Let me start off by saying that I love food. I don’t consider myself a picky eater. If I did, then I would not have been able to survive in Eastern Africa for more than two days. Since I arrived more than two weeks ago, I have tried food that I’ve never heard of before. I looked at my study abroad as an opportunity to expand my horizons and try as much local Tanzanian food as I could. I ate a fish with eyes in it for the first time (I still don’t know what type of fish it was) and loved it. Indian cuisine was also a first for me. The spices made my eyes water, but it was delicious. I have already developed a few new favorite foods.
While we were still in Dar es Salaam, we visited this restaurant next to the mall. I wanted to try something new, so I ordered a side dish called ugali. I had heard my professor talking about how much he liked it earlier. The waitress set down the ugali and some shredded chicken with greens in front of me. At that moment, I discovered one of my favorite foods. Ugali has the look of mashed potatoes, but it is has much more texture and character. It was absolutely amazing with the chicken. The only problem was how heavy it was. As I kept stuffing my face, the ugali expanded in my stomach. I thought my fellow students would have to roll me onto the bus. I still don’t know how I stayed awake through the afternoon lecture about Tanzania’s rich biodiversity.
My absolute favorite food would have to be samosas. They are little balls of heaven that I get occasionally for breakfast. Beef is cooked with onions then wrapped in a type of dough and fried in oil. They taste like African tacos, if that makes sense. And I love tacos. I’m so addicted to somasas that I’m trying to find a way to bring some with me to Pennsylvania.
The best thing about the food in Tanzania is its natural taste. There is no extra processed sugar or salt in any of the dishes I’ve had. Everything is grown organically and made fresh. I think I was having sugar withdrawal for the first week of my program, but now I have more energy than I have in a long time. I still can’t get over how much better the fruit is here than in the States. And there’s some type of hot sauce with every meal. These sauces make Frank’s Red Hot taste like water, but they have so much flavor after you get over the heat. I could probably eat hot sauce as a meal.
Now that I’m in the Udzungwa National Park Ecological Monitoring Center, all of my meals are eaten onsite right across from the dormitory style housing. The only thing I like more than the food are the ladies who prepare it. They check up on the students if one of us isn’t feeling well. They teach us a few words in Kiswahili every day. And I could listen to them sing all day.
Breakfast is at 7:30 every morning. It usually consists of bread with jam or Nutella and coffee. Sometimes we get a hard boiled egg for some extra protein. There is usually some papaya, watermelon, or avocado to go with the bread and a smoothie to wash it down with. We have a vegetarian lunch at 1 pm consisting of rice or pasta, lentils, and greens. I find that I’m filled without meat, which I never thought would happen. Dinner is at 6:30 pm, and it is the highlight of my day. We eat fish or chicken, a starch, and more greens. I think I’ve had about 60 different types of greens at this point, but they’re all good. In fact, the greens remind me of the collards that my grandma occasionally makes. I sometimes think about how amazing is that some of African culture still exists in the black community of the United States today. I’m sure my grandma would like these greens too.
The best part about all the food is that all the students and our two faculty members eat together at every meal. We make jokes, we have serious discussions, and sometimes we just enjoy each other’s company in silence. As a busy college student, most of my meals are junk food that I eat in a rush before I get to class. Very rarely will I sit down with someone else to share a healthy meal. It’s so nice to be able to sit with students that share the same experiences and interests as I do and just relax. With 9 credits in 6 weeks, the days can get pretty stressful at times.
This experience has inspired me to start making time to eat better when I get to school in the fall. I’m already thinking about making my boyfriend and friends eat with me more often. Food is an essential part of Tanzanian culture, and now it is a central part of mine.