I’m a true Seattleite, I grew up next to the Puget Sound where seafood is always bountiful. My mom is from Fiji Islands, I’ve spent many summer holidays there and also lived there so when someone asks me what I want for dinner I think halibut, prawns, salmon, crab, squid, octopus, and lobster – poultry and red meat is always a secondary choice. Sashimi is my all-time favorite, why ruin a good piece of seafood by cooking it! I prefer ocean critters over lake fish, my body craves the minerals and the richness of the ocean.
Which is why agreeing to live in Rwanda a land-locked country for three months was a difficult decision. I was promised fish from Lake Victoria which was delicious but it didn’t satiate my craving. I was counting the days til Zanzibar, I didn’t book the trip because I wanted to have a beach vacation – I needed a glimpse of the ocean and I needed to feast on seafood.
I arrived in Zanzibar with high hopes, I went to Mercury Restaurant (terrible name for a seafood joint) in Stone Town located on the waterfront and spoke to the chef about my depravation – he served up a platter of grilled octopus, squid, prawns and lobster. Africans tend to overcook everything, probably due to the fear of contamination and food borne illness. I was highly disappointed, I tried other western-standard restaurants but was constantly let down.
My buddy Maha who lives in Stone Town pulled thru for me, among the many strings he pulled for me – arranging transportation, negotiating prices with locals, driving 3 hours to pick up my kindle – he took me to Forodhani Gardens night market in Stone Town. We arrived just before dusk and watched chefs set up stands and grills around the gardens – row after row filled with grills of fish, squid, prawns, lobster, crab, and seafood kebabs, the air was filled with hunger inducing smells. I wasn’t even sure where to start, Maha asked if I was ok – I just needed a moment to fully embrace my happy place! Besides the seafood, other temptations among the stalls included fresh juices, fried potatoes, chapattis, salads, beef skewers, falafel and my biggest curiosity was Zanzibar “pizza”.
Forodhani Market is patronized mostly by locals who arrive in droves at dusk and continue to linger til midnight – placing orders and waiting in the low light of the gas lamps, flaming grills and woks. Families and couples set up their picnic spots close to the waterfront and feast on the delicious food provided the market.
So what exactly is Zanzibar “pizza”? It’s not exactly pizza. It was one of the most popular food items at the night market, especially for locals. The “pizza” is made fresh in front of you and there was a long queue of locals at two of the “pizza” stalls. My rule for street food is if you see locals feeding their kids, it’s a good and sanitary place to eat. The “pizza” is a stuffed bread dish, there is no cheese or sauce – the bread is a combination between a crepe and a chapatti and the filling is mincemeat, onions, chili, egg, garlic and mayo. You top your ‘pizza’ will hot sauce and ketchup. As weird as it sounded, Maha and I enjoyed our “pizza’ thoroughly.
Lesson learned from eating in Zanzibar – go eat where the locals eat! Also Zanzibar is known for its spices and curry’s, don’t go for grilled seafood outside of the night market. Have curried octopus, squid, fish, crab, etc. They will curry anything for you!