What you NEED to know about Tanzanian cuisine

I have helped cook with my family a few times. I like to think I can be useful but the method of cooking is very different. Our cooking instruments include coal on a metal stove/container that is set on the ground. This moves to different places depending on the weather. Our family also has a gas stove but it costs a lot of money so usually we only use the coal. Either way cooking time is a LOT longer here.

Often, we also have to shred coconut as we use the coconut oil to cook the food. The family buys in whole coconuts and we crack them on the cement foundation outside the house. It usually splits into perfect two halves. We don’t use the coconut juice from the inside of the coconut. In order to shred the coconut from the inside we use a contraption that has a sharp, rounded, jagged metal end attached to two wooden boards that you can unfold so you can sit on it (see pictures below).  We then have to grind the coconut against the sharp metal.

Here is a close up of the jagged metal piece used to shred the coconut. It works like a gem, and gives me renowned appreciation of coconut.

We end up with about 2 cups of shredded coconut from just one coconut! I wasn’t sure what we were doing with the coconut the first time I helped to shred it. We poured some boiling hot water onto the shredded coconut, and started swirling the soupy mixture. When there was enough water in the bowl, we squeezed the mixture with our hands in order to get the water and coconut to mix. This transfers the oil from the shredded coconut to the water. We then pour the soupy mixture onto a fine strainer and press down on the coconut to get all of the liquid out of it. We repeat this process twice with the shredded coconut to get all of the oil out of it. The oil is them used to cook the food. We use coconut oil especially when we cook Chaga food, which is the tribe of our mama which it the tribe of our mama and baba (dad).

In order to shred the coconut you sit on top of the wooden boards. On the right is the metal piece where we scrap the halved coconut on to shred it.

I asked what they do with the shredded coconut next. They replied that they gave it to the chickens or just threw it out! I was sooooo surprised! Shredded coconut is so expensive in the western world. I asked if they’d ever made chocolate macaroons before, and they said no. by this point it was seven o’clock at night, but the kids insisted that I tried to make some for them that night, before dinner as it was not finished cooking anyways.

This is my host sister demonstrating how to sit on the seat and use the tool!

We didn’t have cocoa powder, or oatmeal, so I tried to use the ingredients we had to make a macaroon mixture. I added some salt, flour, sunflower oil, and coarse white sugar. I wasn’t completely satisfied with this so I decided to go to a nearby store that was still open to buy a bar of chocolate. We broke this up and added it to the mixture. That was more like it! I then put the pot over top of the hot coal my host brothers and sisters watched on. The sugar and chocolate melted surprisingly fast when one of my young host brothers added more coal. I then showed them how to drop the hot mixture onto a flat metal tray so they could cool down.

People in Tanzania aren’t used to eating sweet things. Probably the sweetest thing consumed in the day is a bottle of pop or a tea with added sugar. I still got rave reviews from the non-set macaroons! I was glad they enjoyed them. Also, it was comforting to eat something somewhat familiar to me. I think we may be making these in the near future again.

Power outage dinners are the best, I’ve experienced about two so far. We light lanterns which creates a warm and inviting ambience!

-Mirjam Groen, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2012

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