Zanzibar: the birthplace of Farouk Bulsara (better known as Freddy Mercury) and the location of the world’s shortest war – the Anglo-Zanzibar War, which took place on August 27, 1896 between 9.02 and 9.40! Of course the two facts aren’t related, but they’re both quite interesting. But then that’s Zanzibar: a pretty interesting place.
In part, that’s due to the islands’ history. As well as British rule, Zanzibar has been part of the Portuguese Empire; under the influence of the Sultanate of Oman; and – most recently – merged with mainland Tanganyika. Today, it’s considered a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, and this archipelago of islands is a haven for tourists, which sustain the economy.
However, it’s not all 5-star hotels. Zanzibar was once known as The Spice Islands, famed across the known world for its garlic, cacao, chili, and cloves.
Zanzibari cuisine is a mishmash of various culinary traditions, including Bantu, Arab, Portuguese, Indian, British and Chinese. Elements of Middle Eastern and Indian cooking are paired with the islands’ natural spices and ingredients in a varied and delectable cuisine.
With so much deliciousness to choose from, there’s no ‘official dish’. But any visitor to the Spice Islands should definitely try a bowl of mchuzi wa pweza (octopus curry, a favourite at both street stalls and upmarket hotels), a skewer of mishkaki (cubes of chicken or beef, marinated in a blend of spices and sauce, and grilled over an open flame), and a spot of Zanzibar mix (or urojo), a hodgepodge of crispy fritters and curry gravy.
Of course if there’s one food that Zanzibar is particularly known for, it’s durian: the fruit of dreams – and nightmares. Highly divisive, its aroma has been variously described as reminiscent of rotten onions, turpentine, and raw sewage. But its taste is said to resemble rich custard flavoured with almonds, making this one of the few foods in the world with a flavour very different from its smell! When in season, durian is sold – and enjoyed – across the islands. Apparently this ‘King of Fruits’ has a kind of magic all its own!