Whenever a Tanzanian sits down to eat a meal, they turn to anyone nearby and say “karibu”, meaning “You’re welcome to eat with me”.
This generosity engrained in the culture is one of my favourite things about Tanzania. A few weeks ago I visited a small village called Namatula to interview rice farmers for my internship with Farm Radio International. A farmer who called herself Mama Mpunga (Mama Rice) took me to her farm.
The interview started out normally. I asked her about the challenges and benefits of farming rice and whether she listened to the radio. She went to get her radio to show me.
All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of a dance party. The radio blasted traditional Tanzanian music. Mama Mpunga and all of her friends danced around me. Talk about a proper welcome!
Continuing with the Tanzanian generosity of spirit, Mama Mpunga gave me a bag of peanuts before I left Namatula. I knew how hard she had worked to get these peanuts and I didn’t want to take them away from her. My friend from Pride FM reminded me of another rule in Tanzanian culture – you can never say no to a gift.
I have received so many gifts in my short two months in Tanzania. I’ve learned not to say no to them and to appreciate every one.
I had this lesson in mind when another coworker at Pride FM invited me to her brother’s home to learn how to cook a traditional Tanzanian meal. Veronica is the women’s and children’s reporter at Pride FM in Mtwara and also a dear friend of mine. She taught me how to cook ugali wa nasi na mboga mboga (coconut ugali with vegetables).
Ugali is the staple of Tanzanian cuisine. It is typically made from cornmeal, but can also include other flours like millet. If you’re nervous about attempting to make ugali, you can easily replace it with coconut rice.
The mboga mboga part of the recipe simply means vegetables. For hygienic reasons, we peeled all the vegetables used in the recipe, but you can skip this step if you prefer.
I prepared this recipe with the typical tools of a Mtwaran kitchen. I used a special stool to grate the coconut meat and charcoal to heat the dishes. The stool can easily be replaced by a handheld grater and I’ve tried to adapt the recipe so that you can use it with a gas or electric stovetop.
Without any further ado, please enjoy this recipe that was so generously given to me by Veronica! The result is a sweet ugali wa nasi coupled with a tangy and spicy vegetable mix. Enjoy!
For the ugali wa nasi
– 1 cup cornmeal
– 1 large coconut or 2 cups coconut milk
For the mboga mboga
– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– Half an onion, chopped
– One green bell pepper, chopped
– 1 carrot, grated
– 1 eggplant, chopped
– 3 tomatoes, grated
– 1 hot pepper
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– Salt to taste
- Cut the meat out of a large coconut and grate it.
- Put the meat in a sieve over a bowl. Pour 2 cups of water through the sieve and press the coconut meat. The result should be a bowl full of coconut-flavoured water. (If you’re using coconut milk, skip this step)
- Heat 2 cups of the coconut water or milk in a saucepan over high heat.
- Once it begins to boil, gradually add the cornmeal and let simmer. Once the mixture has thickened, take it off the heat. Your ugali is ready.
- Heat another saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
- Fry the onion and bell pepper for 3 minutes.
- Add the carrot and stir for 2 minutes.
- Add the eggplant and stir for 2 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and heat to a simmer. Continue to stir.
- Add the hot pepper, lemon juice and salt for flavor.
- Simmer about 10 minutes until the mixture is thick.
- Serve the two dishes separately. If you want to really eat like a Tanzanian, roll the ugali into a ball with the palm of your hand and dip it in the mboga mboga.