>> Curious on Tanzania/Chef James Lupembe | Eat the World NYC

06 February 2017

Curious on Tanzania/Chef James Lupembe

There may not be a restaurant for every country of the world here in New York City, but if you keep searching long enough and hard enough, you find the people, cultures, traditions, and food of most. East Africa has somewhat of a void here when it comes to foods, with Ethiopia making a good showing and one lone Somali restaurant, but nothing else.

When an event popped up on the radar for Tanzania, it was a no-brainer to attend. Curious on Tanzania is a travel company offering personalized tours to the home country of the founder, Justa Lujwangana, who was also our gracious host for the evening. The event was of course an advertisement for the company, but it felt like a welcoming into a home. There was music, dancing, alcohol, and thoroughly friendly faces.

Catering was by a local Tanzanian and soul food chef [When I spoke to Chef James, he gave me his Instagram as the contact, so it is linked here]. He created a mostly finger-friendly buffet of Swahili favorites, items East Africans would eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sharing an ocean coast with India has led to a massive influence all throughout East Africa's main trade routes. The spices and traditions show up most familiarly with sambusas (above), the region's samosa. Chef James' version was filled with minced beef, onions, and spices, and did not require chutney or sauce of any kind.

His chapati (below) was excellent, and thankfully two wedges made it onto my plate. In Tanzania this bread is often eaten with stews and soups, or alone with tea for breakfast.

The beef stew for the chapati definitely got the most oohs and aahs when the lid was removed. The dark brown gravy and cubes of meat were covered in fried onions and gave off a wonderful aroma. In Tanzania, foods are often very spicy, so it is imagined that this catering job was tamed down quite a bit to make sure everyone could sample some. Regardless, the (non-spicy) spices are enough to tantalize the tastebuds. Grab a hunk of meat with the chapati, and shovel it inside.

The fried dough (below) was introduced as "better than Dunkin' Donuts," but remained nameless. This is easily recognizable as mandazi though, or Swahili buns. These buns can be eaten alone and were offered that way, but as a happy accident they started to soak up the gravy and are delicious that way as well.

The use of coconut milk in Swahili cooking is widespread in the mandazi and vitumbua (below), a type of rice donut or bread. When introduced, these seemed to bring back memories for the Tanzanian people that were in attendance and made them exciting to try.

Served in a house or on the road, in Tanzania you might see these with powdered or regular sugar and eaten for breakfast. They have also migrated west to Cameroon and Nigeria where they are called masa.

Finished plate, worth the price of admission!

After everyone was full, a Tanzanian musician took the stage for three songs and then dancing took place. The host of a wonderful show on PBS called Bare Feet was in attendance and joined the dance. It looks like Tanzania will be a destination on a future season of the show, which shows off world cultures through dance.

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