Bananas in Mto wa Mbu
Our niece, Emily, worked in Africa the summer before last, as part of her master's degree program in geology at Rutgers. Here's what she has to say looking back on that experience. --- Barbara
While I was in Tanzania eating all of these new and interesting things, I decided to start taking pictures of it for my Aunt Barbara, knowing that she would be really interested.
How to describe Tanzanian food…for the most part it’s not that different than anything I’ve had in the US, but the combinations are sometimes quite unusual. Usually because the chef is trying to recreate something that they think we like or expect, but can’t quite do it.
For example, I once had lasagna with cornbread cooked around the edges.
Breakfast many times was toast, bananas, uji, and coffee or tea. Uji is basically a hot breakfast cereal that a consistency a little more watery that oatmeal.
The kind we had was purple, and I have no idea whether or not it is always purple. With a lot of sugar, its actually pretty good, and I learned to like it. Sometimes there would also be mandazi, which is a fried bread, kind of like a donut, and delicious.
Lunch and dinner were very similar and if there were beans (think charro beans) for lunch there would be lentils for dinner and vice versa. This was paired either with spaghetti noodles or ugali.
Ugali looks similar to mashed potatoes, but is made from corn and has a consistency more like couscous. Only very rarely was there meat except for canned tuna because there was no way to refrigerate anything.
There’s also a lot of Indian influence. We had curried potatoes and curried bananas that very much resembled potatoes.
On our way to Olduvai there is a town called Mto wa Mbu that means river of mosquitoes. Besides mosquitoes, they also grow a lot of bananas of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
They grow a red banana that is by far the best banana I’ve ever had. I ate two, and I don’t even like bananas.
In the beginning I was wary of eating anything raw and avoided it, but there is only so long you can eat beans and lentils before caving in. I think I lasted one day.
Surprisingly we had cole slaw a lot, and it actually was very close to Texas cole slaw. Let me tell you, it’s very strange eating a food from home on the edge of the Serengeti where there is no electricity and the water has to be brought in by truck.
There was only one thing I really didn’t like although everyone else seemed to enjoy it. Goat.
Just like everywhere else, Africans like to BBQ. They call it nyama choma, which means roasted meat or something like that.
In Tanzania, the process is slightly different. First you have to haggle for a goat all day because the locals are trying to overcharge you because there are Americans around. Once a price is finally agreed upon, the goat is tied to a tree where you have listen to it bleat hysterically as if it knows what is coming. Then you watch while the goat escapes, and 15 guys go chasing after it into the dark. They bring back a very distressed bleating goat that suddenly stops bleating, and about 45 minutes later a large green bucket appears with freshly butchered goat inside. Then you roast meat over an open fire until it’s cooked completely through, and that’s nyama choma.
The piece I ate in the picture still had a piece of hair on it, but that wasn’t what bothered me. I just don't like the taste of goat. It’s a very strong flavor. I think that experience might have turned some people into a vegetarian. Hah
My favorite thing was probably chapati, which is similar to naan, but better in my opinion. I’m not sure how to cook either one or exactly the difference between the two, but I could not eat enough chapati. It seemed to me like they never cooked enough because we always ran out.