Originating from the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis, our Executive Chef Curtis Smithen has been living in the Serengeti for the past two and a half years. Here, he shares his top insights on Tanzanian cuisine…
Describe typical Tanzanian cuisine.
Tanzanian cuisine is influenced by many different cultures, including Indian, Middle Eastern and several local African flavours. Different cooking techniques all fuse together to form the base of the food culture in Tanzania.
Often in the morning people will drink a cup of chai (tea made with milk and accompanied by 3 spoons of sugar) paired with some type of bread such as chapatti, or mandazi, which is a slightly sweet deep-fried square of dough. Millet porridge is also a popular breakfast option.
Ugali, is a grain starch normally made from cornmeal or sorghum flour. The flour is cooked with water until it becomes a thick paste. This is the main source of starch for most Tanzanians in their daily diet.
Rice is the second common staple throughout Tanzania. Occasionally along the coast you’ll also find pilau rice, or rice that’s been cooked with a variety of spices like cumin, coriander and cardamom.
Along with rice or ugali, beans and a vegetable called mchicha (similar to spinach) are two of the omnipresent side dishes.
The beans are often cooked quite plain, seasoned with just salt and pepper and mixed with tomatoes. The mchicha is normally fried with oil, garlic, onions and tomatoes. Ugali, beans and mchicha are a standard Tanzanian meal, and from there you can add grilled chicken, Nyama Choma (grilled meat, which happens to be my favourite), fried chicken, fried or grilled fish, meat stew or curry.
What influences and styles have you brought to the Serengeti from your travels?
I think my largest contribution to the local cuisine is in terms of contemporary preparation and presentation. I like to combine the traditional local ingredients with more modern aspects, while still making sure I keep a sense of place.
What is your favourite traditional Tanzanian dish and why?
My favourite Tanzanian dish is tilapia served with makande (dry corn and beans) and mchicha (wild spinach). I like this dish because it is rich in flavour, yet light.
What’s your favourite ingredient to use in cooking with and why?
Good, quality sea salt because it really enhances the taste and can be added to almost any dish to give more flavour.
What do you like most about Tanzanian cuisine?
I love the blend of spices that are used and the simplicity in which food is prepared.
How would you recommend a guest best enjoy a dining experience at Boma Grill?
Make the most of the ambiance, try the local dishes that are featured on the menu and partake in the Maasai dance. You will truly feel a sense of place.
Try Chef Smithen’s recipe for the Tanzanian dish pan-seared Tilapia.More posts from February 2015