Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Word on Tanzanian Food

20 September 2007 Continued

Common to the Tanzanian diet are cooked rice(wali) or rice cooked in coconut milk(ubwabwa), ugali(a stiff corn flour porridge similar to polenta or modeling clay), kidney beans(maharage), tomatoes(nyanya), onions(vitunguu), cabbage(kabichi), peas(njegere), okra(bamia), potatoes(viazi), sweet potatoes(viazi vitamu), local spinach(mchicha), fish(samaki), beef(nyama ya ng’ombe), chicken(nyama ya kuku), goat(nyama ya mbuzi), and on occasion pork(nyama ya nguruwe or kiti moto). Some of the traditional foods include chapati(similar to tortilla, flatbread, or Indian naan), sambusa(triangular pastry filled with meat or potatoes similar to samosas), mandazi(donut-holes), bagia(savory deep-fried snack similar to hushpuppies), and vitumbua(oil-soaked sponge-like rice fritter). Bagia is our favorite, closely followed by sambusa and mandazi. Fortunately or unfortunately, bagia are not available in Kibakwe. However, our friend Mathayo in Mpwapwa has offered to periodically send us bagia via the Kimambo Company bus that travels between Mpwapwa and Kibakwe every day. Also available in our village is a dish called “chipsi mayai” which is essentially french fries and eggs. It's potato wedges fried and then eggs are added and fried till done and you put salt and hot sauce on it and it's delicious! If I'm feeling especially good about the meat in the village that day, I'll order “nyama choma,” too which is literally “meat roasted.” Imagine beef or goat shishkabobs without the skewers or things other than meat. I cannot continue on this trajectory for obvious health reasons, but on occasion it is quite satisfying. I never thought I'd be in a place where I would look forward to fried potatoes and eggs and charred meat.

During homestay, there was always rice, beans, spinach, cabbage, and ugali on the table. On occasion there was beef, fish, okra, sambusa, and chapati. And we always ate with our hands. Dinner would be served when Mama would say, “Karibuni chakula” (You(plural) are welcome to food), and at the end of dinner we would say, “Nimeshiba. Asante kwa chakula, Mama” (I am full. Thank you for the food, Mama). I feel very fortunate that we got such good food during homestay. Many of our friends would complain each week about how they only got rice and beans or rice and mchicha.

Now that we are in the village, we're cooking for ourselves and even though we're using the locally available ingredients, we're not always cooking Tanzanian food. I like to think of it as a type of “fusion” cooking – Tanzanian, American, and California Cuisine – TanzAmCaliCu is what I like to call it. Carla has continued to be a very inventive and resourceful chef and baker even with limited means and resources. Pasta and popcorn, I have discovered here in Tanzania, are my two most crucial comfort foods. Both of these foods are reminders of childhood – pasta because it's what we ate at my house at least once a week if not three times a week, and popcorn because of my memories of my Mom making three to five batches of popcorn at a time in the stir popper, dumping it all into a disposable aluminum roasting tray, salting it, and storing it inside the oven so it would “keep” longer. On those really bad days where I hate being here, and I don't want to speak the language or leave the house, I know that a batch of pasta or popcorn will make everything better.

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