A Mom of Two on What It’s Like Feeding Her Family in Tanzania

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Julia Schipper)

A year ago, Julia Schipper moved with her husband and two kids (ages 2 and 4) from Washington, D.C., to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. While she and her husband have lived all over the world, being in Tanzania has brought new challenges and new joys. Food is more expensive there, but people also take more time to eat (goodbye, desk lunch). “Here it’s important to share your meal with others,” she says. “But having options is the biggest thing I miss.”

We asked Julia how her eating life has changed. Spoiler alert: Many restaurants in Dar es Salaam come with nannies.

How has your cooking changed in Tanzania?

Well, for one thing, we have help. We have three staff — a nanny, a housekeeper, and a driver. Everybody has home help — not just expats. My nanny has a nanny (who probably has a nanny). Most of our friends have similar arrangements. Drivers are probably mainly for expats, but nannies and housekeepers are very standard. Having someone to shop and cook for me or with me has been a huge change.

(Image credit: Julia Schipper)

Where do you do your grocery shopping, and how has that changed?

Grocery shopping has changed the most for us since we arrived. Our housekeeper shops for all fruits and vegetables at the local shop, and buys imported goods at the supermarket. If I go shopping I go to the supermarket, because shopping at the local markets, while cheaper and fresher, requires a higher level of Swahili and is less relaxing of a process. It’s also much faster to do a one-stop shop at the grocery store than chasing after a better price around town.

But supermarkets are also unreliable. First, the supply of food here changes over the year because of seasonality and because of changes in import regulations. This means that any product grown in Tanzania (fruits and vegetables primarily) is only seasonally available, so you can’t buy mangos or watermelon in winter, for example.

Because the Tanzanian government is also trying to promote the local economy, many imports are banned somewhat irregularly. Some days you can find products you like from abroad, while other days you try to buy the same items and not a single store carries it. This makes shopping (as well as meal planning) unpredictable.

(Image credit: Julia Schipper)

Do you think your kids’ ages affect how you eat?

Our kids are ages 2 and 4. For us, these ages limit how adventurous we are with feeding our kids (looking at you, 4-year-old!), so we tend to cycle through the same meals over the weeks. My objective is to make sure they are not hungry and that they get in as balanced of a meal as possible.

What snack foods do you feed your kids where you live now? Have those changed?

Tanzanians do not snack, so most of the snacks are imported and typically full of salt and additives. I tend to make our snacks — banana muffins, carrots and dip, or apples with peanut butter. It’s certainly healthier in the long run.

(Image credit: Julia Schipper)

What does a typical dinner look like in your house now?

The main difference is that dinner is almost always made by our “dada” (housekeeper). We tell her what to cook and she shops for it and prepares it. It’s not always what I am expecting or craving, but it sure makes life a lot easier in the long run. She makes a lot of fish, curries (because there is lots of Indian influence in Tanzania), and a delicious flatbread called chapatti which is essentially a Tanzanian tortilla made with lots of oil.

What are the foreign foods you didn’t eat before that you’re loving now?

We have always been adventurous eaters, but fish heads and tiny dried fish are on the menu now, as well as the local staple called ugali, which is cornmeal mush. The kids eat it regularly at school. I have to admit I have not really warmed to it.

Do you go out to eat more or less as a family than before? Why?

Going out to eat is very affordable and enjoyable here. Now, it may sound foreign to people in Europe and the U.S., but most restaurants have playgrounds and a nanny assigned to watch the kids as the parents eat. It’s a real luxury to have this and nice to take advantage of.

Sounds amazing. Is there anything you miss?

It’s hard to buy anything not produced in Tanzania or the region, so I miss the diversity of food options you get living in Europe or the U.S. I miss sweet potatoes. I miss really good juicy oranges, as citrus doesn’t grow in the tropics. I also miss the quality of frozen foods — like frozen peas. I also miss Vietnamese food, which we ate a lot of near Washington, D.C.