Tanzanian Pilau Rice

Tanzanian Pilau Rice Recipe

The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
192 Calories
12g Fat
19g Carbs
3g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 192
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g 16%
Saturated Fat 10g 48%
Cholesterol 10mg 3%
Sodium 260mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 19g 7%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 3g
Vitamin C 2mg 9%
Calcium 29mg 2%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 158mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Tanzanian pilau rice is often difficult to separate from its Indian roots. However, when it comes to African cuisine, pilau is East Africa's ubiquitous rice dish and it often extends beyond its coastline from Zanzibar into the Indian Ocean islands such as Mauritius. Tanzanian pilau has slight nuances from its Indian counterpart. Other pilau recipes will often include bay leaves, saffron, ground coriander seed, and turmeric, however, Tanzanian pilau recipes often use five distinct spices to make the pilau masala: black peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Spices, especially cloves, are used more generously in Tanzania. In the Horn of Africa, cardamom is much more popular.

Pilau can be made as a simple vegetable dish or can be combined with beef, lamb, or chicken to produce a full one-pot meal. When made as a whole pot meal, sometimes with the addition of tomatoes, the outcome is very similar to the West African counterpart rice dish, jollof. However, the two meals are not the same and the Indian spices used in East Africa makes this dish distinctively different from jollof rice. Pilau is much more comparable to the Somali bariis iskukaris.


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, or ghee

  • 1 onion, finely diced

  • 1 clove garlic, finely diced

  • 5 cardamom pods

  • 1 to 2 whole cinnamon sticks

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed to remove excess starch

  • 1 cup coconut milk

  • 2 cups vegetable stock, or boiling water

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for Tanzanian pilau rice recipe
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  2. In a heavy pot, heat the butter or ghee over medium heat and fry the onions until golden.

    Heat butter
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  3. Add the rice to the pot and stir until coated with the fat. Add the garlic and spices to the pot and and stir, allowing the spices to release their fragrance (about a minute).

    Add the rice
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  4. Stir in the coconut milk and vegetable stock or water, and bring to a boil.

    Stir in coconut milk
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  5. After 5 minutes, reduce the heat to low, cover firmly with a lid and allow the rice to cook for 15 minutes.

    Pilau rice recipe
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga
  6. Fluff the rice and serve hot to accompany curries and stews.

    Tanzanian Pilau
    The Spruce / Diana Chistruga