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Man cannot live by bread alone, is an expression that does not suit today's feature. Yes, we do need, bread. Fill our bellies before even picking up our phones and newspapers.

No wonder the great, late Jamaican singer Bob Marley sang : “ A hungry man, is an angry man.” 

Let us begin with one of the most common East African foods. Known as FouFou in parts of the continent, Sadza in South Africa, Kaunga in Uganda, Sima in Kenya and Ugali in Tanzania. Ugali is so popular that there is actually a maize brand called “Ugali”, currently on sale.


I was having a conversation with a friend from Zanzibar and she said:

“If I were to choose between Ugali and Wali ( i.e. cooked Rice), I would choose Ugali.”

I nodded. 

Then she laughed when I narrated her the following story. One afternoon I was in a rush. I had a concert and running late. I am one of those people who believe in eating at home. Not picking bits here and there ... feeding on junk and wasting money. I was hungry and in a hurry. A bad combination. 

Eating demands attention, tender care and passion. You don't want to wolf your food down as digestion always starts in the mouth.  Chewing is important. Has to be slow and you must enjoy. But...hey! 

I made Ugali. Ugali is the best meal when you are hungry and rushing. Simple and filling. I made my Ugali and boiled duck. The salad was beef tomatoes with Avocado Oil. I know some of us Tanzanians equate eating Salad with Uzungu. Ask most of us what Salad is and that word Kachumbari pops its head out like a diver in a swimming pool. Kachumbari comes from Kachumber, a salad dish from India and the Mediterranean area. Originally not a Swahili dish.


So I devoured the meal. Duck was amazing. We all make duck in different ways. Some like it roasted in the oven. Slowly. Others season it, then deep fry it in oil. Duck meat is already oily. 

According to Health-line, duck meat is lower in fat (23%) compared to chicken (40%).

Now. With Ugali. You cannot put it in the fridge or leave it somewhere then come back to re heat, like, say, rice. 

“You had to throw it away?”

My friend protested.

“The Ugali yes. But I managed to finish the Salad and the duck.”

She winced.

I winced.

It is like breaking the law of meals. You don't throw away Ugali. Even writing this oozes a creeping guilty feeling. ALITUPA UGALI.



That is the viciousness of time. When we are rushing, time is such a sadist. Merciless. But the engine of the tale is that YOU DO NOT THROW AWAY UGALI. That is why my friend had both palms to her mouth. 

“Imagine that appetizing Ugali in the dustbin!!!” Say no more.

Hadija : “I would not mind so much if it were Ubwabwa.” 

Ubwabwa, well-made rice. Boy. We have cool foods in East Africa. Still speaking of rice, during the early 1980s, I had three visitors who I had bumped at New Africa Hotel, in then down-town Dar es Salaam. We youths would hang around this well-known seafront restaurant. 

One afternoon, a Japanese painter whose name I have since forgotten with his two British pals complained they had never tasted Tanzanian cakes.

“When we are in your tourist hotels all we keep getting are European sweets. Don t you have Tanzanian cakes?” 

I invited them at my pad in Mwananyamala -Kisiwani, around 30 minutes by bus from the sea front.  Made Ugali and my then girlfriend, let us call her Fatuma arranged the Mandazi and what else? Vitumbua. My guests found Mandazi tasty. But it was Vitumbua which robbed their tongues. Fatuma and I stood there watching them relishing and gobbling down the Vitumbua. 

“What are they made of?” 

Fatuma explained. The visitors wanted to see the intricate Vitumbua pot. With its holes that resemble a Dau game (Swahili chess to be precise). She explained how different it were from how we fry Mandazi. The two Britons said they had tasted Mandazi in London Caribbean restaurants.



Years later I would verify that. What Jamaicans call Dumplings we say Mandazi ya Kumimina. A softer version of Mandazi. There are different types of Mandazi. But Vitumbua?

That is the first time I heard word Rice cake.

Tasty. Like Ugali very filling too.

Normally in London not all of us cook Vitumbua. There are specialist makers and sellers of Vitumbua. And you cannot order a few. Minimum is twenty Vitumbuas. You buy. Eat some. Keep the rest in the freezer.

Yes Vitumbua, i.e. Rice Cakes are tasty beasts.

Tasty sweets of East Africa.Freddy Macha is a London based Tanzanian writer and musician.


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