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Written by: Juan Proll on 18 May 2022

What to eat on Zanzibar: 8 culinary tips for your island holiday

Zanzibar - what to eat

For many, Zanzibar sounds like the paradise of 1001 nights. The pearl of the Indian Ocean, with its glorious white sandy beaches and turquoise water, is a place to relax and unwind. Its exotic atmosphere is reflected in its history, cultural diversity, and food. But what can you eat on Zanzibar? In today’s blog, I will share 8 culinary tips.

What to eat Zanzibar beach bar

The culinary history of Zanzibar

The national cuisine shows the influence of the archipelago’s long and complex history. In addition to shorter periods of Portuguese and British rule, the island has mainly seen Arab rulers and sultanates. The trade with enslaved people had a large impact. They all added ingredients to the culinary stews, curries, and rice dishes such as pilau.

Zanzibar is also famous for its spices, with farmers growing precious products such as nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and vanilla. These are spices that have been introduced by the inward and outward migration of cultures, and they thrive here. They give the local dishes their special flavour. When the restaurants on the island’s beaches open their buffets or the mobile food stalls in Forodhani Gardens start their grills, it is hard to resist the temptation. Here are 8 culinary tips to help you choose what to eat on Zanzibar.

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Zanzibar pizza is different. OK, it’s definitely tasty, but it’s made differently to the familiar Italian version. You could be forgiven for thinking it’s a pancake or a stuffed dumpling. In fact, the base can easily be made with flour and water. The dough is then rolled out like a pizza and covered.

In fact, you can add anything you know from pizza. But of course you can give it a Zanzibar touch by adding mayonnaise, beaten eggs, cheese, meat or chicken masala mixes. There’s also a sweet version, with Nutella or mango, for example. Everything is mixed and then half or all of the dough is covered. Then it goes on the pizza grill, where it sits for a bit before being passed discreetly into the hands of hungry guests.

Biryani and Pilau

Biryani and Pilau are famous far beyond the borders of Zanzibar. After all, they are original oriental rice dishes. When preparing Biryani, the rice is cooked separately from the meat and sauce. Of course, this separation doesn’t last forever. When everything is ready, what belongs together is put together and served with a fantastic sauce.

On the other hand, Pilau is made by putting all the ingredients in the same pot and cooking them together. This includes meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, and dried fruit. Of course, you can’t miss the typical Zanzibar spices.

Zanzibar spice mix


Urojo soup is also known as “Zanzibar mix”. It is generally very popular in Swahili culture, but takes on a special flavour in Zanzibar. Urojo is a flour-based soup, often flavoured with mango and lemon. Translated, it means something like “thick mixture”. It usually contains potatoes in fried, mashed, or grated form. It’s also made with meat and lots of spices, especially yellow turmeric. The result is a slightly sour taste, and it is very spicy. But Zanzibaris love it. You can observe that especially at lunchtime in Stone Town. So just join the locals, order your portion and eat together. And who knows, maybe the soup will be so magical that you will find yourself speaking fluent Swahili. By the way, as with the other dishes, there is also a vegetarian version.


Another culinary tip for dishes to eat on Zanzibar are mishkaki. Those are marinated, grilled meat skewers. Of course, the marinade is not just any, but again typically Zanzibari: ginger, garlic, yoghurt, cajun, chilli, paprika, lemon, thyme, rapeseed or sunflower oil and optionally coriander. Not everything has to, but much of it can be found in this special marinade mix. And hey… why not alternatively choose the octopus mishkaki, instead of the common meat types? After all, the island is known for its “octopus hunters”, who make octopus a common side dish for many dishes.

Zanzibar local cuisine seafood

Chipsi Mayai

Chipsi Mayai translates from Swahili as “chips and eggs”. It is also known as “zege” and is one of the most popular street foods to eat on Zanzibar, as well as the rest of Tanzania. It is basically a simple potato and egg omelette, made from potatoes, oil and beaten eggs, which are then fried in a pan. Of course, there are almost no limits in variety: onions, tomatoes, peppers, coriander, and other ingredients can be mixed in or added.


Many of the local specialities are served with Kachumbari, a salad very popular in the East African region, including Kenya. It consists mainly of chopped tomatoes, onions, and chillies, but can also be found in more indulgent variations: with lime or lemon juice, fresh coriander, parsley, avocado or cucumber, and in some cases even, well, gin or vodka.

What to eat on Zanzibar for breakfast: Mandazi

Mandazi is a fried dough in a triangular shape and could remind you of a donut. They have a sponge-like structure and usually don’t have a filling. Some people do prefer to change things up though and add fruit, meat or vegetables. There is no icing or icing sugar on the outside or inside. The dough is sweet enough to be eaten alongside tea or coffee. The special Zanzibar kick comes from tempting additions such as coconut milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Traditionally, it is a type of “breakfast bread”.

Mandazi what to eat Zanzibar

What to eat on Zanzibar for desert: Zanzibar Chocolate

Of course, the sweet dessert is not to be missed. I don’t mean the typical chocolates that you would associate with the keyword “Zanzibar chocolate”. I’m talking about a sweet that has nothing to do with chocolate. It is a honey bar covered in a thick layer of sesame seeds. Without a doubt, it is the sweetest temptation since the invention of honey. Enjoy it! Hamu nzuri!

I hope that these 8 culinary tips on what to eat on Zanzibar, will make the island a gourmet’s delight. It is only 40km off the east coast of Tanzania and can be reached by boat or plane. It is well worth a visit. If you have any questions or need help planning your trip to Tanzania, please contact us. We are always up-to-date with the current situation. Don’t hesitate to contact us!

Author: Juan Proll

Traveling has always been Juan Proll's great passion: three years in Latin America, two years in Southeast Asia and Oceania as well as short trips of up to nine months in Europe, Central America, and North Africa. In 2010, he decided to quit his job in Germany as an adult education teacher and head of department for migration issues and to become a ranger in South Africa. Juan has been traveling across Africa since 2011, traveling to southern and eastern Africa and also climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Beforehand, he completed his nature guide training in South Africa and worked in a Big Five game reserve. With further training and intensive self-study to become a cultural guide, Juan has since expanded his field of activity beyond the natural world to include the countries, cultures, and its people. In mid-2013 he joined Africa-Experience and has been guiding travelers through Africa as a safari guide ever since. Juan is a member of the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa.