Jambo! Flicking through hard to come by East African cookbooks fills me with that familiar, comforting feeling of when I cosy up with my favourite Indian ones. Exotic spices, simple veggies and coconut milk everything is what makes it feel so fresh, vibrant and soul warming.
Being nourished with a mishmash of Indian, African and British food has all my life, allowed me to connect and experiment with the culinary cultures of all these cuisines. In other words, I’ve been spoilt and have loved every minute of it. Hell, I’ve been rabbiting on about it to you all since I started this blog in 2009 (yeah, it’s been that long!)
For my generation, it feels like the Indian influence on East African cooking is a hush-hush camp, with recipes hidden away inside the spirits of expat grandparents, parents, aunties and uncles. As sad as it may sound, I’m a 29-year old who’s worried that Zanzibar Trail Mix, Malindi Halwa and Ugandan Kasodi will one day be forgotten. We can’t let that happen, guys!
In the name of doing my bit to preserve the East African cuisine so many Asian-East Africans are so proud of, I’d like to introduce you to Vitumbua. These Tanzanian rice flour doughnuts are a favourite of my saintly Bapu, Gunwantrai Modha and I completely understand why. Born in Tanzania, my dad his brothers think of these dishes as fuel food – they’re good for the soul and all that.
Vitumbua should be golden and crunchy on the outside and like a delicate morsel of cardamom-scented cloud on the inside. The batter is made with coconut milk which makes these cakey doughnuts pure white in the middle and melt-in-the-mouth.
The leavening agent in my version is yeast but many recipes also use baking powder. Traditionally, they’re made using rice that’s been soaked overnight but I’ve simplified it slightly by using rice flour which is so readily available in shops these days. Of course, if you can’t find rice flour, go ahead and use soaked raw rice.
My fluffy Vitumbua are perfect with tea in the morning or if you’re a bit more adventurous, with a spicy kidney bean and coconut stew for dinner. Sweet and savoury is so lush!
If you have a Vitumbua or Appam/Paniyaram pan, please use one. If you don’t, you can use a greased cupcake tin. You’ll need to bake them in a 180C oven for 10 minutes, flipping them over halfway through the cooking time.
I’ve dusted my Vitumbua with cardamom sugar which isn’t traditional but it adds a delicious additional cardamom kick on top of what’s already in the batter. I find that finishing a dish with gentle spices is a bold way of bringing another dimension to the table.
These light and fluffy East African coconut and cardamom doughnuts just melt in your mouth. They're perfect with masala chai and are a popular street food all over Tanzania.
- 220 g rice flour
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 400 ml full-fat coconut milk
- 100 g caster sugar
- 7 g fast-action dried yeast
- 200 ml warm water (approx. 32°C)
- 3 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
- 1 tsp cardamom seeds (from 5-6 cardamom pods) ground
- 1/2 tsp fine salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or almond extract (optional)
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 2 whole cardamom pods seeds remove and finely ground
In a large bowl, mix together the rice flour, plain flour, sugar, salt, ground cardamom and dried yeast.
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and then add the coconut milk, warm water, oil and vanilla/almond extract (if using). Whisk the ingredients well until you have a smooth, lump-free batter. It should be the consistency of dosa or idli batter. Cover with cling film and allow the batter to rest in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.
Grease a 12-hole vitumbua or appam/paniyaram pan with sunflower or vegetable oil. By now, your batter should be bubbly and frothy. Allow the pan to heat up a little and then use a small jug or cup to fill the holes of the pan with the batter, almost right to the top.
Cook on a low heat until the tops of the batter is looks dry to the touch, about 3 minutes. Use a cocktail stick to flip the vitumbua over. They should be golden brown on the bottom. Cook the other side for 3-4 minutes or until golden. Use the cocktail stick to remove them from the pan.
To make the cardamom sugar, combine the icing sugar and ground cardamom. Use a tea strainer or small sieve to dust the sugar over the top. Serve the vitumbua immediately with hot masala chai or strong coffee.
- This recipe makes 48 small vitumbua, serving about 8 people.
- I bought my paniyaram pan from an Indian kitchenware store in Leicester, UK. You can also buy these online. Look out for a heavy, non-stick piece of kit rather than steel to make removing the vitumbua easier.
- Alternatively, you can also use a cupcake tin. Your vitumbua will be larger, disc shaped doughnuts but they'll still taste great. Ensure the tin is well greased and fill the cupcake holes just halfway before popping into an oven pre-heated at 180°C for 10 minutes. Flip them halfway through baking.
- Store cooked vitumbua in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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