Food in Tanzania - essential dishes to try, and foods to avoid

Your Tanzania bucket list probably has the icons like the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro and the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar… But what about the food in Tanzania? It’s all about big flavours and hearty comfort food here, with amazing spices, heartwarming stews and perfectly barbecued meat. We dive into the delicious world of Tanzanian cuisine, including the best dishes to try, and some tips to stay well on your trip to Tanzania.

Best dishes to try in Tanzania

Zanzibar pizza

Despite the name, this classic Zanzibar dish doesn’t have much in common with traditional Italian pizza. It’s just as tasty though and you’ll find it sold by street vendors all over Zanzibar.

The locals make it with a thin sheet of dough filled with meat, onions, peppers, raw egg and sometimes mayonnaise and cheese. It’s then wrapped up and fried in a pan of ghee or oil until it’s a golden, crispy pocket of deliciousness. You can even get sweet versions like chocolate, bananas, peanut butter and mangoes. Warning: Zanzibar pizza is utterly addictive and you’ll want to eat them every day!

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Biryani & Pilau

These popular Indian-inspired rice dishes were originally brought to East Africa by Indian migrant workers. They’ve since been given a Swahili twist, and you’ll taste some of the best biryani and pilau of your life in Tanzania and Zanzibar.

While biryani is made with a tender meat and potato stew cooked in a spiced gravy with fragrant rice, pilau is usually a one-pot rice dish flavoured with meat, stock, vegetables and spices. It’s the incredible array of spices that really makes the amazing flavour of biryani and pilau, and you’ll find your dishes generously spiced with cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves and pepper. 

Ugali

Ugali is undoubtedly the most common foods in Tanzania and you’ll find it served with almost every meal. Made from boiled cornmeal paste, this doughy porridge-like dish is the best thing to mop up sauces and dip into soups and curries.

The best way to eat it is by rolling a piece into a ball, making an indentation with your thumb, and using it as an edible spoon! The taste and texture can be a little odd at first but you’ll soon look forward to eating a hearty slab of ugali with every meal.

Taste traditional food in Tanzania

You can try ugali and other traditional Tanzanian dishes on an incredible adventure to the village of Mto wa Umbu with Trafalgar. You’ll meet the locals and take a walking tour through the village, strolling by farmlands, markets and schools, and soaking up the community spirit. You’ll even get to learn how they make the local banana beer (and try some yourself!), before enjoying a delicious home-cooked lunch prepared by the local ladies.

Learn how they make each dish and hear stories about village life, all while savouring this wonderful meal. Best of all, your visit to the village will Make a Difference and contribute to the livelihood of these families. 

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Chipsi maya

Swahili for “chips and eggs”, chipsi mayai is one of the most beloved street foods in Tanzania. It’s made with hand-cut potatoes, peeled and fried until crispy and golden, then mixed with eggs and cooked to make a kind of omelette.

It can also be mixed with peppers and onions, and it’s usually served with a tangy kachumbari of tomatoes, onions and chillies. Do as the locals do, and top it off with a squirt of ketchup and eat it with a toothpick. 

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Mshikaki

It doesn’t get more Tanzanian than mshikaki, the skewered pieces of marinated meat (usually beef, goat or mutton) slowly cooked over hot open coals. It’s best to try it in the evening when street vendors serve it up fresh after a few hours of slow roasting. Be sure to order a few at a time, because you won’t be able to stop at just one of these tangy, smoky meat skewers.

Makai paka

Makai paka, or corn cobs in coconut curry, is one of the most popular dishes in Tanzania. This tasty dish uses corn, one of the most common crops grown in East Africa, and cooks it in spiced coconut milk. The locals usually serve it over a fragrant bed of rice, for the perfect dish to eat on a lovely summer’s day. 

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Ndizi na nyama

This beloved Tanzanian dish is made using plantain bananas (ndizi) and meat (nyama), cooked in a stew of curry powder, cayenne pepper, tomatoes, onions, tomato paste and coconut milk. It’s usually dished up with steamed rice or ugali. 

