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Tanzanian Food: 7 Must-Try Traditional Dishes of Tanzania

Tanzania is a large country located in East Africa. It is bordered by many countries. To its north are Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. On its East is the Democratic Republic of Congo and on its south borders are Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. It has a population of over 60 million people and is the location of Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.

Whilst Tanzania is located on mainland Africa, there are several small islands which make up the United Republic of Tanzania. The most well-known island is Zanzibar which is tourist destination due its beautiful beaches. Amongst the top exports of Tanzania are gold and cashew nuts. For its own consumption, the country produces wheat, cassava, maize which is important to sustain the large population.

Most Popular Tanzanian Dishes

Like many other large countries, food in Tanzania varies by region. On the East coast is the Indian Ocean. In these areas, the cuisine is rich in seafood. It is also influence by Indian culture, so cuisine is often a fusion of Indian and East African. It’s not unusual to see Tanzanian food paired with Indian breads like chapati or East African versions of dishes that are traditionally Indian. In remote villages, grilled meats are eaten regularly since there is open pasture to raise grazing animals. Villages without adequate landscape to raise animals focus more on the foods that they can grow like bananas.


Ugali is a mixture of ground corn and water. This mixture creates a food that is much like a firm polenta dough that can be picked up with the hands. Ugali is similar to the food known as fufu in other African countries.

To make Ugali, first water is boiled. Cornmeal or flour is poured gradually into the boiling water. The mixture is stirred continuously through the cooking time to prevent lumps from forming. More corn flour is added and stirred until the mixture resembles a slightly balled, stiff porridge.

Ugali does not have a very strong flavor and is a side dish to other dishes. It is often served as a large mass, which diners pull smaller pieces from. The pieces can be rolled into balls which are pressed down in the middle and used to scoop up other food on the plate, much like how spoons are used.


Mtori is a banana and beef stew. The bananas used are green plantains but sometimes yams are also used. While any cut of beef can be used, short ribs are often used.

Mtori originates from the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania where bananas are a major part of the diet. Tanzania grows over 17 varieties of bananas. To prepare Mtori, the beef and bananas are cooked along with seasonings. The contents of the pot are then vigorously pounded until the bananas break down into a thick, porridge like soup.


Urojo, is a variety of vegetables and protein which are entirely covered in a cold, slightly sweet and spicy sauce. Also known as Zanzibar Mix, it is considered as a snack or street food.

Typically, a base of boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and raw vegetables are drenched in a slightly thick sauce. The sauce is made of lime and mango juice, wheat flour and spices.

This dish originates from the Zanzibar regions and has become popular on mainland Tanzania. There are many variations to this dish which has been influenced by personal preferences, family recipes or what is available at the time.

Chips Mayai

Chips Mayai is an egg omelet with potato fries added into it. The omelet has the typical ingredients like chopped sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes and spices or seasonings. While the omelet is cooking and before it is flipped over, cooked fries are added.

Mayai is the Swahili word for egg. It is also called Chips Zege which means cement. Chips Mayai is not exclusively a breakfast food and is served with ketchup, East African tomato sauce or some type of salad.

Nyama Choma

Nyama means meat and Choma means grilled in Swahili. Large cuts of meat which can be beef, chicken or goat is roasted very slowly over coals. When marinated, seasonings like garlic and lemon juice are used.

In some regions of Tanzania, the meat is not marinated. Freshly butchered meat is slow roasted with the only additional ingredient being salt. Nyama Choma has a charred, crispy outer layer and the slow roasting causes the inner meat to become tender and retain its juices.

For the last 10 years, the Nyama Choma Festival in the Dar El Salaam has been boasted as the largest BBQ meat festival in East Africa.

Swahili Biryani

Biryani is a dish of rice mixed with meat, vegetables and spices. Some of the ingredients like the onions and potatoes are fried first before being cooked with the meat and rice. The Swahili version of biryani uses spices popular to the Swahili regions on the East African coast and the cooking method varies.

The Swahili Biryani is considered an easy method. There are fewer steps and less difficulty. For instance, the rice and meat are cooked separately then the meat is served on top of the rice. Traditional Biryani finishes cooking the rice by placing it over the cooking meat, then mixing the two together.

Tanzania has a large number of citizens who are of Indian descent. This is due to several migratory waves, one being the movement of contractual laborers from India into East Africa. The other migratory movement was of businesspersons such as traders. After many decades Indian culinary influences have trickled into Tanzanian cuisine.


Mshikaki are skewers of marinated meat which are cooked slowly over charcoal. The meat can be beef, mutton, goat, chicken or even unusual meats in certain regions. Mshikaki is very flavorful as the meat is marinated overnight giving it a lot of time to absorb the seasonings. These can include ginger, garlic, onions and chilies.

Mshikaki is a popular street food and served with dips or sauces.

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