Monday, March 1, 2010

Lighter Fare.

I'm taking break from that political stuff today. Exhaling, if you will. So instead I offer a discussion on burgers. I have been reading a lot of American food blogs (don't ask, its a long story) and the burger has been undergoing a major Renaissance for the past couple of years. It is one of my favorite junk foods, and the best thing about it is that it tastes better made at home than it ever can from a shop. Trust me on this.

If you are going to buy a half-way decent burger in Bongo, where is the place to go? The truth is, there are not that many places. What the South African chains do to burgers should be criminalized. Steers in South Africa= bliss. Steers in Dar es Salaam= torture. And I don't buy that crap about inferior Tanzanian beef being the problem- if you don't know how to source good ingredients you have no business being a restaurateur.

There is a home-grown solution that some folks swear by: Hot Box, at the Morocco junction opposite the new Zain Starship. The origin story, as I heard it, is exactly the kind of origin story that makes for good fast food: Mama Hotbox had a great recipe for burgers that she served her family. As a result, when they moved out of home the Hotbox Kids couldn't find anything decent under the moniker 'burger' that they wanted to put in their mouths. And a business idea was born: how about a food-truck style operation that served Mama Hotbox-style burgers?

I have no idea how accurate this story is, but it is cute. And the burgers: not too shabby. The secret of a Hot Box burger is that crazy relish/coleslaw/ketchup mess of a topping that they put on it. It is sloppy and delicious... and it means that if you let your hotbox burger grow cold, it becomes revolting. Still, a far better burger than you can get at any of the chain restaurants in town, and cheaper too. Price matters: a burger, like beer, is democratic food- plebeian food. You can fancy it up all you want, and that can be fun, but in essence it remains stubbornly unpretentious.

Which brings me to the other two burgers that have given Hot Box a run for their money according to my taste-buds. I once had a fat, juice take-away from Captain Ali's at Slipway which came with really good fries and- the real prize- a pickle spear. The bun was toasted but still moist. The cheese was real cheddar. The tomato and onion were on the side so they didn't wilt into a disgusting mess by the time I got home. I could have married the cook that night from sheer enchantment. Been trying to recreate the experience ever since, with no luck. I think that, like all chefs in Tanzania, my faceless burger angel moved on to greener pastures. Wherefore art thou, o grill chef? I pine.

The other, more recent experience, was another take-away. It came from D.B.s in Mlimani city: the beef was decent (i.e. it didn't taste defrosted), the toppings included pickle slices (there is a theme here) and they slathered the thing with ketchup...and mustard! Next time you are up there with a craving for something satisfyingly unhealthy, do yourself a favor: by-pass Marry Brown. Your mouth will thank you.

Oh. Yeah. I suppose I could attach some pictures. I'll put that on my blogging to-do list.


  1. I can't remember the last time I had a good burger dar or anywhere else(and yes, I've been to hotbox, and that wasn't meat they gave me), and a good burger is a fine thing. There's an oilcom on the right on thetarmac road running from the ferry KGB side. Their's are as good as any others in town. At least the tomato is freshly sliced. Which is saying something. and the conversation on the forecourt isn't bad.

  2. last night i went to the Japanese take away at Mayfair and ordered the seafood noodle soup thing. It was fantastic. Never thought so, as the place tries to combine Japanese and swahili food (lots of chipsy) in most meals.

    Not much success on burgers in this town, but it isn't my thing anyway :-)

  3. Now that's what I'm talking about. Already two new spots to investigate for good eats! Cheers.

    Lol re Hot Box. I confess: it has been a while since I choked down one of their sloppies. And Pernille: you gave me what I needed to tip the balance. Japanese fast food here I come...

  4. Hot Box is the best in DSM. Remember when Best Bite was really the only place to go? Yew.

  5. I had cheerfully forgotten all about them until you mentioned Best Bite :(


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