How to eat ugali in Tanzania

This is a pot of ugali. It was my breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days when I hitched a ride across north western Tanzania on a petrol tanker.

The ugali was prepared over an open fire by a gangly young guy called Masai.

Masai was the driver’s offsider and designated chef and would have a bowl of the stuff waiting for us when we crawled out from sleeping under the truck beside a red mud road in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania.

Ugali is a staple in East Africa. Made from mealie-meal (maize flour), it’s a stodgy carbohydrate guaranteed to see you through the day. Masai knew it was ready when he could stick a spoon in and pull it out as a solid lump.

In Kiswahili-speaking countries, ugali is a national treasure, a dish that inspires poetry and proverbs.

The most apt for my situation was “Kupyanja iti kulumanga”.

To dip ugali in a little gravy is better than to be completely without gravy.

Masai didn’t give us any gravy. Or stew. Or any other condiment to make it more palatable.

Just little dried fish that were bitter and crunchy.

Enrick, the driver, greeted every meal with a smile, rubbing his hands together.

I luuurrv ooo-gaaa-li! ” he’d say

I wondered who he was trying to convince – me or himself.


Masai preparing (another) bowl of ugali

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