Published: July 11th 2012July 11th 2012
Reading menus in Swahili you might think is difficult. Hamna shida. Don’t worry. If you are like mum you will patiently wait for a waiter to bring one for you. If you are like me, you will know the only menu is written on a blackboard behind the glass counter often holding donuts freshi or other unknowns and simply wait and see how your mother figures things. Either way, there are usually only one or two options. The choices will either be ugali (maize flour stiff porridge like glue) rice with bean, rosti, fish or chicken. Lunch for most people is at 2 and dinner at 7 so if you arrive around 4 or 5 you may be lucky and get bananas with rice. There will not be any chicken, fish or rosti. If you do arrive when food is available the dhumi knows best what you want…“But I thought you wanted…”is the likely response of the waiter. In many places outside of the city, it is best to order several hours ahead of time if you want to be assured of a meal. If really stuck and unable to read ugali na kuku, excuse your rude manners saying samahani sana
and just point to what looks good on someone else’s plate.
As for eating etiquette, be sure to wash your hands. If a young woman does not bring by a bucket with a boiling hot pot of water in which you are ensured to get third degree burns, look for a large old oil container somewhere in the restaurant. This has been revamped and now holds water. It will often have a small faucet that you must turn 7 times to the left. Do not give up; water will eventually flow from it. If you didn’t notice the first or second time there is a container of sunflower oil as well. This contains liquid hand soap. Be sure not to let the basin overflow. This can create a bit of chaos. If it does occur smile nicely saying pole sana and you will surely be consoled or laughed at. Either way someone else will clean up the mess.
If you have ordered ugali, do not expect cutlery. Either way do not ask for utensils- there aren’t any, save that spoon your neighbour is using and you will have to wait for it. Eating Ugali is an art. Remember to let it cool. This can be difficult if you have ordered far in advance, knowing that they really did have to kill, clean and gut the kuku. If you cannot wait, be sure to know that the ugali is as hot as that water the pretty waitress poured over your hands. At this point the pain will not be as bad as blisters have started to form and your fingers are numb.
Ugali must be rolled between your thumb and forefinger. You then indent it and use it as a spoon- hence why there are no utensils. All meals are served with a nutritious spinach and tomato base soupu to dip the ugali in. When you think you have mastered the art of ugali, look at the soupu and you will note the chunks that have fallen off. Here you do not get your own table. Join one, join all. Make sure you only use your right hand- remember Tanzania is a water/hand country not a toilet paper country. This was a hard feat for mum who kept saying she was not using her left hand although it had somewhat become her knife, clutching her ball of ugali while trying to grasp and make a spoon with the other hand. This did not go unnoticed, but perhaps saved us from having others join us and/or shake our hands goodbye, let alone shake them again. (Always remember to bring sanitizer, and remind your mum that it will not remove the red sand, dirt and grime).
Once you have your food, there are a few things to say or not to say. You will never say this food is too spicy, there is no spice. Or is service included in the bill? It is definitely not necessary to ask outside of Dar or Arusha. If you are lucky to find fish, be sure that it has been scaled. You can ask around for the best place to eat in town- usually it will be the best friend of the person you have asked. Mama Kabwogi gets her fish flown from Lake Victoria to Arusha then transported to Katesh. Remember fresh and live are two different things and can bring on long discussions. Most fish is from Lake Bassotu, but those are way too small so when in Katesh eat at Mama Kabwogi’s. You can pass on greetings to the cook, but it is not necessary, food is not an art here simply a necessity. Saying I Love the Local Cuisine will mean nothing and is insincere at best.
Happy eating!!! Everybody loves Mama Linda, despite her left hand eating habits and all, and if you are with her, everyone will come to greet you.