I’m here in Zanzibar for a week of R&R and I’m loving
it. This is pretty close to my image of heaven – perfect weather (warmer than
Bukavu or Bamenda), diverse cultures, in Africa. . . Wonderful.
My experience with food has been pretty touch and go, so I
thought I’d share what I’ve learned, in case anyone else comes here. Don’t
believe the guidebooks. Really. One recommendation they gave was good, the rest
were really bad.
So, the first thing is Forodhani Gardens. All the guidebooks
tell you to go here for good, cheap “street food.” What I did not notice, but
now all of you will, is that the only people eating this supposed “local food”
are tourists. This should have been a big clue. You walk around and it looks
all cool and the guys are pretty aggressively trying to get you to buy their
food – everything from fish brochettes to lobster claws to squid heads. You
finally decide on someone and start picking out your stuff. They tell you that
they cook it fresh on the grill (this isn’t true). You may or may not notice
that there are ants crawling on everything. They take what you’ve chosen, walk
over and dump it on a grill to warm it up a bit (it was already cooked
earlier). The food is okay. Nothing to really write home about, but also
nothing spectacular. You’ve probably made the same, even better, on your home
BBQ. The shocker comes when they tell you the bill. Because the guidebooks all
say that you can eat for less than $1. That may have been true way back when.
But now, after the renovation of Fordhani Gardens, the *cheapest* item
on the table – the fish brochettes – cost 3,000 shillings each (that’s nearly
My recommendation – skip this scene altogether, there is
much better available. If you really want to hang out there, you can go after
dinner and get a banana & nutella “pizza” for dessert. That’s only 1,500
Second bad recommendation I got was Kidude. It has a nice
atmosphere and, to their credit the guidebooks didn’t rave about it or
anything. But it was listed as a nice place to eat. But the food was boring.
This is in Zanzibar, the Spice Island. I had rice and veg in a village (during
the Spice Tour) that was much more exciting than my dinner at Kidude. Although
their pumpkin pie was pretty good.
That’s it for the negative recommendations. Now for the
Africa House – I had a nice prawn (crayfish, really) and
mango salad there, but the real reason to go is really just to have a drink and
hang out with the view. Their terrace looks straight out onto the ocean and
it’s really lovely. Unfortunately, they don’t understand about “smoking” and
“non-smoking” areas and apparently Europeans have become as obnoxious as
Americans once were (and as enamored with getting lung cancer, apparently), so
pick your seat carefully or you may have to smoke while you drink as well.
The Monsoon – I thought this was going to be my best meal,
but it turns out it was only second best. However, it was great. To some
extent, it doesn’t really matter what you order, because that will only be one
small thing on your plate. Because they serve you a plate filled with Zanzibar
delicacies. Pilau rice, ratatouille, garbanzo beans, mango chutney, etc. The flavors explode and combine and swirl around your mouth in the most wonderful ways! This would be a great place to go your first night because you will get a feel for Zanzibari cooking and spices. Or go here after you’ve done the spice tour and see how well you can discern what you are eating. For dessert, I had a pressed date pudding with vanilla cream that was exquisite.
Finally, the Archipelago. This was not in any guidebook, but
I did a quick search on the web and it came up as the number 1 recommendation.
I had seen it (it’s right next to the Monsoon) and wondered if it was any good.
First of all, it is set up as a café, so it’s not fancy. However, it is
positioned, so that the view provides all the elegance needed. Palm trees
swaying a foot or two away, a sweet breeze blowing and the sound of the waves
lapping on the shore provide the backdrop. I ordered a salad and, at the
recommendation of my waiter, the Zanzibar prawns with pilau rice. The salad has
way too much dressing, but that’s my only complaint. The prawns were delicious.
Full of the flavors and spices of the island, but not hot. The pilau rice was
incredible. Sweet and savory at the same time with more flavor than I ever
thought rice could have. Yum! For dessert I had a piece of date cake in a
puddle of caramel sauce – all warm and dripping with sweet goodness.
A couple of notes. I went during Ramadan. I don’t know that
I’d recommend this, but it didn’t put too much of a damper on things for me. One
place, Mercury’s, which is talked about in the guidebooks quite a lot, is
completely closed for the whole month of Ramadan. Also, sleeping was pretty
difficult as people were up and out and making quite a bit of noise very, very
late. I don’t know how the kids can make it through school the next day because
no one even goes home before midnight. And they have to be up before dawn if
they want to eat anything. The only way I felt constrained was not being able
to just drink water whenever and wherever I felt like. I have definitely not
been drinking enough water.
Also, I did the Island Excursion offered through Nakupendo
Tours which I would really recommend. You go visit the huge Seychelles
tortoises on Prison Island and then spend the afternoon on this sandbank where
you can snorkel, have lunch, sunbathe, etc. It was wonderful riding around in
their boat, too. I did get sunburnt, despite trying to be attentive, but it was
a wonderful day and well worth the $50.
I’d also recommend the Spice Tour. Though I am no farmer, I
can’t even garden, I am always fascinated by agriculture and like to know where
my food comes from. On the Spice Tour you’ll get to see your spices in the wild
and some of them look nothing like what you’ve imagined, I’m sure. You also spend a bit of time on a beach as part of that tour, which is a nice end to the day.
Today I’m off to Matemwe, on the northeast side of the
island to *really* relax.