26 July 2010

the food blog

There are some people who can take pictures of food and make it look appetizing, and who enjoy posting those pictures on the internet. My friend Lindsey - to this day the only person whose friendship I owe completely to blogging - puts up pictures on facebook that I occasionally feel tempted to use as recipes. Suffice it to say that I'm not one of these food-picture-taking people. I feel about as comfortable taking a picture of my plate at a restaurant as I would feel, say, attending the Republican National Convention. But my faithful readers deserve to know about what I've been eating in Tanzania, so with apologies for my food photography skills, I present, for possibly the only time, Shawn's food blog.

Ugali. We begin our tour with the shapeless blob of starch you see on the plate above. Shapeless blobs of starch are common as staple foods in Africa, and Tanzania's version is known as ugali. Largely flavorless but undeniably filling, ugali serves as a sort of gustatory canvas for sauces, vegetables, and for the fortunate, meat. It comes in two main types, corn and cassava. Both are nutritionally marginal and are what an economist would call "inferior goods," but the cassava-based stuff, pictured above, is especially looked down upon. Which is really too bad, because I find it tastier than its maize-based sibling. If you were at a roadside restaurant in Dar es Salaam and craved the repast pictured above, you'd want to order ugali dagaa, ugali and sardines. The usual formula for a meal name is the name of the starch followed by the name of the protein, with no conjunction in between; thus wali samaki is "rice and fish" and chipsi kuku is "chips [fries] and chicken."

Instant coffee. Coffee lovers, weep. East Africa may produce delicious coffee beans, but from what I can tell, most of them are exported elsewhere. Instead in our office we have the product pictured above, which I drink out of desperation. In my normal life I take my coffee black, just like Dad taught me, but this stuff requires a hefty dose of powdered milk and sugar before I will consider drinking it.

Chipsi mayai. I don't know if there's a term for comfort food in Swahili, but chipsi mayai (the latter word is pronounced like "my eye!") certainly fits that bill. The name means "chips and eggs," and it's really just a mass of precooked french fries glued together with eggs. It reminds me a little of the omelette spaghetti I enjoyed in Cameroon. The specimen above is topped with shredded vegetables, and on the side of the plate you can see a pile of salt and a some pilipili (chili peppers) in case you want a little kick. It's also good with ketchup, though be warned that the Tanzanian stuff is watery compared to good ol' Heinz.

Ndizi nyama. This may be my favorite Tanzanian dish so far. Ndizi nyama means "bananas and meat," and it consists of beef cooked in a tomato-based sauce with bananas. Not plaintains, mind you, but real, honest-to-goodness bananas. I haven't tried making it myself, and I can only assume that they use slightly underripe bananas to prevent the finished product from becoming chunks of beef floating in fruit puree. In the other segments of the plate you can see some greens and maharage (beans), which are common side dishes.

Machungwa. It's not my most photogenic moment, but I wanted to illustrate the proper Swahili technique for eating machungwa (oranges). The oranges here are absolutely delicious, and they're sold in abundance by the side of the road anywhere you go. They are delivered sliced in half, often with the rind partially peeled away in an artistic-looking fashion. Rather than peeling and eating--a procedure I personally don't much like owing to sticky hands and that bitter white layer--people squeeze and slurp the juice and pulp. You probably lose some fiber this way, but it can't possibly be worse than drinking it from a carton.


Dad said...

This blog makes me hungry, but that starch thing looks like Bisquick without the milk or eggs. Sort of like the Alaskan gold miner meal we tasted while river panning for gold on a cruise excursion a number of years ago.

I look forward to the Ndizi nyama. By the way, the banana came to Africa via SE Asia a few thousand years ago, probably a little north of your location. It became an important protein dietary suppliment to yams with much greater caloric and nutritional output per acre (or any land unit) allowing for growth in village populations. The nomadic nature of early Africans coupled with the availability of land precluded the issue of soil degredation affecting crop output. You may recall that the banana plantation farmers in Jamacia talked about that problem during our cruise excursion there.

I will be impressed and surely Nana will be happy if you can remember either event. As for the Chipsi mayai, lets be sure to add the salt and blow away any pretense of dietary control.

BTW, are you not excited I am taking this African history course and able to provide such trivia?

Talk soon, Dad.

Shawn said...

Dad, this is my favorite comment so far this summer. You should feel free to provide Jared Diamond-esque digressions on the introduction of bananas (and other topics) to the African continent anytime you want. I remember the Jamaican plantation but not the Alaskan gold miner meal. Can't wait to bring you to my favorite roadside greasy spoon for ndizi nyama, chipsi mayai, and whatever else you fancy.

Dad said...

Will do. I actually thought of looking at Diamond while writing my post but time constraints are significant. My current research project is the origin of the Hamitic Myth and its influencn on 20th century history writing. Given 7-10 pages double spaced my analyses have to be cursory at best. Next I have a research paper on pre-colonial Trans-Saharan African, then another 7-10 test paper, subject to be given around 8/12. This class ends the day we are scheduled depart for Africa. I should be all fired up for Africa talk by the time we get there.

The funniest part of this Hamitic Myth work is telling Mom that Trevor was right when in HS he came home and announced the bible says Noah was a drunk (was a drunk, got drunk, probably a semantic difference to T at the time).

Hopefully we are able to work everything out and come calling next month.

Anonymous said...

Shawn - I am working in Moshi and I was looking on the web for photos of tradition Tanzania foods as part of a training workshop we are running for diabetics in Kilimanjaro. I am hoping that the dietician will be able to use the photos that you posted on your blog! I hope you are enjoying your time in Tanzania.

mottamanoj said...

i was looking for Chips Mayayi, photos and came to your blog.

nice one..

flicka47 said...

Hi, I came looking for Tanzanican foods too!
Hope you still check out your comments from time to time.
I have a little fun blog myself which I will be linking back to your blog here. We're having a Baboon Pawty this weekend & I'm linking back to blogs about Tanzania so folks can read more about it!

Anastasia said...

Me three! I am doing a series on Tanzania, and your photos would be helpful, so I hope I can use the shot of the ndizi njama. I live in Croatia btw, and njama means "delicious".


Anastasia said...

Permission granted then?

Ruth said...

Jambpo! I really enjoyed this post. I am traveling to Tanzania in Setpember and was looking to see what the food was like and if picky eaters can survive and found your post. Do you have suggestions for picky eaters?

George Odoo said...

BTW, you make me nostalgic. I'm a South Sudanese who lived and studied in "Chuo ki Kuu" many years ago. "Mchicha" (spinach) was my favoite.