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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 November, 2003, 13:24 GMT
The battle for Tanzanian stomachs
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC Africa Live!, Dar es Salaam

Cook at Mama Lishe
At Mama Lishe restaurant hygiene standards are unusually high.
You smell the food before you see it - it wafts invitingly down the street mingling with the many different odours of the city.

When you turn the corner into Mama Lishe restaurant a riot of colourful dishes greets the eye - ugali (maize meal) porridge, beans, spinach, fried fish, chips, chicken and tomatoes are the staple foods here.

Many here say this is the acceptable face of African fast food.

Mama Lishe is one of a growing number of fast food restaurants which are popping up across Dar es Salaam, meeting the needs of an ever increasing urban population.

Its small army of cooks start preparing the food at dawn peeling, vegetables and stirring huge cauldrons of coconut rice.

Balanced meal

It is no coincidence that that the restaurant is called Mama Lishe; it translates from Kiswahili into English as Mother Nutrition and its philosophy, according to manager Innocent Kabitieni, is to offer a nutritious and balanced meal.

I am confident that African cuisine will prevail. Ethiopian food, for example, has invaded many western countries.
Kilfle, Ethiopian, USA

"People can eat well here, getting the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fats in each meal."

And it comes at a reasonable price - at just $0.50 for a plate of ugali, beans, fish and chapati bread.

"This food is affordable to all people," said Innocent Kabitieni.

"That's why this restaurant is so popular."

Hygiene

It is also popular because hygiene standards are unusually high.

Fast food restaurant
Here at the fast food restaurants the staples are burgers, chips and frankfurter sausages.

The restaurant has a strict policy on cooks washing their hands before they touch food, clean water is used to cook the food and once cooked it is never kept overnight and sold the following day.

Not all street restaurants in Tanzania are like Mama Lishe.

Moses Urio from the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre told Africa Live! that health problems are often associated with these restaurants.

"If hygiene is not good then all sorts of problems can arise, from diarrhoea to cholera, so there is a definite risk of getting ill if you eat in a restaurant which has poor hygiene."

Dubious quality

Mama Lishe offers a broad selection of different dishes, but all too often fast food vendors sell food with low nutritional value.

Tanzanian street food vendor
Health problems are often associated with street restaurants.
For every Mama Lishe there are dozens of vendors selling egg and chips, or chipsimayai as it is known locally, which have been hanging around for hours if not days in glass-fronted wooden cabinets after being deep fried in oil of dubious quality.

As consumers become more educated about the need for food hygiene, they have started looking for other places to eat and are now turning in small numbers to the handful of western-style fast food restaurants that have recently been opened in Dar es Salaam.

Here the staples are burgers, chips and frankfurter sausages.

Expatriates

Thomas Rweyemamu, a retired bank manager, is a regular visitor, but admits he rarely has more than a cup of tea.

"The food is clean and the surroundings are nice, but at over $3 for beef burger and chips, I can't afford to buy the food. I also think I prefer our own African food."

Thomas Rweyemamu
Thomas Rweyemamu admits he rarely has more than a cup of tea at the fast food restaurants
In reality, the majority of customers are expatriate workers earning expatriate wages.

Despite the cost, the western-style fast food outlets are showing the way, at least in terms of hygiene, although the debate over the nutritional content of the food is set to continue.

"I would say that good traditional street food provides a better balanced meal and is more nutritious than most western-style fast food, and for the time being I believe Tanzanians will be happy to carry on eating this food," said Moses Urio.


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