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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Valenti

What and where to eat in Mwanza, in the heart of Tanzania - where Africa and India meet

Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania and is located on the southern shore of Lake Victoria, surrounded by very green hills: its geographical position means that its culinary tradition is based mainly on fish coming from the lake and rice, vegetables and tropical fruit. Mwanza was our home for a month during which Enrico and I volunteered at the Bugando Cancer Center of the Bugando Medical Hospital, the most important hospital in the region During this period, we tasted and experimented a lot with Tanzanian cuisine.

In this area, among other things, there is a strong presence of the Indian community, which guarantees a very interesting cultural mix in which East African cuisine blends with Indian cuisine.

Piatto unico tipico: legumi, riso bianco, pilau e matoke
Piatto unico tipico: legumi, riso bianco, pilau e matoke

I confess to you that I left for Mwanza convinced that I would lose quite a few kilos, convinced that I would only eat rice and beans (being a vegetarian) and instead, I ate a lot and well! Typical Tanzanian cuisine is very simple and spicy and is common to that of all of East Africa, with a few central elements and simple ingredients such as bananas, obviously rice widely cultivated in the area, corn and beans, lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, coconut milk, beef and fish with spices to flavor everything. These are the typical dishes of Tanzanian cuisine:

  • Ugali: it is the traditional dish par excellence and consists of a kind of solid polenta made from white corn flour or millet. It has a thick consistency and is eaten with the hands, often served together with a vegetable, chicken or meat soup, which is also practically the only way to be able to swallow it!

  • Nyama choma: it is meat roasted on the grill, usually chicken or beef, served with a spicy sauce. Enrico ate meat only twice in a month and then gave it up: even going to the best quality Western restaurants, the meat is always very stringy and lean... not too tasty in his opinion!

  • Pilau: pilau is spiced rice prepared with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and chili peppers; it may also contain vegetables or meat. It is the classic accompaniment to dishes as an alternative to Ugali or Chapati.

Preparazione del chapati
Preparazione del chapati
  • Chapati: chapati is a sort of thin, flat bread, fried in a pan, which accompanies many African dishes. We always considered it a very raw and sparse Italian "piadina" but perhaps it is more comparable to Indian naan bread, even if chapati remains thinner and flakier. We liked it so much that we tried to make it several times at home but with poor results, despite the simplicity of the recipe!

  • Chips Kuku: chips kuku is definitely the main dish in Mwanza or at least for the locals. Whether in the hospital canteen or at street stalls, everyone eats kuku chips which is nothing more than an omelet of french fries, accompanied by chicken skewers (kuku).

  • Fried bananas: prepare to become totally addicted,.. one leads to another, like chips, both in the sweet and savory version!

  • Cashews: everywhere you turn you will find salted, spiced cashews in a thousand variations;

  • Matoke: these are banana legumes boiled and cooked with smoked meat or fish;

  • Samosa: samosas are a very famous Indian dish which consists of small savory parcels of very thin and crunchy pastry filled with meat, vegetables or cheese which are fried. You will find them everywhere, in every restaurant and even in street food in the city;

  • Vitumbua: Vitumba is a fried dessert made from rice flour and coconut, super mega greasy, which I loved and often bought on the street in the evening, when the ladies lurked on the sidewalk selling lots of delicacies;

  • Exotic Fruit: delicious and juicy such as pineapple, mango, passion fruit, large or tiny bananas, coconut and avocado but also more particular fruit such as durian and sugar apple;

  • Typical Indian dishes such as chicken tikka masala, various curries.

What to drink in Tanzania:

  • Serengeti and Kilimanjaro beers: these two local beers are simply delicious and accompanied our trip throughout its duration. The labels are simply spectacular and are found throughout Tanzania, except for Muslim restaurants which do not sell alcoholic beverages;

  • Fruit juice: drinking fruit juices in Tanzania is a real joy as they are all made with fresh local fruit, simply delicious. We always opted for packaged ones, so as not to risk having stomach problems!

