We navigated our way through the maze of Kariakoo in downtown Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I was snacking on a cob of roasted maize as we advanced our way down a quieter side street. There were a number of apartment complexes, each behind tall fences and sturdy gates.
We entered a black gate and that is where we found Mama Mumtaz.
She serves a dish that’s commonly known as Zanzibari Mix. There’s no need to complicate the name (even though it’s a complex culinary treat)!
Mama Mumtaz does no advertising for her humble eatery, all guests are there by word of mouth, even we heard about it through a local Indian friend in Dar Es Salaam. She opens everyday at around noon and closes when the food is finished.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of an apartment complex, half indoor and half sprawling into the parking lot. The food sits on a table and eaters sit around on wooden benches, placed in random directions to avoid the angle of direct sunlight.
When we arrived, the premises was filled with women, women all wearing full bui bui (also known as a burka or an abaya) Islamic coverings. They were sitting on benches, silently enjoying their Zanzibari Mix. Above them, scribbled on the concrete with a marker, read “Mama Mumtaz.”
She was a plump lady and by the smells and effort she was putting forth, I could immediately sense that she loved what she was doing, a deep passion for her food. It was that same non-verbal care that Mama Chapati had expressed when serving me one of the best street chapati’s I’ve ever had the privilege of eating – in my entire life!
Zanzibari Mix is a combination of Indian, Arab, and African flavors, all mingled together into a single unique specialty.
Deep fried morsels of potato and spices, chickpeas, peanuts, and boiled potato’s start at the bottom of the bowl. It is then covered by a smooth coconut sauce, a spoon of pulpy coconut cilantro chutney, a dash of chili sauce and a scoop of deep fried tidbits.
I patiently waited for a few moments until my bowl of Zanzibari Mix was handed to me. It was spectacular, a combination of tastes that my mouth was unfamiliar with and I rejoiced with each bite. It had similarities to Indian food, Arab food, or even could have passed as Malay, but this was just slightly different, boosted with a taste of Africa.
I was delighted and despite my needing to stand up to allow a few more women to have a seat, I slurped down my bowl with haste.
As the only male at the small restaurant, the situation was slightly inappropriate for me to be snapping away with my camera, so I took a couple pictures of my own bowl of Zanzibari Mix, unable to show the interesting setting. Mama Mumtaz charged us a worthy 1300 TZS (0.88 USD) per bowl and we left content…very content.
If we hadn’t known about the Mama Mumtaz secret, hiding between walls of shanty apartments, we would have blindly walked right past the gate without ever noticing the gem of Zanzibari mix.
On my latest visit to Dar Es Salaam, also discovered this wonderful place for mix, in the neighborhood of Upanga.