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Aug 3, 2000 04:20 PM

East African Chow: Tanzania and Kenya

  • s

Alright hounds,

In September, I will go on a month-long trip to Tanzania and Kenya : climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, Safari in the Serengeti, relaxing on the Spice Island of Zanzibar. I would love to hear any chow suggestions, whether they consist of specific restaurant recommendations, or more generally, kinds of food to keep an eye open for. I am specifically interested in local specialties, but unexpected cross-cultural pleasures are welcome--if Arusha or Dar es Salaam has an irresistible gelato stand then I'll go.

Information on the rest of the web is sparse and vaguely unpromising: simple trekking fare on the mountains made palatable only by extreme physical exertion, some references to open-fire barbecues which I find intriguing, and the usual medical stipulations about avoiding food from street vendors.

I don't know what to think about the medical stipulations: they fly in the face of all my eating instincts--avoid the food that locals eat on the street!?! Anyone care to offer positive or negative (preferably non-graphic) street-eating experiences? On second thought, maybe posts would be more palatable if they recommended specific food items worth the risk of moderate to severe gastrointestinal distress.

Zanzibar in particular sounds like it ought to have fascinating food. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope that the hounds will be able to point me in the right direction.


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  1. Regarding the advice to avoid street food, my Guide to Ethiopia (Philip Briggs) says sizzling hot street food is invariably safer than buffet fare in expensive hotels.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jim Dorsch

      I agree about not relaxing your guard just because you are in some big tourist hotel in the developing world... definitely breeding grounds for stomach upset.
      And the advice to avoid street food is misplaced -- what you really want to avoid is uncooked food (or cooked food that is cross-contaminated with uncooked food--the real danger--e.g. herbs and such). When I am traveling, I usually start out very cautiously--eating in busy, clean, local places, avoiding danger foods--and loosen up the last week or so and hit the markets a little more. That way, the sickness hits as you are flying home and you just have a miserable flight and first week home--but that's better than a miserable bout of food poisoning at the start of your trip.

      I lived in southern Africa, not east Africa, so can't recommend local specialties, but a basic meal usually consists of some sort of mealie-meal (kinda like grits) and stewed vegetables (rabe, carrots) or meat along with it. All cooked, so all should be eaten with gusto, but eventually you'll get bored with it. The capital cities should have some great Indian restaurants. Please report back!

      1. re: mary

        In Addis Ababa the only time I felt a bit sick was after eating at a well-known restaurant. And a local resident who ate with me also felt a bit off the next day, while three others felt fine. So, I'm not sure what it all meant.

        Early on I took a chance with some grated cheese on spaghetti carbonara (spaghetti is very common in Ethiopia), and I drank fresh fruit juice each morning, neither of which seemed to give me a problem. That said, I could tell the whole time in Ethiopia that my system wasn't quite like it normally is, but I wasn't sick.

        A couple of times I was really tempted to eat kitfo, which is completely or partially raw beef, depending on how you order it, but wisely refrained.

        Once we went to Burger Queen because I wanted to see what Ethiopians can do with a hamburger. My burger came dressed with lettuce and tomato. I asked them to cook me another with nothing on it. It was an admirable attempt, but something just didn't taste the same as an American burger. (For the record, the Quick chain does a heck of a job on its McDonald's-like burgers. I've dined in a couple of Belgian Quick restaurants, but I'm not sure if they're based there.)