Food for thought

First, the good and the bad of eating in Tanzania:

Jack fruit at the Stone Town market.

The fruit (good): Fresh mangoes, papayas, bananas (often only eight or 10 centimetres long — the perfect size for snacking), pineapples, oranges (although greener and more sour than we’re used to) were available at nearly every meal on and off the mountain in Tanzania. Zanzibar also offered Jack fruit (mild, fragrant and tasty), passion fruit, lychee, durian and coconut. All delicious.

Fish at the Stone Town market.

The fish (good): We ate fresh fish at nearly every meal in Zanzibar (as well as several times in Moshi): sashimi, ceviche, smoked red snapper, king fish in green curry, tuna with coconut sauce.

The pancakes (good):  A regular for breakfast in Moshi and on Kilimanjaro, these were thin, slightly sweet and usually rolled or folded in quarters. The Tanzanians often eat them with honey (maple syrup not being available) but we happily ate them plain.

Beef sausages (bad): These were actually skinny little beef wieners that were often served for breakfast at Springlands and once mixed with onions and peppers and served on pasta during the climb.

Sorghum porridge (bad): Sorghum, FYI, is a heat and drought tolerant grain commonly grown in developing countries in Africa, Central America and South Asia and used for food, fodder and the production of alcoholic beverages. The porridge, at least as we “enjoyed” it, was rather thin, tasted slightly nutty and sweet and has a grayish purple colour. It was warm and full of carbs (which we needed for the climb), but really don’t care to see another bowl of the stuff, ever.

On our first afternoon at the Moivaro Lodge, we happened into conversation with two “local” chefs. Jerome, an Italian chef who has worked around the world, runs the kitchen at Moivaro. Axel, a Belgian man who came to Tanzania for a three-week visit five years previously (and stayed), operates a high-end restaurant and guesthouse in Arusha. We were all sitting on the verandah at the lodge sipping beer, David and I considering plans for the next couple of days and Jerome and Axel discussing the possibility of opening a deli and food shop in Arusha. Soon, Jerome apologized for speaking French in front of us and made some introductions.
They shared the challenges of learning to cook in Africa: working around the absence of ingredients that would be commonplace almost anywhere else in the world; convincing a Muslim expert in barbecue to prepare suckling pig during Ramadan; realizing that when you order beef it will be fresh (and therefore unfit for consumption for a couple of weeks). And the benefits: amazing fruit; tomatoes that taste like tomatoes; going out with a local fisherman to catch tuna; witnessing a country come around to new foods and flavours.

Banana trees and corn growing in Moivaro village.

Also during our stay at Moivaro, we had chance to see a method of farming common in Tanzania but unheard of in most places of the world. To protect more fragile crops from the intense sun, they plant things like coffee, tomatoes, greens, cassava and squash under banana trees. This means soil preparation, planting and harvesting must be done by hand — which it is by the vast majority of farmers in Tanzania.

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