From hand to mouth
One of the particulars with Zanzibar is that the food goes basically straight from the source to the kitchen. Few of the raw materials gets stored or bought from the shops. Rather it comes straight from the source- the sea, the fishermen, the farmer or the market. Sometimes even the tre needs to be climbed to get the coconuts down before cooking the sauce.
Indian Ocean treasures
Seafood is of course one of the top ingredients to serve, available all over the island as the Zanzibaris fish night and day. Usually it is caught in the morning and served for lunch and dinner the same day. Most restaurants serve a “Catch of the day” on the menu.
Spices Zanzibar built its wealth on Spice trade. Done by Arab traders from the Middle East, Indian businessmen and African workers. Today the Zanzibari Government controls the spice export and cloves are still a big source of income. This history still influence today´s Zanzibar kitchen as the spices from the Middle east is paired with the Indian cooking. Fresh natural ingredients, exotic fruit and seafood treasures from the Indian Ocean from Zanzibar, makes Zanzibar food worth to discover.
Do not hesitate to eat the street food! As long as it is cooked in front of your eyes and hot ( if not being a bread) it is not a problem at all.
10 foods and snacks worth a try
At a Zanzibari celebration, wedding, Ramadhan, pilgrimage etc, Biryani is the no 1 festive dish above all. It is a slow cooked sauce with tonnes of fried onion, tomato and spices and potato boiled together with meat or chicke. Served together with a flavoured rice and a tomato/onion salad.
The best Biryani is served at Passing Show and Luukmans in Stone Town. If you want to learn how to cook it you can cook together with the Jambiani women.
2. Coconut crusted fish
Coating the fish ( usually a beefy white fish like King Fish or Red Snapper) with coconut crust gives it a different texture. Hard on the outside, softer on the inside. Many restaurants serves it, especially on the beach restaurants.
3. Octopus (Curry, fried, grilled)
The Zanzibaris love their octopus. Thus it is being served and sold in many ways, on the streets and in the restaurants.
The secret is to beat it to tenderness, and to cook it long. Then the meat is very tasty.
To prepare the classic Octopus Curry the octopus is boiled in turmeric, garlic, coriander or other spices for 1-2 hours. Then the coconut sauce is added- and maybe some vegetables (if we decide). The result is mouth watering.
Other versions of the octopus are to fry or grill it and serve with fries, rice and vegetables.
4. Urojo – soup
This soup is a popular breakfast and contains the main finger food usually served on the street: badija, kachori, mishkaki, boiled egg. Then you add what you like: boiled potato, coconut relish, cassava chips, chilli sauce. All put in a bowl of mango – or tamarind sauce. Sweet, sour, strong, salty, crispy…flavors and textures meet in a bowl.
You can consider it being a selection of the Zanzibar street food and it s worth a try.
5. Mandazi – Zanzibar doughnut
This triangular piece if ubiquitous on Zanzibar. Found in every village, local mgahawa (small restaurant- usually just a wood box or a hut) ad restaurant. Usually made by the women in their homes and sold.
It is a version of a doughnut, but eaten more like a bread together with tea our cow soup. Sometimes they put some cardamom in there.
You can eat is just like it is and if you see a Mama cook it on the street do not miss to grab one on the go.
6. Zanzibar Pizza
For some reason this “thing” is called a pizza. It is a piece of light dough where you put whatever you prefer in it and crack an egg on top. And the combinations are endless and funny. How about “snickers, nutella, banana, coconut”? Or “Chicken, onion, tomato, cheese, chilli”? Whichever you choose it will be prepared in front of your eyes and a happy chat will come with it.
It is found in the night food market Forodhani but if you keep your eyes open you might come across it elsewhere too.
Cow, chicken, liver or more rarely fish, on a stick, skewer. The meat is marinated in various spices and each chef has their own recipe. This you find everywhere—in the villages and in Stone Town. Especially n Stone Town you will smell the smoke coming from the BBQ´s being lit up in the afternoon to serve the whole town with mishkaki.
This is one of the biggest Indian heritages brought to Zanzibar. It is a piece of dough friend in a pan and you will find it everywhere on the streets – predominantly in the mornings. Eaten as it is with tea, or served in the restaurants as a “tortilla” with various meat, chicken and vegetables fillings. The perfect lunch.
9. Chips Mayai
Egg and potato put in a pan and double fried. The potato is deep fried, put in a pan and then the eggs goes all over. Simple and tasty fast food served with ketchup and katchumbari salad. Perfect for budget travelers as it will cost app 2 usd.
These triangles with filling you will recognize from many places in the world. Thin layers of dough surrounding a spicy filing with vegetables, meat or fish and then deep fried. Eaten as it is on the go or served as a starter in most restaurants on Zanzibar.