it can’t be beaten.