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Safaris are made all the better when you eat local food, and Swahili food dishes are delicious. With a beautiful blend of Arab, Indian and Portuguese influences, Swahili cuisine uses a variety of spices like coriander, clove, chilli and black pepper together with a range of staples like maize, cassava, rice, wheat and sorghum.

Here are a few examples of delicious East African safari food as eaten by the local people:

Nyama choma

This “charred meat” is a rich, filling barbecue of beef, chicken or goat, marinated in garlic, lemon juice, curry powder and turmeric and slow-roasted over hot coals until supremely tender. It’s a very social food and a dish that’s enjoyed by communities everywhere in Africa.

Swahili food
Nyama choma charred or barbecued meat

Wali na maharage

Swahili beans is a favourite of vegetarians or meat-eaters alike and blends dried beans with local, flavoursome ingredients to produce a filling bean stew that could be sweet or spicy. Cooked beans are sautéed with onions, ginger, tomatoes and coconut milk.

Swahili food
Swahili beans and rice

Pilau

Pilau is a typical rice dish all over the world, but the secret to the Swahili version is that it’s flavoured with the spices fresh from the “Spice Island” Zanzibar. Famous for clove and cinnamon, and with the addition of cardamom, Swahili pilau is a delicate and fragrant rice dish.

Pilau rice
Pilau a rice dish with spices
Africa Geographic Travel

Chipsi mayai

Think of this dish as a delicious sautéed potato omelette and it’s easy to prepare! After you’ve sautéed your potatoes, whisk up an egg or two and add it to the pan. Mix it around a bit, and soon it’ll cook into a slab of eggy-potatoey loveliness.

East African meals
Chipsi mayai potato chip omelette

Ndizi na nyama

Got meat? Got bananas? Then you’re ready for ndizi na nyama a meat and banana stew. For those of you who think that fruit and meat are an unholy alliance, think again. This tasty, unusual stew uses unripe rather than sweet plantains which, when added during the last ten minutes of cooking, become tender and delicious.

Swahili food
Ndizi na nyama meat and banana stew

Ugali

The most ubiquitous food across all of East Africa is ugali – a starchy accompaniment made of cornmeal, semolina or sorghum flour and water. Because it’s easy to make and the ingredients are low-cost, it’s a popular food, and you’ll see it often during your safaris in East Africa.

Swahili food dishes
Ugali a firm flour porridge

And to drink?

Tea and coffee are plentiful in East Africa, as are fresh-pressed pineapple, orange, sugar cane and papaya juices a sweet and thirst-quenching way to end your safari day. There’s also a variety of refreshing local beers available such as Tusker, Serengeti and Kilimanjaro. Be aware though that in Muslim areas, alcohol is only sold in the tourist hotels, bars and cafes.

These are only a taste of some of the delicious Swahili food choices that East Africa offers. In the end, there truly is nothing better than watching an African sunset with a beer in hand and a full, satisfied tummy! And next time you order your safari meal, be sure to speak Swahili like a local!

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