Taste Test

ARUSHA, Tanzania — As I prepared to live in rural Tanzania for eight weeks, I knew not to have particularly high expectations about the food I would encounter there. Two weeks of orientation seemed to prove me right—we were served the same beef stew, which had more bones in it than actual meat, every single night. Sometimes we hard-working volunteers had to subsist on only makande for lunch, a stew of maize and beans. Needless to say, I was less than satisfied.

Once we got to the villages, the culinary customs started to get even stranger. Our first morning in the homestay, I was handed a plate of peanuts for breakfast. Legumes and instant coffee? Not my favorite way to start the day. Some of my friends brought jam to their families as a gift, and on their second night, found themselves extending their hands to be served a spoonful of it to eat plain.

In the three weeks since I've been here, though, I've started to appreciate a lot of aspects of the Tanzanian diet. Most notably, the fruit. Turns out bananas in America aren't really bananas—they're poor imitations of what real ndizi, picked from the tree and sold in a village marketplace, are like. My homestay baba grows avocadoes and oranges in the backyard, so we have some with almost every meal. Chapati, which is basically a thin, African version of naan, is delicious (at least until you're forced to consume six of them by your overbearing mama, who insists that you aren't eating enough food). And I have even started to develop a fondness for rice and beans – which is good, because if I didn't, I would definitely go hungry.

What I didn't anticipate, though, is how much I'd miss American dishes. Daily, the other three international volunteers living in my village and I engage in conversations that could only be described as one thing: food porn. Cookie dough ice cream? McDonald's cheeseburgers? Bagels with cream cheese? Felipe's burritos? You name it, we've fantasized about it. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I had a dream the other night about a chocolate shop. While we're in the city on our weekends off, us internationals hop from Western establishment to Western establishment, in search of the perfect solution to our culinary cravings. It's hard to find; Cream cheese and chocolate just don't taste the same in Africa. I know that when I get back to my village on Sundays, I will be met with a giant plate of food, and my family will sit and watch me eat until I've finished every last bite. “Nimesheba”—“I'm full”—is a foreign concept to them. So, I will once again eat six chapati a day and pray that my digestive system can hold up.

And the one item I've come to appreciate more than any other food? It’s the only piece of America I can bring to my homestay—a good, old-fashioned PB&J.


Kate Leist '11, a Crimson associate sports editor, is an organismic and evolutionary biology concentrator in Adams House.