– Last Updated on: 1st August 2022
From the windows of the sultan’s palaces in Zanzibar you can see oriental markets and people in colorful clothes. The scent of spicy curry dishes meanders through the narrow streets of Stone Town to the rhythm of occidental music. But what do people eat in Zanzibar, many ask? I present 8 culinary tips in today’s blog.
To many, Zanzibar sounds like a paradise from 1001 Nights.The history of this pearl of the Indian Ocean has not only brought forth a diversity of cultures, but has also lent its magic to the local cuisine. Today it is as exotic as the turquoise sea and the white sandy beaches beyond the old town.
Zanzibar’s culinary history
The influence of the archipelago’s long and varied history can be seen in the local food. In addition to minor Portuguese and British episodes, the island experienced Arab rulers and sultanates in particular. The slave trade had a large impact. They all added ingredients that created culinary stews, curries, and rice dishes like Pilau.
Zanzibar is also famous for its spices because the farmers here grow fine products such as nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla. These spices have been introduced over the centuries with the ebb and flow of cultures and thrive here. They add that “certain something” to the local dishes.
When the restaurants on the island’s beaches open their buffets or the mobile food stalls in the Forodhani Gardens of the old town fire up the grill, it’s hard to resist the temptation. Many travelers are overwhelmed by the sight. They often don’t know what kind of dishes they are looking at or what they should definitely try. So that you can have a say in your next visit, I’m going to give you 8 culinary tips today to help you make your choice.
Who doesn’t know this wonderful invention called pizza? Mmm, yummy! But… the Zanzibar-Pizza is different. Okay, definitely delicious too, but prepared differently than the Italian ones most of us are familiar with. You could think of it more like a pancake variation or call it a stuffed dumpling. In fact, the base can be very simple, made of flour and water. The dough is then rolled out and topped like a pizza.
Actually, every topping we know from the different types of Italian pizza qualifies as topping for a Zanzibar-Pizza as well. But of course, it retains its Zanzibari touch with the addition of mayonnaise, beaten eggs, cheese, meat or chicken masala mixtures. Sweet variations, for example with Nutella or mango, are also on the menu. All this is mixed and then covered partially with the dough. Then it goes on the pizza grill, cooks for a while and finally lands completely inconspicuously in the hands of the hungry guests.
Biryani and Pilau
Biryani and Pilau are known far beyond the borders of Zanzibar. After all, they are originally oriental rice dishes. When preparing a Biryani, the rice is cooked separately from the meat and sauce. Of course, the separation doesn’t last forever. Because when everything is ready, what belongs together will come together and be served with a fantastic sauce.
In the case of Zanzibari Pilau, on the other hand, all ingredients involved end up in the same pot and are cooked in it: including meat, fish, vegetables, and even nuts and dried fruit. Of course, Zanzibar’s own spices are not missing either. The rice feels extremely comfortable in this company and shows appreciation by providing an incredible taste.
The Urojo-Soup has the meaningful nickname “Zanzibar Mix”. It’s very popular in the Swahili culture, but of course it gets that special touch in Zanzibar. Urojo is a flour-based soup, often flavored with mango and lemon. Translated into English it means “thick mixture”. It usually also contains potatoes in fried, mashed, or grated form. Here, too, the meat and the many spices, especially the yellow-colored turmeric, should not be missing. The result is a slightly sour taste and a lot of spiciness. But the Zanzibaris love it. This is particularly noticeable at lunchtime in Stone Town. So just mingle with the crowd, order a portion, and eat with the locals. And who knows: Maybe the soup will be so magical that you’ll even speak fluent Swahili afterwards. By the way, as with the other dishes, there is also a vegetarian version.
Another culinary tip on what to eat on Zanzibar is Mishkaki. These are marinated, grilled meat skewers. Of course, the marinade is not just any marinade, but once again typically Zanzibarian: ginger, garlic, yoghurt, Cajun, chili, paprika, lemon, thyme, rapeseed, or sunflower oil and optionally coriander. Not everything goes in this special marinade mixture, but a lot can go into it.
And hey… why not try octopus mishkaki instead of the usual meats? Afterall, the island is known for its “octopus hunters”, thus making squid a common accompaniment to many dishes.
Chipsi Mayai means “chips (fries) and eggs” in Swahili. It is also known as “Zege” and is one of the most popular street foods in Zanzibar but also in the rest of Tanzania. Actually, it’s just a simple potato and egg omelet made with fries, oil and beaten eggs, fried in a pan. But of course, there are hardly any limits to its variations: onions, tomatoes, peppers, coriander, and other ingredients can also be mixed in or put on top according to taste.
Many of the local specialties are often served with Kachumbari, a salad that is very popular in East Africa, including Kenya. It’s made primarily of chopped tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers. But you can also find indulgent flavors including lime or lemon juice, fresh cilantro, parsley, avocado, or cucumber, and in some cases even, well, gin or vodka.
What to eat on Zanzibar for breakfast: Mandazi
In Zanzibar, Mandazi is a fried dough in a triangular shape. They could be a cross between donut and beignet. Inside they have a spongy texture and in their basic form they are without filling. As a variation, they could also contain fruit, meat, or vegetables. Outside and inside, they remain free of glaze or powdered sugar. They have enough sweetness in the batter to be eaten as a treat with tea or coffee. Seductive admixtures such as coconut milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom provide the special Zanzibar kick. Traditionally it is a sort of “breakfast bread”.
What to eat on Zanzibar for desert: Zanzibar Chocolate
Of course, to top it all off the sweet dessert should not be missing. By that I don’t mean the typical chocolates that you would otherwise find under the keyword “Zanzibar chocolate”. Rather, I mean a candy that actually has little to do with the products of the cocoa bean. It is a honey bar covered in a thick coat of sesame seeds. Without question the sweetest temptation since honey. Enjoy the meal! Hamu nzuri!
I hope these 8 culinary tips on what to eat on Zanzibar will be a good guide to your gourmet holiday. The island is only about 40 km off Tanzania’s east coast and is easily accessible by boat or plane. It is always worth a visit. We are happy to answer any questions and support you in planning your trip to Tanzania. Here on site, we are always well informed about the current situation. So get in touch with us!