  • Tanzanian tea: there are various variations, the most popular is very similar to an English Breakfast which locals tend to drink English-style together with milk;

  • Konyagi: Konyagi is a local liqueur similar to white rum that costs a few cents, absolutely worth trying!

Where to eat Mwanza, Tanzania

As already mentioned, during our volunteering in Mwanza we stayed in a house with a kitchen so we mainly ate at home in the evening while for lunch we always stopped in the hospital canteen. Only on weekends or on a few rare evenings did we dine out so I don't have many places to recommend but these few are really excellent!

Rooftop Restaurant & Cafè

Rooftop Restaurant & Cafè, Mwanza - Tanzania

The Rooftop is definitely our favorite place, so much so that we've been there twice. It is an Indian restaurant located at the foot of the hill where the Bugando Medical Center stands, next to the imposing white mosque, and is located on the top floor of the skyscraper overlooking the city. The location is spectacular and well-kept (something you would never expect seeing the building and the average number of places) and offers a breathtaking view of the lake and the city: I highly recommend you go there at sunset, the colors that are released on the lake are one of the most beautiful things I saw that month. The best dishes in my opinion are the Paneer Tikka Masala (a vegetarian version of the classic Chicken Tikka Masala), the cheese Naan bread (simply delicious) and the single Veg Thali dish which contains many samples of typical delicacies which vary from time to time time. With around the equivalent of not even €10, you will definitely leave full and very satisfied, the food is really excellent!

Kwatunza Beach Land

Kwatunza Beach Land, Mwanza - Tanzania
Kwatunza Beach Land

We talked about the Kwatunza resort and its beach before, but now we come to another strong point of this place: the restaurant. The environment is made of wood, well-kept and elegant: the bar is a work of art in my opinion, with a wooden reproduction of Mwanza and Bismarck Rock. Upstairs there is a room with TV, billiards and a wonderful open terrace from which to admire the sunset over the lake! The kitchen offers an Indian menu or typical local dishes. Enri and Angelo tried the African meat dish with a portion of chapati, while I ordered naan bread, vegetable noodles and a super spicy vegetable curry. We spent 91,000 TZS in 3, that is €11.50 each! Excellent value for money and a truly recommended place, both for the location and the cuisine!

The Cask Bar & Grill

The Cask is a restaurant located outside the Rock City Mall and this is also a place mainly for wealthy or Western people. The restaurant is very nice, with wooden tables which I loved very much. The menu is very Western, mainly focused on grilled meat and fish, burgers (also vegetarian)... a kind of steak house let's say. The food is excellent but even here the meat is a little tough and stringy according to Enri. My veggie burger was huge and delicious, a nice alternative to the usual local food, to enjoy flavors that are a little more Western-like if you find yourself at the mall. Three people therefore spent TSZ 68,000 (€8.60 each) ordering 3 Kilimanjaro beers, a portion of fried sweet potatoes, a portion of grilled beef ribs, a chicken with paprika and a veggie burger. Super recommended!

Hotel Tilapia Restaurant

Ristorante dell’Hotel Tilapia, Mwanza - Tanzania

The Tilapia restaurant is located inside the resort which also houses the swimming pool we talked about before.

The restaurant area is located on the terrace where the swimming pool is also located, but you can also choose to eat directly on the lake shore, in the splendid garden. Whatever your choice is, the options offered on the menu are truly many and range from typical local dishes to Indian and more Western cuisine.

The food was great and the portions were generous, I highly recommend it, especially if you're already there at the pool! We spent €8 each tasting vegetable noodles, vegetarian samosas and spicy tofu and vegetables with 2 local beers.

