Tanzanian Cuisine — Pilau and Kachumbari

Tanzanian food has been shaped by local traditions, trade, colonial influences, and immigration.  Fish, goat, and beef dishes are common, along with a variety of fruits and vegetables.  The corn porridge ugali goes with most meals.  Used by hand, ugali is shaped into a scoop and dipped into stews and sauces.  Immigrants from the Indian subcontinent brought with them many of their native dishes, and one particular rice dish has become a favorite of Tanzanians — pilau.

Tanzania quick facts:

  • Capital: Dodoma
  • Population: 44,929,002 (2012 census)
  • Notable Tanzanians/Zanzibarese: Freddie Mercury, Hasheem Thabeet

We asked Miriam Rose Kinunda of the Tanzanian food and culture blog Taste of Tanzania if there was a dish that represents best what is unique about Tanzanian cooking, and she was quick to recommend pilau and kachumbari, adding that pilau is the “most loved food in Tanzania.”  Using her recipes, we made both dishes a part of our Tanzanian meal:

Plain pilau

(adapted from Taste of Tanzania)


  • 1 cup white rice
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup diced red onions
  • 1 Tbs minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs pilau masala (recipe follows)
  • 2 to 3 cups chicken stock, simmering
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • salt

First, the stock was put to simmer in a saucepan on the back burner:


Then the oil was heated in a saucepan over medium heat, and the rice and onions were added:


Stirring almost constantly, we sauteed the rice and onions until the rice started to take on an opaque appearance and had begun to darken slightly:


The coconut milk was added (mixed with a little salt to season everything) , and the pot brought back to a simmer:


We put the lid on the pot and turned the heat down to low.  Stock needs to be added whenever the liquid gets too low, so we checked after five minutes of simmering:


It looked like it could take on some more liquid, so we added a little less than a cup of stock:


…and replaced the lid.  We checked two more times and added stock about every five minutes.  After fifteen minutes of cooking we left whatever remaining liquid was there and allowed it to be absorbed into the rice.  After twenty minutes of simmering, almost all the liquid was absorbed and the pilau was finished:


Pilau masala


  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbs cardamom
  • 1 1/2 Tbs cumin

We were fortunate enough to have all the constituent spices of pilau masala in whole form on hand:


…so we ground our own:


Simply mixing the pre-ground versions of all the spices would work just fine.

Miriam Kinuda also recommended (insisted, really), in both her communication with us and in her pilau recipe on Taste of Tanzania, that pilau be served alongside a mixed vegetable salad called kachumbari.  Not ones to take such a recommendation lightly, we were happy to comply.


  • 2 Roma tomatoes, cut in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 small head of cabbage, sliced very thinly
  • 1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, diced finely
  • 1 small handful cilantro leaves
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste

We mixed all the ingredients in a large bowl, then portioned the handsome salad thusly:


Both pilau and kachumbali were simple to prepare, looked and smelled amazing, and most importantly tasted fantastic.  Both dishes immediately earned “WILL MAKE AGAIN” status.

More form our Tanzanian meal: Tanzanian fish curry and ugali


5 thoughts on “Tanzanian Cuisine — Pilau and Kachumbari”

  1. Great to have you following my blog. Bizarre that you do in the week that my brother and his family have come to visit us from TZ. They live in Dar es Salaam. Peter brought me a store cupboard of spices from his local market. I cooked Chicken Sekela and served it with a tamarind sauce. Novel for me to do a Tanzanian dish and it was spectacularly good. I promise to post about it as soon as I get the time.

    1. Conor, thanks for checking us out! That Tamarind sauce sounds like the Indian or Southeast Asian influence coming into play again. Tanzanian food has been fun to post about so far.

      1. We do have quite a number of recipes with Indian influence; but that is only around the coastal region where many visitors visit. If you go inland, many people cook totally different. I will introduce such indigenous recipes slowly.

      2. One of the most interesting parts of this project for us is learning about the different regional variations in the cuisine of a single country. We can’t wait to see what you feature.

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