Just the name “Zanzibar” conjures up exotic images, fragrances, and flavors. Sensory overload is probably the order of the day when touring the “Spice Islands”, this East African archipelago that was used as a spice plantation by the 18th century Omani Empire.
The most famous spice from Zanzibar is cloves, which used to be produced on this island in such quantities that arriving sailors would catch their scent even before they docked in the harbor. Today, vanilla is a prime crop. But genuine vanilla is extremely expensive because it needs special hands-on treatment to flourish. Cinnamon is plentiful and comes from the ubiquitous laurel tree bark, while nutmeg – used in cakes, coffee, and porridge – is the pit of a fruit that looks like an apricot, and found everywhere. Nutmeg also has a secret: it an alleged aphrodisiac, although there is no documented evidence of this!
All these spices are used in a plethora of sweet treats available from street vendors or restaurants in Zanzibar. And as your visit is likely to be totally food-centric, suspend the diet. Just enjoy and experience the heady mix of sweet delights from many different cultures which have made Zanzibar their home.
Really unique taste experiences await you with baobab seeds (ubuyu) coated in sugar and coloring and sweet mango with chili and salt.
Or to give it its real name, “Mkate wa Chila”, is a favorite cake-like bread in Zanzibar. There are two versions of “chila” – one is a dry flat bread which has sugar added to it and the second version, which is more traditionally authentic, is to drizzle “tui iliyopikwa na sukari na hiliki” – cooked coconut milk sweetened with sugar and cardamom on top of the cooked bread, also known as Vibibi.
Still hankering for more sweets? Try Kashata, a peanut coconut candy. It is a traditional East African sweet sold in markets and on almost every street corner and usually served with strong black coffee spiced with ginger.
These are sweet rice dumplings. The dominant ingredients of this delicacy are rice flour, coconut milk, and cardamom. Some vilosa are prepared with semolina, but some people prefer normal flour which makes them extra soft, especially once they are totally soaked with the saffron syrup. Wash them down with saffron tea!
This can be sweet or savory, but let’s concentrate on the sweet, for now. It is made of a two layers of very thin dough, fried on one side, flipped over and fried on the other side. As it comes lathered with chocolate spread and bananas, it’s more like a crepe than anything else. Wash it down with delicious, cold sugar cane juice.
A fruit platter as a natural choice for dessert. Bungo, a spherical, orange-green fruit is indigenous to Zanzibar and when juiced makes for a tart and refreshing fluorescent drink. You can also try it as a fruit ceviche. Also, custard apple with its sweet, fleshy pulp is highly addictive!
Whatever your food preferences, Zanzibar is likely to get your taste buds standing to attention and begging for more. Enjoy!
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