Before I arrived in Dar I imagined a full-immersion of local foods and ingredients. After all, it’s what I look forward to the most when I travel. It was a bit more difficult in Dar, partly due to the saturation of international cuisine in our expat neighborhood, partly due to the lack of a varied Swahili cuisines (centuries of being a trade port has welcomed influences from far and wide), and partly because the local cuisine, when you find it, isn’t always that good.
With that said, in the last year and a half I have been surprised, many times, by the simplicity and flavor of some of the local dishes here (when I find it). I can never get enough of the mangoes at this time of year, or the watermelons in late summer. I love the various spinach-like greens stewed in coconut or peanut, the peppery grilled seafood–always grilled to perfection, the beef and plantain stews, and have even come to enjoy the plain, flavorless maize paste, called ugali, that is just as much a staple starch as it is a vessel to shovel aforementioned stews into one’s mouth.
I’m also pleasantly surprised by these little guys– called Dagaa. Dagaa is usually sold dried, and are available at most local, open air markets. They can also be procured fresh, slippery and silvery, from the fish markets. The dagaa is a small, sardine- or anchovy-like fish, used to accent dishes (usually, greens) when fresh but more often consumed in dry form, either in cooking or simply as a snack. It’s not for the faint of heart, these little salty fishy chewy snacks that pack a flavorful punch, particularly when they’re in the markets in these massive mountains.