Since cait + tiff are no good, lazy bums and on vacation this week, we have enlisted a few friends to help out with le blog. Our first guest writer this week is Alissa, who is one of our favorite people in Phnom Penh. She’s has a discerning palate and eye, and we are constantly in awe of her effortless cool. Hailing from Minneapolis, with feet stamped in New York, India, Nepal, Senegal, and beyond, the girl has some serious street cred when it comes to adventure. I mean, come on, her favorite cookie is the alfajor. Alissa is our first contributor to C+T (!), and she’s taking us to Tanzania. Enjoy!
Work travel is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s a fantastic opportunity to visit a place you would otherwise not have the chance to see, but in reality you are so busy you don’t have time to see much. But traveling for work does not preclude you from exploration! Being a ‘worker-tourist’ does mean you are short on time, but it also opens the doors to seeing another side of a city/country that you’d never experience as a ‘tourist-tourist’. My advice is to make use of 2 precious resources: 1) weekends and 2) the expert and insider advice from colleagues.
36 (spare) Hours in Dar-es-Salaam.
Dar-es-Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city of over 1 million people. Dar-es-Salaam aptly means ‘harbor of peace’ and it is home to many a type of Tanzanian; people of African and Indian descent, Christian and Muslim, tribes from all over Tanzania, living together harmoniously in this city on the coast of the Indian Ocean. The official language is Swahili, which I declared to be the best language ever. I can’t really describe it, but the cadence and pronunciation make it a really fun language to speak. While the traffic is a beast in Dar, the city is generally walkable, full of trees and flowering plants, and Dar-es-Salaamers are friendly and with an excellent sense of humor.
What To Do
As a self-diagnosed textilephile, I knew one of my first free days in Dar would be spent fabric shopping. Having promised some bright bolts to the lovely founders of cait+tiff and wanting to replenish my own cloth stock, I headed downtown one Sunday morning. While I quickly found out this was the worst day to go (almost every store owner closes shop on Sundays), a colleague and I made the most of what was open and as we elbowed our way through available vendors, we couldn’t even fathom what the crowd flow would look like on a regular day. We first hit Uhuru Street to visit fabric wholesalers who don’t bargain but offer loads of variety, and then ventured on to nearby Kariakoo Market to weave through the maze of shops in Dar’s largest market.
There are 3 main types of fabrics available: kanga, kitenge, and batik. Kangas are ubiquitous in Tanzania – colorful wraps that tout a Swahili message, often religious or political. They are commonly given as gifts, handed out at weddings and celebrations. Because they display messages as women wear them, these mobile billboards are often used to promote during political or health campaigns, displaying messages varying from ‘Vote for this guy!’ to ‘Take your child for a measles immunization!’ Rumor is there was even a kanga made with Obama’s face on it during his visit to Tanzania. Kitenge is also very common in Tanzania. They tend to be a bit higher-quality than kangas, and are used to tailor outfits – dresses, skirts, one of our enumerators even had a sassy kitenge romper. The patterns are bold, bright, layered with intricate patterns and geometric shapes. Finally, there is batik, with which I had a love affair in Dar. These are hand-dyed fabrics, often with just 2 or 3 deep, vibrant colors and a bold pattern created in the dyeing process. Unlike kitenge, which are mostly imported from Nigeria, Ghana, etc., batik is often produced locally in Tanzania. From my experience, batik and kitenge are comparable in price depending on quality, and kangas are a bit less expensive. These fabrics are all sold in bolts of 3 or 6 meters, so buy what you like and share with friends back home!
Gorgeous Mbudya Island is just a mere 20 minute boat ride away and provides all the beachy splendor one needs to rejuvenate if weekend travel to Zanzibar isn’t possible. Colleagues and I caravanned a few bajajis (autorickshaws) and headed north to the White Sands Resort where one can access ferries to reach the island. After trudging through the low tide, spotting lots of sea slugs and bright red-pink starfish along the way, we boarded a wooden fishing boat, painted the same shade of turquoise as the waters surrounding us. The boat and entrance fee to the marine reserve that is Mbudya Island is around $25 total, and it is worth every Tanzanian shilling and more.
