FEeding The Streets of Dar Es Salaam

Mama Nitilie (Literally means – ‘Mother Put it for me’) and refers to women who serve food on city streets across Tanzania.

Penina Paulo, 24 (origin: Songea) and her aunt Saada Hassan, 40 (Lindi) - cook to make a living. In Dar Es Salaam’s ever changing downtown area, they occupy a small corner of a deserted piece of prime property on Jamhuri St, that is soon to become a skyscraper. The sun is excruciatingly hot, but they have no where else to cook.

Before entering the cooking business, Penina worked as a housekeeper in Bagamoyo after finishing grade seven in 2007. Her boss then enrolled her into stitching classes where she found employment paying her TSH 2000 a day. Things didn’t work out and Penina moved in the big city to start a business. She’z been selling food for the last two years and tells me business isn’t too bad.

Before her divorce, Saada used to spend her time at home cooking, and looking after her three children. For the last four years however, she also works on the streets first selling Uji (a warm drink make of sugar, flour), then serving breakfast, and now partnering with her niece serving lunch.

Now that the 2010 Tanzanian elections are close by, Penina tells me they haven’t been hassled by government officials for the last few months. Before this however, having their utensils broken and stolen was a normal occurrence.

Their menu is kept the same – spinach, beef stew, beans, ugali, rice and dagaa (dry local fish). Penina and Saada buy their ingredients before they come into town from Kariakoo, as its much cheaper then sourcing it from the near by
vendors downtown. Cooking starts at 10am and by 12.30 they move locations, nearer to shops and construction sites (where their customers work) to deliver and serve meals.

A plate of mixed dishes sells for TSH 1000, and Saada tells me that all the lunch stalls in town agree to a fixed price so there is no price competition. Customers come to them for different reasons, but mainly taste, delivery and friendship.
Saada and Penina serve around 25 customers on a normal day, and upto 30 customers on a good day. They tell me business is really slow at the moment but they can’t figure out why. Each day Saada & Penina are able to make TSH 3000 to 5000 each.