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Off the Beaten Path: Ugali and Blue Turaco, Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania


Most countries have a national cuisine or dish that visitors are told they must try. It is often the highlight of a trip. From escargot in Paris to freshly made naan in India, I have loved trying new dishes while traveling.

By Liz Yin.

It is easy to use a guidebook to find restaurants that serve excellent examples of a country’s most famous dishes. However, sometimes you just don’t love what a country has to offer or maybe you eat so much of it you make yourself sick. I had this experience while studying abroad in Tanzania.

This was not a luxury safari trip, so we ate where the locals ate at red Coca-Cola tables just off the street. Pretty much any place that has these plastic tables is generally safe to eat at.

Although eating with locals definitely improved my minimal Swahili the choices were very limited. The national dish is ugali and is a very white, beyond bland, spongy starch made of maize.

It is a good way to get calories and is filling, but has absolutely no flavor. It is usually used to scoop up stews with your hands. Unfortunately, even with a great stew I found I really preferred rice.

Ugali maize dish from Tanzania

So here I was in Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania and pretty much all there is to eat is ugali and barbecued goat, which has great flavor, but is incredibly stringy. So it was a delight to discover Blue Turaco. It had just opened when we arrived in Mto Wa Mbu and the chef was an incredibly nice older Tanzanian. This is not a typical restaurant for Mto Wa Mbu, instead it serves napoli style pizza. And a really good one at that.

Now my taste buds may have lowered their expectations a little bit after only eating rice and beans and a kale like green vegetable, but Blue Turaco makes a pretty amazing pizza. It was an incredibly unique find, and one that was not replicated for the rest of my 10 weeks in Tanzania and Kenya. This was not a restaurant run by ex-pats, but natives and my favorite pizza used “Arusha” cheese from a nearby larger city. With a cold Kili beer it makes for a great evening off the beaten path.

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About Author

Walter Schaerer’s extensive background in the travel industry, passionate enthusiasm for photography and a firm belief that luxury destinations can also be affordable; were some of the main factors that motivated him to create the travel blog In his day job Walter is an online marketing manager based out of Zurich, Switzerland.

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