Tanzania is famous of its wild life safaris across the Serengeti National Park. Lots of people visit to see the migration of wildebeest and to spot the “big five”. Such a wildlife viewing experience requires you to stay inside or close to the national park. There are lodges that provide accommodation at these remote locations, but as you may have guessed, finding vegetarian food can be a bit tricky. However, things aren’t too bad in recent times, and with a few things in mind, the situation can be navigated smoothly.
Besides wild-life viewing, another great reason to visit Tanzania is Zanzibar Island. Just off the coast of mainland Tanzania and out in the Indian Ocean, this island is known for its pristine beaches and water-based activities. Vegetarian food can be found at the right places in Zanzibar Island as well. Following is a guide to navigating the veg food scene in Tanzania.
1) Learn to say I am vegetarian in Swahili
While this may not always be a life-saver, it can definitely help. You can say “mimi sili nyama” which means I am a vegetarian. You can also say “sili nyama kabisa” which is Swahili for “I don’t eat meat at all”. Another useful phrase is “Mna sahani zozote za mboga?” which means “Do you have any vegetarian dishes?”
Check out this list for a list of phrases in Swahili: http://tasteofslow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Swahili-vegetarian-phrases.pdf
A point to note, English is also spoken in many places in Tanzania, so you will be fine with English in most places. But it always helps to know the local language as well.
2) Communicate your preferences at all times
When you book your safari lodge, make sure you communicate and explain to the management that you need vegetarian food. When you reach the lodge, remind the management of your dietary preferences so that there is little chance of a misunderstanding or an “I forgot” moment. The best scenario would be to try to speak with the chef, if that is possible. But communication is the key, and it is reported that vegetarians have had no trouble at these lodges whenever they made their preferences clear. After all, more and more vegetarians are traveling to Serengeti, and there is increasing awareness of a vegetarian diet at various Tanzanian accommodations. One thing to note, avoid foods like soups, because the broth of these soups can be animal stock. Focus on food items which are easy to differentiate as vegetarian.
3) Eat some Ugali and Cabbage
Ugali is a well known dish in Tanzania. Is it basically made from maize and millet flour. It looks like white rice but is a bit sticky, kind of like the Indian Idli. You take a small chunk of Ugali with your fingers, roll it into a ball and dip it in stew. But be careful with stews, as they can be meat based. The best bet is to either get Ugali with a vegetarian stew or simply eat Ugali with cabbage, as Ugali is popularly served with cooked cabbage.
4) Try some local veg foods at local joints
Indian snacks like Samosa’s and Bhajjis are street food items in Tanzania as well. You will also find Chapati in Tanzania, which is a widely consumed Indian bread. If you eat eggs, then you may try “chipsi mayai” or “omlet with french fries”. “Vitumbua” or coconut rice cakes are a good snack/finger food that you can eat on the go. For breakfast, try Mandazi or doughnut made with flour, sugar and coconut milk. If you are in places like Stone Town or major urban centers (like Dar Es Salaam), then you can go to an Italian restaurant which will serve pasta and pizza – some excellent vegetarian options.
5) Visit a supermarket
You can always walk in to a grocery store and pick up cereals, chips, chocolate, milk, yogurt, bread, and more. Grocery stores would also have a section with fruits and vegetables. You can pick up some to toss up a salad. You can also find lentils, boil them and eat it like dal. Or if you fancy some beans and toast, then that is also possible. You do need a kitchen/kitchen applicances to prepare some of these dishes though. So make sure your hotel or apartment has a decent kitchen if you plan to make your own meals.
6) Eat at an Indian restaurant
Indian food is well-known in Tanzania. While you may or may not find much Indian food at national parks, you will definitely have options when in the cities or on Zanzibar Island. East Africa has had a sizeable Indian trading/business community since centuries, and hence Indian food and culture are both prevalent throughout East Africa. Though you most certainly will find vegetarian food at Indian restaurants, the taste may not be exactly authentic. As with any place, there is always a bit of localization. But the localization may not be as extreme as, say the Indian food in Brazil. The bottom line is, if you are in need of veggie food and out of options, then you cannot go wrong with an Indian restaurant.
7) Pick up some fruits from road-side stalls
You can pick up bananas, oranges, durian and other fruits while walking through a market area. Make sure you wash the fruits thoroughly before eating them. You can even try some roasted corn if you are feeling like eating something hot and fresh.
8) Plan ahead
While you cannot always expect to know exactly where and when you will eat, try to keep a list of few vegetarian restaurants in the area that you are going to visit. To create a list, use the following websites:
The best resource online for finding veggie food places – https://www.happycow.net/
Best veg food places in Zanzibar – https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurants-g482884-zfz10665-Zanzibar_Island_Zanzibar_Archipelago.html
Best veg food places in Dar Es Salaam – https://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurants-g293748-zfz10665-Dar_es_Salaam_Dar_Es_Salaam_Region.html
Mexican Food in Dar Es Salaam (including veg options) – http://tasteofmexico.co.tz/
One of the best Indian restuarants in Stone Town, Zanzibar – http://www.silkroutezanzibar.com/
A well acclaimed Indian restuarant in Dar Es Salaam – https://www.facebook.com/56Bhog/
9) Other resources
Discussion on veg food during safaris – https://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowTopic-g293747-i9226-k6814006-Vegetarian_Food-Tanzania.html
Another discussion on veg safari food – https://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowTopic-g293747-i9226-k10111866-Vegan_vegetarian_meals_on_safari-Tanzania.html
Discussion on veg food in Tanzania – https://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowTopic-g293747-i9226-k9008255-Any_vegetarians_been_to_Tanzania_in_the_last_few_years-Tanzania.html