Monday, October 28, 2013

GET TO KNOW: Miriam Kinunda of "A Taste of Tanzania"

Miriam Kinunda is one of the first African food bloggers I met when I started blogging almost two years ago. It was easy to see why we connect: there are few bloggers from East Africa and it was an instant connections. Also, Kenyan and Tanzanian cuisine are so similar due to the Swahili influences in our background.

Miriam first began blogging in 2004 into what has now become "A Taste of Tanzania" food blog and a large database of Tanzanian dishes to try. She also accompanies her posts with detailed and popular youtube videos -- making her the definitive voice on Tanzanian food online I've already tried some of the recipes including this "Coconut Rice with Carrots and Peas" dish.

She was recently featured in Ebony Magazine and you can expect the second edition of her recently published cookbook "A Taste of Tanzania" out this December 2013 (and there'll likely be a giveaway).

Without further ado, meet my good rafiki, Miriam.

Introduce yourself!
My name is Miriam Rose Kinunda, I was born 43 years ago in Tanzania. Now I live in Phoenix, Arizona.

For those who've never been, what is Tanzania like? What is one place everyone should visit?
Tanzania is a country on the east coast of Africa. Tanzanians are known to be very social people. As many other African countries, Tanzania is a developing country full of potentials.

One place that everyone should visit is Serengeti National park. I have never been there but everyone who has been there love the place. I have too many positive feedback about Serengeti.

What are the native dishes in Tanzania? What's the style of cooking there?
Our staple foods are Ugali, Mchicha (amaranth vegetable), Cassava, green bananas, sweet potatoes and beans.

Many Tanzanian households will have Ugali at least once a day; the most common type of ugali is a mix of water and maize flour. Ugali is served with any type of meat, fish or vegetable stew.

Tanzania is a Swahili speaking country, so is the cooking style. Swahili cooking style is African mixed with Indian, Arabic, and a bit of European. We stew, ferment, deep-fry, mash and barbeque a lot using fresh ingredients from the market. Some recipes are very spicy and full of flavor like pilau and some recipes are just blunt like ugali. One must master to cook Ugali, then stewing.

Charcoal stoves are very common, or nowadays gas stoves too. Electrical stoves are not used as much. Food prepared on charcoal stoves usual taste better --I do not know why, but I guess the smoke from wood or charcoal adds flavor to the food.

How did your love for cooking begin?
Since I was young, I would eat anything that is put in front of me.

Before I was six years old, my friends and I would help ourselves to  rice or vegetables from the house, then we would make a small fire outside the house and cook using a margarine tin-can as a pan. We enjoyed cooking in those tin cans so much. It was sad that my mom did not allow me to cook at that age.

When I was 7 years old, I lived with a relative who was a home economics teacher, I used to watch her practicing different recipes at home and I would help once in a while, that is when I realized that cooking was fun.

How would you describe your cooking?
I like to eat healthy. For example instead of deep-frying fish, I broil until golden brown. The end result is the same as deep-fried fish.

To get nice flavor, I never use canned tomatoes or canned vegetables. The only canned products I use in my house are tomato paste, coconut milk and jackfruit. Everything else has to be fresh.

For sauces, I would make my own home made sauces.

A good thing with Tanzanian recipes, we do not depend on processed ingredients. Everything is prepared right from the kitchen.

coconut rice with peas and carrots
How did "Taste of Tanzania" come about?
In 2004, I decide to create a website to post recipes for my family and friends abroad who were always asking me to send them recipes. The domain name was my name; which was very long.

In 2005, Ndesanjo Macha, an old friend of mine introduced me into blogging, he is the first Tanzanian blogger. So in 2006, I came up with a new URL and started blogging, also I decided to write a cookbook. Then just after that, I became very busy with school: I was doing Masters in Information Technology at that time and with the family it was just too much, so I decided to put the idea of a cookbook aside.

2009 was a good year, I finally finished the cookbook “A Taste of Tanzania”. I wanted my website URL to match with the book title, so I changed the URL again to

What's the best part of food blogging?
Sharing recipes is the best part of food blogging. It does feel good to share recipes with others. We all cook and eat every day, but there is always someone who may need a recipe or two from someone else. A few people do appreciate the recipes I’m posting and it does make a difference.

Lemongrass tea - chai ya mchaichai
What are common misconceptions about Tanzanian food?
It is very hard to answer this question, but I have been asked a few times why we Tanzanians eat Asian or Arabic food. I think some people think our food is the same as Asian or Arabic food. But that is not true! It just happened that a few Tanzanian recipes that are being shared by many has Indian influence. This does not mean all other recipes have asian influence. We do have many recipes that are Bantu.