Upon landing at a tiny island of white sand paradise, spotted with wispy little pines, we scoped out the options of thatched bandas where we would laze away the day. After selecting one with optimal shade and ocean view, we laid out our towels and plopped down. The mantra of the day was swim-splash-eat-catnap-repeat. From our banda heaven, we were able to order lunch, options being grilled fish, octopus or tiger prawn. Those of us who opted for octopus got to see our meal arrive wriggling from the hands of the fishermen who plucked them fresh from the sea. You can also bring your own snacks and beverages and picnic in the banda. Between the fresh seafood on Mbudya and all the amazing locally produced snacks in Tanzania (banana chips seasoned with chili, fresh roasted cashews, fried salted cassava) you are bound to happy and tanned belly by the end of the day.
Dar is a meat lover’s paradise. And also a starch lover’s paradise. These two components make up many a Tanzanian dish, in a multitude of combinations. The meats range from roasted beef, goat, seafood to tomato-ginger stews with chicken to the infamous and the too, too delicious mishkaki. This delectable meat treat is a skewer of perfectly grill meat chunks, essentially a shish-kabob with less of those pesky veggies. Again through the insider-knowledge of a colleague, I was introduced to my first mishkaki at a local joint called Lukas on the Msani Peninsula. This peninsula is where many expats live and many ‘worker-tourists’ stay, but Lukas was a mix of Tanzanians and foreigners, all enjoying the savory delight of mishkaki. My meat-of-choice for the evening was beef, but chicken, fish and goat were also on the menu. For just a couple dollars, you can eat your fill of some incredibly tasty red meat. Another favored meat of Tanzania is nyama choma, grilled meat, often goat. It is so loved that there is even an annual Nyama Choma Festival! After skillful roasting over an open flame, the meat is chopped up into chunks and served with a starch of your choice. And what are the starch choices? Oh, the options astound. French fries (aka chips), cassava chunks, fried banana, boiled banana, ugali (stiff cornmeal porridge), or rice. For those that need a vegetable accompaniment, load up on the fresh and spicy kachumburi salad – chopped up tomatoes, onion and lots of chili peppers. And if it’s not spicy enough, request a side pili-pili – Tanzanian hot sauce.
Street snacks also abound in Dar, serving as a quick and delicious fix. On the road, I favored picking up a newspaper-fashioned bag of freshly roasted (still warm) peanuts, conveniently sold by vendors weaving through the bumper-to-bumper traffic in Dar. Another common and sinfully good snack is mandazi, which is kind of like a doughnut… but so much more. These pieces of fried dough, often set in cast iron circular molds, are best when still piping hot and with a slight sweetness from the addition of coconut milk.
There was one street food that I had heard murmurings of for weeks from several sources, and knew I needed to try before my time in Dar ran out – Zanzibari Mix. A snack only found in Tanzania, and Zanzibar of course, this dish is a great representation of the mixture of Indian and African cuisines in Dar. It’s essentially a combination of little fried lentil dumplings, potato dumplings, onion, coconut chutney, more fried crispy things (perhaps garlic), all in a coconut milk-lemony broth. Desperate to give it a taste before I departed, I obtained directions to one of the best Zanzibari Mix vendors in the Upanga neighborhood of Dar and off we went. Winding through the streets of Dar, we stopped outside a nondescript gate. Peeking through the metal we could see a sea of people bent over tiny bowls, and the Zanzibari Mix maven at work in the front, vigorously dishing up the snack. It was well worth the hunt, this dish is unlike any other thing I’ve eaten, a zesty combination of bright citrus, mellow coconut and savory, salty tidbits. Unfortunately, the directions to this particular shop are lost to me, but be sure to ask friends or colleagues in Dar and seek this out!
Finally, though my timing didn’t work out, I would recommend that every traveler to Dar-es-Salaam try to schedule a visit to coincide with the Goat Races.
All photos by Alissa. Please request permission for use.
Thanks Alissa! See more of her beautiful pictures from all of her adventures here!
November 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm
Wonderfully written, Alissa! In fact, we, my 3rd graders and I, are studying a short story titled, “The Talking Cloth.” I shared part of your blog entry with my students today as you wrote about the textiles of Tanzania and how each cloth holds a story. Well wishes to you!
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