Hasfu Food Empire

Hasfu Food Empire is a very different restaurant from those we have talked about so far: it is an outdoor venue frequented mainly by locals with a menu of local cuisine. You can order sitting at the table from the menu or choose directly at the counter from the various prepared dishes and compose your own unique dish by adding whatever you want. Otherwise, you can try a dish of Nyama Choma, which is meat (chicken or beef) cooked on a giant grill. The prices are absolutely ridiculous and the food was very good! If you are in the center and are looking for a place to have lunch, this is the right place!

Bugando Hill Restaurant

Bugando Hill Restaurant, Mwanza Tanzania

The Bugando Hill Restaurant is a very down-to-earth place mainly frequented by locals, a few steps from the Bugando Medical Center.

READ ALSO: 30 days as a volunteer nurse in Tanzania: from my travel diary at the Bugando Medical Center It is an excellent solution if you are near the hospital and want to have lunch on the fly without spending very little: basically. there is no choice on the menu, you are served "what goes in the convent". Usually, it is a single dish with rice, vegetables, very spicy sauce and meat (I had it removed by adding more vegetables and thus obtaining a good vegetarian dish). It's a very basic place as is the kitchen, but a good alternative to the hospital canteen: with even a large bottle of water we spent 6,000 TZS each, or €2.30.

Street Food in Mwanza

Pannocchie di mais arrostite a Mwanza

Now I'm not going to talk to you about a particular restaurant but in general about the street food that you will find in every corner of Mwanza around sunset. From 5 pm onwards, the streets of the city are filled with women preparing delicacies (usually deep fried) on the pavements, selling fruit and vegetables, roasting corn cobs or stalls preparing Kuku Chips. At sunset, the Fetty Swahili Food restaurant sets up a slab on the street where they prepare take-away Chapati, to be enjoyed while walking: simply divine, perhaps the best ever eaten. If you are in the city center, perhaps shopping at the market, make sure you stop until sunset so you can taste some of these delicacies whilst walking, it's an unmissable experience!

Useful tips about food in Tanzania:

  • Service in restaurants is incredibly slow - in Tanzania, as in other African countries, the Pole Pole philosophy applies which in Swahili means "slowly". I guarantee you that in clubs and restaurants, this spirit is taken literally: from the moment you order, be prepared to wait at least an hour to be served!

  • When you order, always remember to ask if the dishes are spicy or not and how much because in this area, thanks also to the strong Indian influence, they certainly don't go easy on the chili pepper!

  • Always pay attention to what you eat: meat and fish must be well cooked, even vegetables are better if cooked, while fruit must have a thick skin;

  • I sincerely suggest you to avoid eating fish in this area: it comes almost exclusively from Lake Victoria which is known to be particularly polluted;

  • Avoid drinks that contain ice and are not sealed, never, ever drink tap water;

  • Before leaving for Tanzania, start good prophylaxis with lactic ferments and continue it for the entire duration of the trip;

  • Don't forget to bring a supply of medicines just in case: it's always better to be ready for anything - and I'm telling you from experience... both this time and in Madagascar I got terrible gastro-enteritis and if I hadn't had some specific medicine with me I definitely should have gone to the hospital.

As you may have already read in the article dedicated to Mwanza, we fell in love with this place, and I must say that its cuisine has done nothing but increase this love.

Contrary to what one might think about Africa, we ate really well and in abundance; fruit and vegetables are incredibly tastier and juicier, really tasty and inviting. You certainly won't go hungry here and I guarantee you will enjoy discovering every corner of the city and this colorful and spicy cuisine!

Mwanza is splendid, often underestimated by tourists who go to Tanzania but in my opinion it is a unique and authentic place that deserves to be visited, as well as being a perfect base for a wonderful Safari in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro, a bit of relaxation in Zanzibar or a nice trek on Mount Kilimanjaro.

If you'd like to know more about my experience as a volunteer nurse in Mwanza, please READ ALSO: 30 days as a volunteer nurse in Tanzania: from my travel diary at the Bugando Medical Center

Safari njema - have a good trip in Swahili


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