taste tanzania

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by the time we hit tanzania, the doldrums of eating had begun to sink in.  it takes a lot for me to get tired of food because i can usually find something interesting in anything i’m eating.  whether it be the cooking method, the ingredient, combination of flavors….i like food, but i do need some variety in my life!  previous to tanzania, we had been eating the same meal at least once a day, if not two or three times.  the staples in most east african countries consist of over stewed meat, greens cooked until mush, and a thick set porridge made of either maize or cassava (ugali, nsima, pap or sadsa are the names, depending on which country you’re in!).  in the beginning of the trip, i was excited to see cassava, considering in american cuisine we don’t make much use of this route vegetable.  but after many countries of eating this stiff mound of starch, i was ready for a change.

tanzania couldn’t have seemed more exciting.  on day one, irena and i dropped our backpacks in a ywca and hit the streets looking for markets. dar es salaam is a vibrant, bustling city and the markets are a great place to see and taste the diversity that makes up tanzania’s capital.  before we even got to the central market, irena and i stopped for a cool peeled cucumber sprinkled with chili and salt.  we needed a little something to appease our hungry tummies.  and then we had a perfectly ripe mango dusted in chili.  and then some sugar cane. sometimes i need to be reeled in, but irena’s not going to do that because she likes to eat just as much as i do!

we found our way to a little restaurant stall that had a very ’50s era vibe about it… in an african kind of way.  we took a seat at one of the four tables, ordered our food, and people watched. we ate chicken smothered in a spicy sauce, a side of soft sweet plantains and slurped pineapple fantaa, which are incredibly refreshing in the midday sun.  a perfect first meal on our first day in tanzania.

we continued on through the streets and wound our way through food vendors, fabric stalls and masai jewelers in kariakoo market.  we bought baggies of plums and marveled at the feel of the city. we poked around the indoor markets and inhaled the spiced air, and i even contemplated buying a live chicken (i’ve always wanted to prepare an animal from start to finish).  dar is alive, in the same way that cities like new york and bangkok feel alive.  there is an energy to the people and the pace…and the diversity of food really truly made us giddy! aside from having my camera snatched at twice that day (2 lame attempts), i found myself smiling and repeating ‘mambo’ (hello) and  ‘hakuna matata’ to everyone that greeted us on the street (yes, it’s a real saying.  and you can’t help but do a little jig to the song every time you say it!).

irena had to fly down to south africa to see a dr. for her worsening eye infection.  i made for the tropical island of zanzibar, not only because it’s a spice island, but because who doesn’t want to say they’ve been to zanzibar??  the name in itself is just fun!  but because i am me, and i am cheap (call it frugal), i signed up to take the ferry with all the locals.  “it’s only a 3 hour boat ride”, i was assured.  so then why would i spend double the cost on a speed boat that supposedly took only 1/2 an hour less?  because sometimes in africa people like to tell you something that sounds nicer than what the reality is.  3 hours was actually 8 hours.  i arrived in zanzibar slightly peeved and stomped past all the taxi drivers who kept telling me how far of a walk i had in front of me.  i didn’t want to hear it, so i ignored all offerings of help.

i wound my way through the ancient city of stone town, and even though it was night by then, i could see that this was a beautiful town.  arabic influenced architecture, mosques as much a part of their town as fast food is integrated into the midwest (meaning everywhere!), and the meuzzin call to prayer reminds that you that you’re far away from familiar lands.  and it’s beautiful.

zanzibar is meant for the senses.  and considering i use all of my senses for my sensory centric job (touch the fish to see if it’s cooked, taste for seasoning, look for a perfect golden sear, listen for the chef to call a ticket…try not to burn yourself), zanzibar delivers an experiences for the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

before i even found my way to my hostel (which i definitely should have taken the taxi drivers’ offer of help because it’s like a maze in stone town!), i stopped for some tandoori chicken at one shop, and then a thick drink of date,nut and  cardamom at another shop.  it was called sapoja (im not sure if he really understood me…or i understood him, but i think that’s the name of the drink). if you’re heading away from the port towards flamingo guest house, the shop is on your right hand side and open til late in the evenings.  get a drink.  they are so rich and sweet and you get to sit on the side of the street and watch people stroll by.

and because zanzibar is a spice island, i felt it was only natural to take a spice tour.  we drove out to a lush expanse of land and walked through a plantation full of cacao, vanilla, pepper and cloves.  they grew durian, jackfruit and coconuts.  the guides ran up the tree trunks and fetched coconuts for us to sip on as we walked through the greens and sampled the varying stages of all the spices.  and then after my olfactory and gustatory senses had been filled, i went to a white sand beach with crystal turquoise waters and had thoughts of how much i missed my 60 hour work weeks and the snow back home in new york… 😉

how much? $1= 1,000 Tsh

take daladalas around dar es salaam.  they’re cheap and easy to hop on and off:  300-500 Tsh

sleep at the ywca: 8,000-10,000 Tsh for a single bed.  very clean and a simple breakfast is included in the price

2 bras and 2 undies purchased in kariakoo market: 2,000 Tsh ( i barely bargained too…stock up on skivvies while in dar!)

kilimanjaro, serengeti, and safari beers: 1100-1400 Tsh in a shop, or about 3000 Tsh in a restaurant (for a 500 ml beer)

flamingo guest house in stone town zanzibar: i paid around $7, which i bargained down from $10 (10,000 Tsh), and a pretty delicious breakfast is included in the price.  served on the rooftop which overlooks the town.  that alone makes the guesthouse worthwhile.

in arusha, northern tanzania, bargain for a safari.  i spent about $275 for a 3 day trip (much much less than people paid who bought through a tour operator from home).  that included 3 full days of driving through the ngorongoro crater, all meals, transportation, guide and food.  it was my biggest expenditure while in africa, but well worth it!

khan’s bbq on mosque street in arusha.  auto shop by day, bbq hub by night.  eat spicy grilled chicken accompanied by a slew of salads and wash everything down with a frozen passion fruit drink. i went every night while in arusha. it’s that perfect. 5,000 Tsh

did you know freddie mercury from the band queens was born in zanzibar?  go to the bar, aptly named freddie mercury, for a sunset cocktail with all the other travelers who are checking out a little americana in africa

because of the large south asian population in tanzania, the indian food is quite excellent.  see what i mean about tanzania being exciting??

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sean Baello says:

    love reading your travels claire!

    1. thanks sean :)!!! i hope to be working on little films soon too that i can put up on here!

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