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Traveling Tanzania – Eating Vegan in Tanzania plus a Basic Recipe for Mchicha

This blog post also is available in German.

Okras from a local market in Tanzania

Finally guys! I know I have promised you this blog post for so long and actually didn`t find the spirit to write it down for you. Why? No idea, because to be honest, I know Tanzania quite a bit as I traveled there for several times already. On top of that my husband was born, raised and lived there. Maybe my fear might be caused by the fact that I`m no travel blogger in the first place. But hey, there`s a first time for everything right? And as seeing foreign places and traveling the world is one of my biggest passion, I thought why not give it a try to write another post about that topic (the first one I wrote was about Munich and I didn`t translate it into English yet). This is going to be a small series of two or three posts about Tanzania, mainly due to the fact, that Tanzania is a huge country, there`s a lot to see and do and all in one post would have been way too much.
Also I felt like visiting East Africa as a vegan needed a whole article by itself. Who agrees? Lot`s of times vegans encounter difficulties when travelling to foreign places. Certain foods they`re used to are not available or we just don`t have any experience in the cuisine of the country we`re visiting. Not to mention the language barrier! Struggles like that might be not that much of a big deal if you`re travelling through Europe, but as soon as you leave the continent, it can sometimes get a little bit overwhelming. Which is why I believe having posts like this one, can help other vegan travelers to find their way around that very country they’re looking for. In today`s case Tanzania. Honestly before I travel I always look out for informative blog posts from fellow vegans, sharing their tips and restaurant recommendations. I also frequently check apps like “vanilla bean” (for free) or  “happy cow” (premium), which show you vegan restaurants and cafés all over the place. Right before I started typing this post I did another search and literally not one single vegan restaurant appeared for Tanzania, but at least some vegetarian ones. And that actually describes the situation vegans have to face when traveling to Tanzania. But let`s start at the beginning…

Tanzania is a beautiful country and whenever you have the chance to travel there, take the opportunity. You won`t regret it! Beautiful nature, lot`s of wildlife, different landscapes from dry to green to coastal, you can see it all and the most friendliest and welcoming people. Now here comes the big BUT, vegan diet is not a thing in Tanzania. Vegetarian isn`t common either, but at least they`re familiar to that eating concept. People from the North, like Arusha, are used to eat a lot of meat and you`ll encounter lot`s of grills and barbecue places. Coastal people, for example in Dar es Salaam or on the island Zanzibar, are mostly serving fish and seafood, due to their proximity to the ocean. Near to lake regions, like lake Victoria, people catch freshwater fish and that`s what they most often offer. For what I experienced cheese isn`t too popular in Tanzania, on contrary milk and eggs are. If you find dishes with cheese it`s mostly paneer in an Indian restaurant or you went to a hotel, which is specialized in European and American tourists and sells burgers.

Now you might get the idea, that you won`t make it as a vegan in Tanzania. But no worries, although people aren`t used to veganism and vegetarian only diets, they most of the time serve a lot of side dishes and garnishes that are totally vegan or vegetarian friendly. We`ll dive into the eating habits of Tanzanian people in a second. Most important tip I have for you is to always explain to your hosts, waiters, etc. what a vegan diet consists of and what you can eat. Usually they know what a vegetarian is, so just explain to them and they`ll understand what you can eat. They probably might not have a vegan meal for you on the menu, but lot`s of times Tanzanian people want you to have the best experience in their country so they will cook something off the menu for you. So don`t worry, just ask for what you like or what they have in the kitchen and they`ll make a great meal for you. But let`s discuss the Tanzanian cuisine and what and where to eat in detail now.

basic recipe for mchicha - a Tanzanian side dish

What kind of dishes you can eat as a vegan in Tanzania

First of all eating habits and what people will serve you depends on the region you`re staying at, as I already explained above.

Breakfast

Tanzanian breakfast used to be simple. If you are staying with locals, they will most likely serve you fresh exotic fruits, like mango, pineapple, papaya, oranges and watermelon, as well as steamed sweet potatoes and cassava. Accompanied by chai, the signature beverage in Tanzania. Sometimes they will bring you french toast, plain toast, hard-boiled or fried eggs. These dishes, most of the time aren`t vegan so be straight at the beginning, telling your hosts that you don`t consume animal products. That`s very important, because Tanzanian consider it as an insult if you refuse food they serve you. If you`re lucky you`ll lay your hands on some rice donuts, called “Vitumbua”, these are perfectly fine for vegans and such a delicious treat. Quite common as well are chapati, a type of flat bread derived from the Indian cuisine. These are totally vegan friendly as well. Chapati are omnipresent so you definitely will have the chance to try these. If you drink chai, what you definitely should, go for a version without milk or milk powder. In some regions people eat “uji”, which basically is porridge prepared from flour, water and some sugar. So if you`re team oatmeal, you might want to try uji.
Most important enjoy all the fresh exotic fruits you can lay hands on. They taste extremely sweet and fresh!

Lunch & Dinner

Tanzanian meals usually get served with either white rice, ugali or chapati. Ugali is a thick paste similar to polenta, which is cooked from cornmeal and water. It`s usually eaten with bare hands, formed into a ball and dipped into mchuzi (sauce). Rice comes along in many different variations due to the Indian and Arabian influence in the Tanzanian cuisine. Mostly the rice gets cooked with a variety of different oriental spices like cardamom, coriander, turmeric, etc. and sometimes even comes in various colors. As a vegan you can fully indulge on ugali, rice and chapati.

