Zanzibar! The East African archipelago that boomed thanks to a spice trade blown through these tropical islands by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean. The winds carried traders from South East Asia, Africa and beyond: Persians, Arabs, Indians, Portuguese explorers, Africans all gathered here, and in passing, they infused Zanzibar with their distinctive aromas. But did the Zanzibari merely adopt their ingredients in their cooking? Or did they transform this multicultural culinary invasion into their own menus? It’s this question which motivates nomadic chef BOBBY CHINN to delve into its cuisine and embark on a great East African adventure.
BOBBY starts his mission in the capital, Stone Townvisiting its irrepressible Darajaani market. Here he meets local historian SAID SULEIMAN MOHAMMED who introduces us to the island’s spice history – one made glorious by that most piquant of spices: cloves, the renowned ‘gold’ of Zanzibar and one that truly turned this island nation into the Metropolis of Africa.
Bobby’s exhaustive journey comes to a close way down on the East coast, in the fishing village of Michamvi, where he engages chef MACHANO and an entourage of women to hunt for his conclusive lunch, octopus masala which they cook in the spectacular Rock restaurant perched atop a quaint coral tuff.
Enthused by his spice education, Bobby prepares his first dish, ably assisted by Swahili chef ALLY SHAMTE: a tasty Chicken Pilau.
In thrall to the Omani Arabs who cultivated the spices, BOBBY visits M’toni palace, majestic home to Sultan Seyyid and his 70 concubines. A lot of the Omanis were ousted during Zanzibar’s bloody revolution in 1964 but some remain running small plantations. Curious to learn more, Bobby visits farmer YUSSEF in Kizimbani and tours the turmeric plants and cinnamon trees populating his modest farm.
Zanzibar’s other profitable export is coconuts and in coconut tree picker, Mister Butterfly, Bobby finds an eccentric – not to mention musical – guide who lends advice on how to choose a coconut refreshment. It’s also coconut which features in Bobby’s second meal – a nutmeg ceviche which he serves up on an idyllic Indian Ocean shoreline, accompanied by the chords of a traditional Taarab band.
Back in Stone Town, Bobby breaks for an authentic Arabic coffee in the historic centre’s ‘Jaws Corner’ – a public square reserved for the Muslim men and their habitual chatter. He regales us with a few curious facts about the famous Zanzibari wooden carvings, made famous by the impressive doors and learns of the Punjabi merchants who first brought them over to the island.
Talk of India inspires Bobby to create a Goan Coconut Crab curry (pictured above), cooked on a traditional Arab dhow boat, courtesy of young Goan chef, RAMONA DA SILVA. Embracing tradition, Ramona employs her grandmother’s grindstone to crush her spices.
In search of Zanzibar’s authentic core, Bobby leaves Stone Town to explore the rest of the island, first by scooter and after an unfortunate breakdown, on a precarious ox cart! Stopping at a nearby Swahili village, Bobby samples the staple crop -cassava.
Continuing his exploration, Bobby takes a local dhala dhala bus and arrives in the village of Matemwe in the north, where a cooperative of women demonstrate how to make chutney out of the native fruit – the baobab.
Special Thanks to:
Zanzibar Tourism Board
Pearl Tours & Safaris
Mr Emerson, Emerson Spice Hotel
Mtoni Marine Hotel
Zanzibar Grand Palace
Ally Said Shamte, Lukmaan Restaurant
Ramona Vida Maria da Silva
Machano Abdallaaly, Rock Restaurant
- Fresh Octopus
- black peppers
- olive oil
- 2 onions
- chwale (sea snails from the shore)
- coconut milk
- lime juice
- Boil the octopus for about 30 minutes in a heavy pot.
- Add in black peppers and tomatoes.
- Douse olive oil into a pan and add in a half kilo of chopped onion.
- Cook the chwale—sea snails from the shore
- separate the sea snails in fresh boiled coconut milk mixed with lime juice.
- Sprinkle on several tablespoons of turmeric onto the chopped, now caramelised onions.
- Cube the tomatoes and cook them with the spicy, sweated onion until they break down.
- Pour the coconut milk and chwale into the pan of caramelised onion and the masala sauce will be finished.
- Lastly, once the octopus is well-boiled for 30 minutes, pull the octopus from the pot and add your masala sauce!
The Chawle Sea Snail women in Zanzibar
Watch Bobby preparing this fresh and zingy seafood dish here: http://vimeo.com/5186265
(Courtesy of Director Ian Sciacaluga)
- Fish (Grouper)
- 2 onions
- 3 bell peppers
- Cut grouper thin to marinate quickly.
- Citric acid of the lime which actually cooks the fish by a process called denaturation.
- Leave for 5-10 minutes, then onions.
- Chop the onions and sprinkle them in.
- Let them mix with the juice.
- Add 3 bell peppers, but also apply the pomelo to cut the acidity (Tip: Pomelo is a mildly sweet grapefruit from South East Asia).
- Add in grated coconut, but be sure to drain the juice.
- Lastly, peel off the outer layer of the nutmeg, which in itself is a tasty spice called mace.
- Mix it about a bit, and the ceviche is ready!
Zanzibari Chicken Pilau
Bobby’s first dish in Planet Food Zanzibar is a perennial favourite and served on special occasions, the famous and delicious Zanzibari Chicken Pilau. Pilau is a rice-based dish of Indian origin that has been adopted by Kenyans as their own. Many people serve Pilau at their weddings or prepare it when they have special guests coming to visit. It is traditionally served with a fresh and spicy salad called Kachumber or the Swahili Kachumbari.
Ingredients for Chicken Pilau
For the Chicken:
- 1 chicken cut into small pieces
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp garlic
- I 1in piece of cinnamon
- 4 peppercorns
- a little salt
- In a saucepan add the above ingredients and cook for about 10 mins. Switch the cooker off and cover.
For the Pilau:
2 cups Basmati Rice washed and soaked for 20 mins
1 tsp cumin seeds
- 3 cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 6 peppercorns
- 3 2 inch cinnamon sticks
In a cup soak the above five ingredients in half a cup of water for 15 mins.
- 2 medium onions sliced
- 2 green chillies de seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1 tsp garlic
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 4 tbsp oil
- 3-4 potatoes peeled and cut into quarters
- 3 mugs of basmati rice washed and soaked for 20 mins
- 5 mugs water
- Salt to taste
- In a saucepan add the above ingredients for the chicken with 4 tbs of water and cook on a medium heat for about 10 mins. Switch the cooker off and cover with a lid.
- In a pan heat the oil on medium heat.
- Drain and add the whole spices that have been soaked.
- Add the sliced onions and fry.
- Add the green chillies to the onions when they have softened slightly.
- Continue frying the onions until they start to lightly brown.
- Add the ginger, garlic and garam masala.
- Add the potatoes and let them cook for a few minutes.
- Add the chicken and any liquid that has collected in the pot.
- Add the water and bring to the boil.
- Add the drained rice.
- Check and adjust seasoning.
- Cover and cook on a medium heat for approx 10 minutes.
- When all the liquid is absorbed in the rice, reduce heat completely.
- Cover and let the pilau cook for half an hour more.
- Serve with a raita and Kachumber salad (details below)
Ingredients for the Kachumber:
- 3 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 small green chilli deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1/2 cucumber, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
- 1/4 tsp chilli powder
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chop all the ingredients into bite-size chunks
- Mix everything in a bowl, season, then cover and chill until needed.
Places Mentioned - ZanzibarShare the series