“Any fool can suffer in the bush.” THE TANZANIAN FARE (and last) EDITION
Every time we find ourselves sitting around the campfire, enjoying the most scrumptious Acacia wood-smoked chicken, impeccably seasoned stewed veggies, coal-cooked sweet potatoes, and glorious mounds of ugali or rice, Brian rattles off the phrase, “Any fool can suffer in the bush.”
He heard one of the professors he works with say it once, and it’s so true. With just a little bit of effort (plus a couple of expert Maasai campfire chefs), cooking in the bush can be downright exquisite.
This series of posts will feature recipes we’ve tried, interesting foods we’ve encountered, and any other food-related experiences we’ve had and deem noteworthy. Fellow foodies, stay tuned! And the rest of you, we will soon return to our regularly scheduled blogging.
THE TANZANIAN FARE EDITION (get yourself a snack, this is a long one…)
One of the best parts about visiting a totally different culture is experiencing their totally different cuisine. Below are some of the highlights of our LOCAL gastronomic adventures.
- Mkate na mayai
These somewhat unexciting fried morsels resemble donuts more in the way they are made than in their taste. Despite the wide availability of these not-so-sweet crispy dough balls at many dukas in the a.m., I probably only consumed about 1 1/2 the whole time I was there.
- Chai na chipati na mtori
Chai (tea) is one of the most common drinks around and is usually offered in two varieties: ya rangi (black tea, typically without milk and kind of gingery) and masala (milky and with an assortment of spices). Chipati is one of the main starch options at any meal of the day. Think of it as a thick, slightly sweet, oily tortilla. And mtori, one of my personal favorites, is a savory, banana-based soup with big, fatty chucks of beef throughout. YUM!
- Wali Roasti
Okay, this might be one of the meals I miss most. Roasti, is essentially a chunky meaty sauce (typically goat or beef) that goes with your favorite starch. I usually chose wali (rice), while Brian was a half wali/half chipati kind of guy. It all came with a mixture of cooked veggies: a cabbage and carrot combo, sometimes green beans, and cooked spinach. If we were lucky, we also received a serving of maharage (beans) on the side. Of course all this was usually downed with a nice soda baridi of choice.
- Chipsi mayai
I had heard of this lunchtime favorite for a long time, but it wasn’t until the last month of our time in Arusha that I actually tasted it. Not unlike something you’d find at a greasy spoon diner in the states, this little dish is really just french fries, sometimes meat, and scrambled eggs. Sio mbaya (not bad).
- Nyama choma
“Nyama choma” literally just means “grilled meat,” so as you can probably guess, it’s a pretty wide-ranging option. The nyama usually refers to beef or goat, but also popular is kuku (chicken) choma, samaki (fish), and kiti moto* (pork). Of course, it is usually accompanied by some kind of starch in the form of wali, chipati, chipsi, ugali (like thick grits), and/or ndizi (fired plantains).
IN THE BUSH
Throughout all of these food-related posts, the intro about the saying “Any fool can suffer int he bush” has remained the same, and really is so true. I experienced some of the best food of my life while camping in the plains of Simanjiro.
- Acacia wood-smoked chicken
Literally Acacia, like specifically two distinct species of Acacia were what we scavenged the wilderness for to cook our food out there. The wood is distinctively hard, which makes for long-lasting, very hot coals–the better to slow cook your meat with, my dear. As for the chicken, it was simply a mixture of legs and thighs, skin on and salted, and placed in a folding cage over the coals. Brian and I are determined to recreate this meal to the best of our abilities, perhaps using applewood. We’ll see.
The Maasai guys were always in charge of the meat, so every first night at camp Brian and I were responsible for preparing the veggies, which ultimately earned Brian the inherited (shout out to Tim Baird!) nickname “Bwana Mbogs.” So simple, yet very delicious accoutrement to our meal, the mboga consisted of chopped up tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, carrots, green beans, sometimes cauliflower and cabbage, lots of salt and various spices, a glug of oil all in a big covered pot, cooked on the coals. So good.
Thanks to our wonderful CSA in Carrboro, N.C., I had tasted a fair amount of goat before, but I while in the bush, I think I ate more than I probably ever will again. In case you’ve never tasted goat, the best way I can describe is… to first ask you if you have ever SMELLED a goat, because in my opinion, that’s exactly what it tastes like. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, and I’m sure if you’re eating younger, less pungent specimens, it might even resemble something like lamb or venison, but whatever we were eating was very, well, goaty. At least once each trip, we would head to a Maasai market in the morning to procure a freshly processed leg and ribs of goat. And boy was it fresh. Along side these choice cuts often sat the severed head. As Gabriel or Isaya negotiated the price, dogs ran around begging for butchered scraps, carcasses hung, and other sheep and goats stood by seemingly unfazed by the carnage around them, eating their last few bites of grass.
If Zanzibar is known for a food, it’s probably their seafood… and maybe mostly just because it’s an island. In Stonetown, a popular tourist hotspot is the Forodhani Gardens, where one can find about 50 tables lined up, all with an astounding selection of fresh seafood. That all sounds great right? Well, I had a hard time imagining how offering this vast amount of seafood every single night could possibly be sustainable. In fact while chatting with a man we met on the beach, he told us that some people are going to scary lengths, like poisoning fish, to cope with the difficulties of catching in the midst of ever-depleting fish populations. Environmental concerns aside, we did partake in some octopus, king fish, squid, clam, and lobster eating. When in Rome, right? :/
I don’t think I could ever get tired of fresh coconut, just sayin’. While walking around the bustling streets of Stonetown, Brian and I stopped by a guy and his cart for some dafu (young coconut). We ordered one, the guy proceeded to chop off the top with his machete, pulling the blade TOWARD him, mind you, then we sipped it’s sweetness and scooped out the pulp with our grimy fingers.
- Street-side breads
Come lunchtime in Stonetown, mamas emerge along the road with their oil drum grills and friers, where they offer fresh chipati, starchy coconut breads, and mandazi-like goodies. This street food sustained us as we explored the windy streets of the historic-rich port town.
During our last hour in Zanzibar, we took the plunge and decided to try the local favorite. While waiting for a taxi, we walked up to a small stand with a guy serving a thick broth with a mixture of meat and dumplings of some sort, we think it was called ”urojo.” Looking a bit surprised, but with a welcoming demeanor, the guy took a (previously used) bowl from a bucket of (“don’t drink the local…”) water, and scooped some luke warm (“make sure it’s been boiled”) soup into it for each of us. Despite the many red flags being raised in our minds, we slurped up the tasty liquid, and to our great amazement and delight digested it all unaffected… at least so far.
*“Kiti moto,” the word for “pork,” literally means “hot chair.” One theory behind this amusing translation is that it has something to do with the fact that despite pork consumption being forbidden for many Muslims, some often find themselves enjoying it’s succulence in public, but on high alert and ready to sprint from their chairs at any moment.