Culinary Tourism in Tanzania

by Carlos C. Olaechea

Student Carlos C. Olaechea shares some gastronomic images of his spring break trip to Tanzania.

This spring break, I went on a tour of northern Tanzania along with fellow gastronomy student Keith Duhamel and Interim Faculty Coordinator Mary Beaudry as part of Dr. Samuel Mendlinger’s course on economic development via tourism in the developing world.  In addition to viewing the wildlife that makes this region of Africa a unique tourist destination, we also participated in lectures offered by local experts on tourism, conservation, and community development.

As a gastronomy student, I naturally focused my attention on the local food culture as we drove past coffee plantations, paddies, fields of maize, and herds of zebu cattle.  We were able to learn about agricultural practices and traditional foods and beverages, as well as sample the cuisines of the various native and immigrant groups that call Tanzania home.

The course, offered by Metropolitan College’s Administrative Sciences department and open to gastronomy students interested in tourism development, is offered each spring semester.  It is advisable to take one other tourism course in the department, such as Cultural Tourism (ML 692), prior to taking this course.  For more information about the course, as well as other tourism courses, please visit the Administrative Sciences website.

Local root vegetables are offered alongside traditional English breakfast items such as beans, grilled tomatoes, and sausages.
a meat stew and rice at a roadside cafe. The food is traditionally cooked on charcoal braziers, filling the space with a smokey aroma
preparing leafy greens at a roadside cafe
Hotels and lodges offer guests boxed lunches to take with them on safari. They typically feature a banana and packaged mango nectar produced in the capital, Dar Es Salaam.
Listening to a talk about banana cultivation on a cultural tour of Mto W Ambu, a town renowned for its bananas, plantains, and rice.
a patch of leafy greens in Mto W Ambu
A heard of zebu cattle – a breed known for its hardiness and ubiquitous in Tanzania – in Mto W Ambu. Cattle herding is one of the primary livelihoods of the Maasai people of the region
A dinner buffet at Rhino Lodge in Ngorongoro Conservation area feature continental and local fare, including ugali – a cornmeal porridge – and peas in a tomato and coconut milk sauce.
The national beer. Safari beer is also another type of lager available in Tanzania, as well as Tusker, a Kenyan variety. Tanzania also produces its own brand of gin called Konyagi, which is sweeter and has less juniper than the European and American varieties.
Women selling plantains on the side of the road.
skewers of beef, a traditional Maasai dish called Nyama Choma, is a popular street food throughout this region of Tanzania. Each skewer costs about 1,000 Tanzanian shillings, the equivalent of 50 cents.
Banana and sprouted red millet beer, the specialty of the Chaka people. Originally from the area surrounding Mount Kilimanjaro, many tribe members moved to the town of Mto W Ambu. The beverage provides a great deal of vitamins and probiotics, and after Protestant missionaries discouraged its consumption, the health of local populations declined significantly.
Enjoying the famous red bananas of Mto W Ambu.
sweet, non alcoholic malt beverages and plantain chips are a popular snack throughout the region, and both are available at the rest stops within Serengeti National Park.
A guava vendor in the town of Arusha, where we began our expedition.
The central market of Arusha
An artful display of fresh okra at the central market in Arusha.
A variety of legumes, a local staple, at the central market in Arusha.
Two important seasonings: dried anchovies (middle) and scotch bonnet chiles or “pili pili” (right). On the bottom left are chunks of clay that women consume, especially when they are pregnant.
Freshly ground Tanzanian coffee at the Arusha central market.
brightly colored and flavored baobab seeds are a popular children’s snack, who suck the acidic pulp and spit out the brown seeds. Apparently, it is inappropriate for adults to indulge in them…but that didn’t stop me.
The salad and chutney bar at Khan’s BBQ. By day, Mr. Khan, a Pakistani expat, runs a mechanic shop, and by night, grills brimming with kebabs line Mosque Street behind the central market in Arusha. Although the salads and chutneys have South Asian influences, they are uniquely Tanzanian.
Mutton and beef cooking on a charcoal grill at Khan’s BBQ
Red tinged tandoor chicken at Khan’s BBQ
Freshly made jilebis, a crispy snack soaked in sugar syrup, are the perfect sweet end to a meal at Khan’s BBQ
Local custard apple, passionfruit, and guava from the central market in Arusha supplemented the breakfast buffet on our last day in Tanzania.


