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 Town visiting 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.
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.
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.
Zanzibari Chicken Pilau
East African Ceviche
Goan Coconut Crab Curry