Chips Mayai - 2nd National Dish of Tanzania? Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Chips Mayai - 2nd National Dish of Tanzania?

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To the westerners' palate, the national dish of Tanzania called Ugali could be said to taste as nice as it sounds! This mixture of maize, flour and water can range from a porridge-like consistency right up to a dough-like ball. It's a cheap source of carbohydrate and so it gets eaten by the poorest people the length and breadth of the country; it is rightly the national dish of Tanzania. Usually eaten in its more solid state, Ugali can be dipped into a stew often containing vegetables and very occasionally some meat.

Yet, this meal is perhaps unsurprisingly often rejected by westerners in favour of what has got to be the country's second most popular dish, the Chips Mayai.

What is it?

This simple meal is exactly as it is described: chips and mayai - or for those of you who don't speak KiSwahili1, chips and egg. It's worth noting at this point that Tanzania is a nation made up of many tribes2, all speaking languages based on a common Bantu root. Therefore the proper name for the language spoken by the members of the coastal Swahili tribe should be KiSwahili.

Getting back to the meal in question - many nations enjoy food based on chips; the French-Canadian Poutine is just one example. However, unlike the traditional British egg and chips that can be found in greasy spoons up and down the UK, a Tanzanian egg and chips is really just a chip omelette.

How to make one?

To make one the chef will start by frying up a portion of chips. It's important to note at this point that they will never be American 'fries'. The country of German East Africa was originally created as part of the German empire, but after the First World War the League of Nations gave control of the territory to the British and the country became the colony of Tanganyika. When Tanganyika became independent of Britain in the 1960s, it merged with the island of Zanzibar to form the country Tanzania. The country never became as 'colonial' as its northern cousin Kenya while under British rule, but the country still has strong British links and most educated people speak some English3. Due to this British influence, the country drives on the left and eats proper chips4.

Right - ramble over, back to the process; the chef will place the newly-cooked chips into a large frying pan and an omelette mixture poured over the top. This pancake-shaped object will then be cooked - it's really that simple!

Eating one in Tanzania

In Tanzania, chips mayai make an ideal lunchtime snack and are usually provided with a bottle of tomato ketchup or even better a tomato and chilli ketchup. As an extra, a few slices of fresh tomato are often placed on the side of the plate or, if the consumer is really lucky, a few spoonfuls of spicy ground beef might be piled on top. Chips mayai are sold all over the country: from little cafes where the furniture is usually of the cheap plastic 'garden furniture' style through to roadside rest stops. Some of these can be heaven-sent if the consumer has spent the last nine hours in a cramped bus on an unpaved broken road; here chips mayai are often cooked on a portable trolley and served in newspaper just like fish and chips were served in Britain years ago.

Eating one elsewhere

This all sounds great, but how do you get one if you're not in Tanzania? Well, for a start the British connoisseur has it easy, they can just go to their local chip shop and order a portion of chips and make one themselves. If, however, you are unlucky enough not to have a local 'Chippy' then you will need to make your own chips. Don't worry though, it's easy enough to do.

For the authentic chips mayai though, you probably don't really want perfect chips, the dish actually tastes nicer if you use the slightly soggy chips that come at the end of a batch. Whatever chips you use, put them aside to keep warm. Take out some large fresh eggs and break a few into a mixing jug, take a fork and beat the eggs to make an omelette mixture. Pour some of the chips into a hot non-sticking frying pan and spread them out evenly throughout the pan. Pour the omelette mixture over the top so that it just covers the chips and cook until the egg mixture turns golden on both sides. Serve on a plate, sit back and dream of the Kilimanjaro...


1The prefix 'ki' means language in Swahili; hence 'Kiswahili' means the Swahili language.2The WaMassai ('Wa' is the Swahili for 'tribe') or Massai (as they are known in English) are probably the most famous tribes, but there are hundreds of others such as the Wagogo, Wahehe, and the Wachaga.3In reality most Tanzanians speak their own tribal language as their first language, Swahili as the language of day-to-day conversation with other Tanzanians and then finally English.4To explain this to any American readers, British chips are much more like American steak-cut fries rather than traditional french fries.

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