My friend Jess of Leo Tunapika? Has been asking when I would do a post of my food experience while I was in Zanzibar. Hey Jess! I know you have been waiting for this post for a while so here it goes.
I was in Zanzibar for the Sauti za Busara music festival (post coming up soon) and while there I made it my mission to sample as much food as Zanzibar could offer.
If you are ever in Zanzibar’s Stone Town you really can’t miss Forodhani Gardens. The Forodhani Gardens, overlooking the Zanzibar harbor in Stone Town, is one of the island’s landmarks and is located between the Fort and the sea front and overlooked by the house of wonders. This public space offers a relaxing atmosphere, perfect for taking a stroll or sitting on a bench while taking a break from wondering the streets of Stone Town, or sitting on the sea wall and staring out over the breathtaking views of the ocean while doing a little people watching.
I have somehow managed to visit Zanzibar twice in 3 months after years of it being on my bucket list. Both times I visited Forodhani Gardens so these pictures are a mix from both trips.
The House of Wonders aka Beit-Al-Ajaib (Spoiler alert! Given its current state the name is a misnomer) the tallest building in Stone Town overlooks the gardens.
On the topic of misnomers the ‘floating’ restaurant is another offender.
Each evening as the sun sets, Forodhani Gardens transforms into an open-air food market. Come dusk, the vendors in the market start to set up their stands. Makeshift tables, propane tanks, and grills are brought out and before long, an eclectic mix of spicy aroma fills the atmosphere.
The Swahili culture is a rich blend of African, Arabic, Indian and Middle Eastern influences, which definitely extends to the food. Most of the cooking is rich in spices – the use of coconut, cardamom, garlic, saffron, turmeric, and pilau masala – a unique mix of black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and cumin used in many rice and stew recipes. The tremendous blend of flavors and spices will get you spending hours exploring.
I must confess that I am not very adventurous when it comes to food. I love food but I tend to stick to what I know. However, once in a while I do venture out into the unknown. I now have a new food favorite that I thought I didn’t like before … calamari is now bae, too bad it isn’t readily available in Nairobi.
I did not manage to photograph everything I ate but I did do an okay job of documenting what was on offer. Forodhani Gardens are heaven for seafood lovers, you will find all sorts of fish from barracuda, squid, octopus, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, and prawns including some less recognizable species will be (very) eagerly explained to you by the vendors at each table.
Aside from the sea food are other delicacies: grilled sweet potatoes, savory bananas, puffy coconut bread, chicken Shawarma, chapatti (a flatbread another Indian inspired delicacy very common in East Africa), kebab, Zanzibar pizza even Nutella pizza. Urojo (soup with potato balls), chips (French fries) chips mayai (Omelette with French fries), pilau (spiced rice), biriani, cow soup, msihkaki (skewered meat of beef or chicken), “salad” (shredded carrot and cabbage), mseto, vitumbua (a kind of donut made with rice flour mixed with coconut), kaimati (crunchy dumplings in a sweet sugar syrup), mahamri (also known as Swahili buns or doughnuts) the list is endless …
Word of advice, stick to a vendor you trust (look where the locals are buying from). Not all the food is fresh as vendors claim. Apparently, some of them over stock with food and sell a product that has lasted for days. I did have some mild stomach trouble after eating some not so fresh seafood.
A display of enormous octopus tentacles, colossal lobster claws, and gaping fish are laid out on table after table, smashed together in generous portions on kebab sticks.
My drink of choice was the sugarcane juice … I had some almost every single night I visited the market. The juice is made fresh, squeezed right before my eyes with a shot of ginger giving it an extra healthy kick. Cool down from the warm temperatures by having your fresh drink made with ice. Funny thing is, it is actually cheaper if made with ice since you only pay for what juice you get.
The next best thing after the variety is the prices! The prices are very reasonable in my opinion given that the market is a tourist hot spot. No single item will cost more than Tshs 9,000 ($4), the seafood skewers go for around Tshs 6,000 ($2.69). It is easy to see why tourists choose to forgo dinner at their upmarket hotels and instead come to get what Forodhani has to offer.
There’s the skewered chicken and beef and the roasted tandoori chicken was a quintessential treat.
The gardens are also popular with the local stray cat population. During the day they tend to keep to themselves but come nighttime you’re sure to find them at your feet, begging for food. I’d consider them harmless but my friend Wendy wouldn’t, one decided that it would mark its territory on her and peed on her leg!
Then there is the Zanzibar Pizza which is everywhere. The preparation; It starts with a thin layer of dough, the vendor then adds your choice of toppings (both savory and sweet are available) onto the dough. Your choice of meat, finely chopped veggies, an egg and half a wedge of cheese are piled high on top of the pastry. The entire “pizza” is sealed off with another thin dough on top and finally set on a hot griddle with a bit of butter. Zanzibar Pizza is similar to mkate wa nyama which I first had in Lamu. The major difference between the two is that the Zanzibar variety is made with cheese.
I had Zanzibar Pizza every single day I was in Zanzibar. I just couldn’t get enough.
Though small the pizzas are surprisingly filling and that for the small fee of Tshs 3,000 ($1.34) (up to around Tshs 9,000 ($4)).
Opinion is divided on Forodhani gardens (see tripadvisor) – some absolutely love it others think it is overrated, a tourist trap and a rip off. As for me? I very much enjoyed the food and atmosphere.
Have you’ve ever been to Forodhani Gardens? How did you like it? Is there a food item that had you wishing you could visit every day? Drop a comment and let us know.