Typical side dishes are beans or mchicha, which you`ll find everywhere in Tanzania. Mchicha is a steamed vegetable, similar to spinach. If you`re interested in trying it, then I have a basic mchicha recipe for you with pak choi (check it out below). Quite often Tanzanians also eat sweet bananas or fried plantains with their meals.

The above mentioned dishes then are brought to the table with either fish or meat, in other words they are basically considered side dishes. So the usual Tanzanian dinner / lunch is either ugali, rice or chapati, accompanied by meat or fish, beans and some cooked vegetables – mostly okra, mchicha, green peas or  cassava leaves – sserved in a sauce. Which makes it pretty clear what to do as a vegan, you just order different side dishes, instead of a meal. Most of the time you also have the possibility to order plain fries. One of the most common fast food dishes in Tanzania is “chips mayai”, which literally is a mix between an omelette and a Spanish tortilla. In other words, it`s fries coated with eggs. Chips Mayai is a very popular street food in Tanzania and you`ll find food trucks selling it everywhere. Don`t be afraid to ask the owner of these trucks for a serving of fries, it won`t be a big deal at all.

Snacking

Tanzanians are masters in healthy snacking. Most common are fresh exotic fruits, avocados, bananas, grilled corn on the cob or jackfruit, but also they have a huge variety of fresh juices or coconuts to choose from. Peanuts and nuts are very popular snacks as well and people sell them everywhere on the streets. If you have the chance try freshly roasted peanuts, they are just delicious. You like candy? Then try ubuyu, dyed and coated baobab seeds. Of course there are also lot`s of less healthier, but even more delicious fried snacks, like samosas or bagia. Sadly Tanzanian samosas are rarely vegan, as they`re filled with minced meat. But bagia are solely made out of vegetables and chickpeas, which makes them suitable for vegans.

biryani as a vegan choice in Tanzania

Due to the Indian and Arabian influence – not only in terms of the spices used in Tanzanian food – you`ll encounter lot`s of traditional Indian and Arabian dishes in Tanzania. For example curry, biryani, korma, all sorts of fried rice and pilaf, samosas and kebab. In bigger cities like Dar es Salaam, Indian restaurants can be found everywhere. Which brings us to the next point, where to eat as a vegan.

Where to eat in Tanzania as a vegan?

If you have an open mind and aren`t that complicated with eating simple meals and having the same kind of things all over again, you can literally eat everywhere. Try local restaurants, where you stick to the side dishes and basics mentioned above. Try all kinds of street food, just make sure to ask what it`s made of. Most of the time fries are a good option to go for. But don`t be scared to try out new things! Tanzania has a variety of delicious street food from fruits to rice donuts, everybody will find something.

If you like some sort of variety, try Indian restaurants and food stands. They probably won`t have a completely vegan dish on the menu, but most of them get the concept of veganism. Besides that their meals can be easily transformed into vegan ones. Pilaf, biryani and fried rice are a good choice to go for. Every Indian restaurant has these kind of dishes available.

If you don`t mind spending a little bit more money, you eat in foreign restaurants or in hotels. There you`ll find a card adapted to the likings of tourists and the menu will have international dishes. Lot`s of hotels offer a huge buffet where you can choose from. We visited some of them in Dar es Salaam the last time when we were there and I have to admit, besides paying way more for the food, they didn`t really offer vegan friendly options either. So I ended up getting the same stuff I would have ordered in a local restaurant or at my home with family. So they`re really only worth the high price if you`re planning to stay at their beach or pool.

To summarize, eating vegan in Tanzania is possible, although not very rich in variety. Ask around or get advice from your guide as not everybody in Tanzania speaks fluent English. If you have a kitchen on your disposal, visit local markets. They offer tons of fresh produce and you can cook delicious vegan meals all yourself. Just one thing; don`t expect to find tofu! Couldn`t find it anywhere the last time I was there. If you don`t have the possibility to cook, eat in local or Indian restaurants, ordering the dishes I mentioned above. Always explain very carefully to the locals what you eat and what you don`t. Last but not least, dare to order off the menu and trying out as much new things as you can. And please don`t forget to travel with an open mind!

Before I leave you, there are two things I would like to say to you, first I`m sorry I didn`t post any authentic pictures from Tanzania. As I said I`m not used to be a travel blogger, so most of the time I forget taking pictures when I`m travelling. But I promise I`ll make some pics next time and I`ll add them to the post in future. Next thing, I also added a basic mchicha recipe to this post, just in case you like to try it out yourself. As we don`t have access to the common vegetable mchicha is made of, I went for pak choi. Hope you enjoyed this post and whenever you have questions about travelling in Tanzania feel free to ask.

Read you soon,

Sarah

Pak Choi Mchicha

Course Side Dish
Cuisine East African, Tanzanian
Keyword east african food, tanzanian food, vegan
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 2 servings
Author Velvet & Vinegar

Ingredients

  • 700 g pak choi organic
  • 1/2 tsp salt organic
  • 2 small onions organic
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil organic

Instructions

  1.  Rinse off pak choi and finely chop it.

  2.  Steam for about 10 to 15 minutes. The pac choi should be cooked but still firm in consistency. Season with salt.

  3.  Peel onions and finely chop them. Heat oil in a pan and sauté the onions until they turn transparent.

  4.  Mix onions and pak choi together and serve as a side dish.

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