Course Profile: Cultural Tourism

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Anyone in the BU Gastronomy program is aware of just how popular food has become within the past decade. The advent of the “foodie” has meant that more and more people are paying closer attention to what they eat and food has become more than just a means for sustenance but a form leisure activity. Needless to say, with more people interested in food comes a demand for more places to eat, and this has given rise to the popularity of culinary tourism, one of the fastest growing and most lucrative industries today.

Culinary tourism is something that is discussed in some of the program’s core courses, such as theory and methodology, as well as anthropology of food. The topic is approached more from a social science perspective as students examine the cultural and social implications on local populations, as well as tourists’ motivations for traveling to experience new foods. The readings and discussion can lead one to examine their own motivations for trying new cuisines, but it can also lead students to consider culinary tourism as a possible career path.

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Fortunately, students have an opportunity to explore the broader industry into which culinary tourism falls: cultural tourism. Metropolitan College’s Administrative Studies department offers a course in the fall semester on cultural tourism that is open to BU Gastronomy students as an elective credit. Professor Samuel Mendlinger has been teaching the course for nearly a decade and is the founder and director of the Economic Development & Tourism Management concentration in the Administrative Studies department. Dr. Mendlinger has spent the majority of his career specializing in economic development in the developing world. In doing so, he became aware of the positive impact that tourism had in developing local economies. Since founding the concentration at Boston University, he has worked or been a consultant on tourism development in the United States, Dominican Republic, China, United Arab Emirates, Liberia and Tanzania

Dr. Mendlinger is quick to point out that “tourism is not hospitality. [the] goal is not to provide the best service possible to [the] client/tourist.” He continues explaining that “true tourism development has three clients who all must be satisfied: (1) the tourist who we wish to provide with the best memories and experiences possible; (2) the local population who we wish to aid in wealth and good job creation; and (3) the future, so we wish not to destroy or seriously damage the environment or the local culture.”

The course provides a look at tourism from more of a business perspective, and students explore the theories and principles of cultural tourism development and management, a nice compliment to the social science approach offered in the Gastronomy core curriculum. Students who take the course learn that cultural tourism has only been considered a distinct branch of the industry since the 1990s and is defined by tourists’ desire to participate in cultural activities as the primary or secondary motivation for travel. These cultural activities include art, music, history, and, of course, gastronomy, which receives its own segment during the course. Students learn how to identify cultural assets of a tourist destination, including gastronomy, and how to market these assets and develop them as tourism products in the most sustainable and responsible ways so that they cater to the three clients Dr. Mendlinger describes.

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Student Carlos C. Olaechea’s final project

Utilizing the principles and theories learned in readings and lectures, students then critique two cultural tourism products to assess how successfully they have been developed and if they do, indeed, serve the needs of tourists, the local population, and the future. Additionally, students become equipped with the knowledge to offer their own recommendations for how these tourist attractions can be improved. The course concludes with students offering and presenting their own plans for the development of a cultural asset into a cultural tourism product. Student projects have included formulating statewide beer trails in Vermont, developing a local market in Lyon as a tourist attraction, and creating a tropical agriculture and gastronomy food tour in Miami.

Students who complete Dr. Samuel Mendlinger’s course on cultural tourism are then invited to take his course on economic development via tourism in the developing world in the spring semester, which meets in Tanzania.

Paired with other food business and food marketing related courses, the course on cultural tourism can greatly aid students in pursuing a career in culinary tourism or perhaps starting their own company catering to tourists in search of new gastronomic experiences.

Cultural Tourism (ML 692) is offered in the fall semesters and is cross listed with AD 603. The course is attended by a diverse group of students from all across the world and across various disciplines.