Why do you think the world is not as interested in African cuisines as they are of foods from other places in the world?
A few years ago, we did not do much to promote our recipes. And if we did, we did not follow international standards of measuring ingredients.

Then we started to see a few Africans posting African recipes over the Internet, but, we used a lot of grease, and the food presentation was not as nice. If you think about it, it is hard to convince a regular American or European who has never been to Africa to try those recipes that were badly presented.

If you look around every continent they are not only serving food, but also want the food to look good. This is very hard for most of our African cuisine. Our cuisine tastes great but it is hard to give a good artistic presentation at the table or in the cookbooks to appeal to people from other continents.

As the go-to source for Tanzanian Cuisine, what would you like people to learn from you?
First I want people to know that Tanzania has healthy recipes and also has almost the same ingredients like many other countries around the world, just cooked different. Another thing that I want people to learn is that there is nothing scary about African cuisine.

What is your favorite part about cooking?
My favorite part about cooking is the aroma. I also like the creativity which allows me full control of what I am preparing. I do not like to cook like everybody else at all. The idea of adding something or removing something from any ordinary recipe makes me happy.

Your least favorite part?
I do not like to bake cakes. It is not easy to play around with the ingredients and its quantity. I don’t like recipes that I always have to follow the instructions 1, 2, and 3 as it is. I like breaking the rules. I find baking cakes does not give me that much of freedom.

Prawns in coconut sauce
What is your favorite dish to cook?
I love shrimps with coconut sauce. It is simple and fast but full of flavor.

What is your never fail dish?
My never failed dish is pilau. I have never made any pilau that people did not like. I love making pilau at any time. Pilau ingredients are, Rice, meat, peas, potatoes, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, ginger, black pepper, onions, garlic, and water or coconut milk.

plain pilau
You recently finished a cookbook on Tanzanian cuisine that is about to release it's second edition in December 2013. Tell us about it?
A Taste of Tanzania cookbook is a collection of simple, and healthy recipes from Tanzania. I carefully selected recipes that the ingredient can be found in any grocery store in USA and other countries around the world. In this book, you will find only four ingredients that are processed; everything is made fresh from your house so you have a choice to use only organic ingredients. In short, this is an introductory to Tanzanian recipes, my second cookbook will go deeper. This book will be on sale summer 2013. 

Tell us more about that including the difficulties in finding a publisher.
Finding a publisher was such a stressful work. Agents did not think that there was any market for such books in America. I was hurt, but I did not give up, and now I am publishing on my own. I will be able to sell the book at much lower prices than the price the print on demand publishers wanted.

Advice to others trying to release cookbooks on African cuisine?
The advice is never to give up! If you cannot get an agent or a publisher, try to self publish. But never give up because if we give up then other countries will not know about our food. I do believe that time will come when other continents will embrace African cuisine. It’s just a matter of time.

Can you give us one cooking technique you've learned in the kitchen?
I have a few, but one important technique is about ginger roots. It is better to puree ginger in a blender. Make at least two cups full, and then freeze in small containers. Before you use, defrost the ginger, then squeeze the juice from the pulp directly into your recipe. What we need from ginger roots is its juice, not the pulp.

A Tanzanian kitchen is nothing without maize flour

Who gets to enjoy your cooking most?
My family and a few friends get to enjoy my food the most. I love to host dinners at my house, so my friends get to enjoy a lot of my food.

my version of coconut rice with peas and carrots
 Get to know other African food bloggers and authors featured


Ozoz said...

Thanks for introducing me to Miriam. I'm encouraged and enlightened about the food of Tanzania.

I can't wait to venture into East Africa and broaden my culinary horizons - everything, everything looks delicious.

And what great inspiration of Miriam's self-published book. Well done.

Adhis said...

You are oh so welcome.

I have noticed how hard it is for African food writers to get published. I am really interested in exploring this a little more.

And Miriam is great! She works really hard on what she does and definitely showcases Tanzanian food well!



Peter Marwa said...

I must admit that I had not given a thought that Tanzanian food could be marketed abroad. anyways sister Miriam is one of the pioneer that we feel so proud of back here in Tanzania, we know the road maybe tough with thorns but we've got to keep moving. Keep it up! you are leaving the m ark behind Miriam!

Adhis said...

Compared to many other African countries, from my point of view, Tanzania has a very sellable cuisine. Esp, the mswahili side of it.

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