It’s a Tanzanian tradition to make ndizi na nyama for new mothers, as the dish is believed to help mothers regain their strength after labour. So if you’re feeling a little weary after your travels, this is the perfect nourishing dish to eat.

Mchuzi wa samaki

Tanzania and Zanzibar are famed for their delicious seafood, and one of the best dishes is mchuzi wa samaki. The locals make this traditional Swahili dish with white fish cooked with curry powder, garlic, onions, tomatoes and lemon juice. It’s then served over a bed of fluffy steamed rice, the perfect side dish to the spicy sauce. 

Nyama choma

Nyama choma means “burned meat” and it’s essentially a very delicious barbecue. The locals will set up a grill over hot coals, then leave the meat (usually goat) to grill slowly, giving it an amazing smoky flavour. Since the meat takes a while to cook, you can join the locals sitting around the grill, chatting and enjoying a few drinks before the nyama choma is ready. 

Vitumbua

You can’t go to Tanzania without trying their vitumbua! These doughnut-like treats are a beloved dish in East Africa. In Tanzania, the locals make them with rice flour and fry them in hot oil until fluffy, then dust them with icing sugar or cinnamon, or serve with fruit-flavoured dips.

While the locals love to eat vitumbua with a masala chai for breakfast, you can eat them for lunch, dessert or even as a late-night snack. Yum!

What not to eat in Tanzania

basket of oranges and pineapples food in Tanzania

There are a few things you should avoid eating and drinking in Tanzania to avoid getting sick while travelling:

  • Tap water and ice: Tap water is not safe to drink for foreigners. It’s often contaminated with bacterias that can make you very sick. The same goes for ice, as it’s often made with frozen tap water. Stick to bottled water, or bring a reusable water bottle to refill from filtered water stations at hotels and lodges.
  • Peeled fruit: It’s best to only go for fruit with the peel still on like oranges and bananas. Peeled fruit has often been exposed to harmful bacterias and chemicals. The same rule applies to fruit juices and salads as the raw vegetables are often not washed properly or washed in contaminated tap water.
  • Meat: If you want to taste the famous Tanzanian nyama choma, ask your Trafalgar guide for the best places to try it. You want to be sure that the meat is fresh and properly cooked, as raw meat is prone to harmful bacteria.
  • Street food: Always ask your guide for recommendations on where to try the best Tanzania street food. Many street food stalls are a breeding ground for bacteria or use old reheated oil to cook the food.

Tips for staying well in Tanzania

meat skewers on a smoky grill food in Tanzania

Here are a few quick tips to help you avoid getting sick in Tanzania:

  • Always wash your hands and use hand sanitiser too – before and after eating, using the bathroom, and after handling money. And keep your hands away from your face!
  • Only eat at popular food locations in Tanzania and ask your Trafalgar guide for the best recommendations.
  • Wipe down plates, cups and cutlery with antibacterial wipes before using them.
  • Use your own stainless steel straw or bring your own travel cutlery that you can sanitise after each use.
  • Try to ease into eating food in Tanzania, as it can take a while to get used to the heavy spices.

What to pack to stay well in Tanzania

hands applying sanitiser from a bottle
  • Your own reusable water bottle and electrolyte powder sachets or tablets. Staying hydrated is crucial to your wellbeing, especially in the hot weather of Tanzania.
  • Saline nose spray to keep your nasal passages moist as this is so important to avoid germs and bacteria. It also helps to manage the nose-drying dust in the bushland of Tanzania.
  • Some safe snacks from home like muesli bars. It will help you ease into eating Tanzanian food, and they’re great for long journeys or when you’re feeling queasy.
  • Always consult your doctor about extra precautions you can take before travelling to Tanzania. They may recommend taking probiotic pills to help protect your stomach. You can also bring some pain relief medication, gastro stoppers, and anti-nausea medication.

Final tip

Trust your gut and try not to be paranoid about trying new foods. If you do get sick, you’ll have your amazing Trafalgar team ready to assist you in any way you need. The best thing to do is relax and get ready to dive into the delicious foodie experiences of Tanzania!

Have you ever tried Tanzanian cuisine? What are your favourite foods to eat in Tanzania? Let us know in the comments below! 

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