Most tourists will eat 90% of their meals at game lodges or hotels that cater specifically to tourists and whose kitchens serve Western-style food, ranging in standard from adequate to excellent. Game lodges tend to offer a daily set menu with a limited selection, so it is advisable to have your tour operator specify in advance if you are a vegetarian or have other specific dietary requirements. First-time visitors to Africa might take note that most game lodges in and around the national parks have isolated locations, and driving within the parks is neither permitted nor advisable after dark, so that there is no realistic alternative to eating at your lodge. You will rarely be disappointed.
Most game lodges offer the option of a packaged breakfast and/or lunch box, so that their guests can eat on the trot rather than having to base their game-viewing hours around set meal times. The standard of the packed lunches is rather variable (and in some cases pretty awful) but if your first priority is to see wildlife, then taking a breakfast box in particular allows you to be out during the prime game-viewing hours immediately after sunrise. Packed meals must be ordered the night before you need them. It is best to ask your driver-guide to make this sort of arrangement, rather than doing it yourself.
When you are staying in towns such as Arusha and Moshi, there is a fair selection of eating-out options. Indian eateries are particularly numerous in most towns, thanks to the high resident Indian population, and good continental restaurants and pizzerias are also well represented. Seafood is excellent on the coast. Options tend to be more limited in smaller towns such as Lushoto or Tanga, and very basic in villages off the main tourist trail.
As for the local cuisine, it tends to consist of a bland stew eaten with one of four staples: rice, chapati, ugali or batoke. Ugali is a stiff maize porridge eaten throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Batoke or matoke is cooked plantain, served boiled or in a mushy heap. In the Lake Victoria region, batoke replaces ugali as the staple food. The most common stews are chicken, beef, goat and beans, and the meat is often rather tough. In coastal towns and around the great lakes, whole fried fish is a welcome change. The distinctive Swahili cuisine of the coast makes generous use of coconut milk and is far more spiced than other Tanzanian food.
Mandaazi, the local equivalent of doughnuts, are tasty when freshly cooked. They are served at hotelis and sold at markets. You can eat cheaply at stalls around markets and bus stations. Goat kebabs, fried chicken, grilled groundnuts and potato chips are often freshly cooked and sold in these places. A very popular and filling (though not exactly healthy) street dish throughout Tanzania is chipsi mayai, which essentially consists of potato chips cooked in an omelette-like mix of eggs (mayai).
The number of hotels in major urban tourist centres such as Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar Town, Arusha and Moshi is quite remarkable. So, too, is the variety in standard and price, which embraces hundreds of simple local guesthouses charging a couple of US dollars a night, as well as fantastic exclusive beach resorts and lodges charging in the ballpark of US$2,000 for a room – and everything in between.