Spice Island lives up to its name in Zanzibar. Full of spice farms, flavorful cuisine with hints of cumin, paprika, turmeric, and cinnamon, and a unique laid-back vibe, there are plenty of foods to try for those wanting a culinary experience when visiting the island. Whether eating at a restaurant, at the night market in Stone Town, or from a street vendor anywhere, you won’t want to miss these foods.
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The Best Zanzibar Food
Ugali was at the top of my list when I was in Zanzibar. The ingredients include water and corn flour, resulting in a white roll with a taste similar to semolina. Locals eat this with meat, fish, or vegetables. I ordered mine with fish marinated with tomato coconut curry. I could have licked the rest of the bowl of the remaining sweet sauce.
Because the Ugali has a bland taste, eating Ugali and the fish together is best. It is possible to find this staple dish at several restaurants, but I had mine at Amore Beach Restaurant in Kiwengwa. I loved this meal so much that I returned to the restaurant two more times. Guests can enjoy a meal while enjoying the sea view.
Resembling a donut-like taste, this triangular-shaped dough bread is best when dipped in tea. Whether eaten at breakfast or as a snack, vendors around the island sell this. The night market in Stone Town also sells Mandazi.
Pizza can be ordered sweet or savory—Nutella with banana, avocado, or cheese, and beef with vegetables. The pizza crust is similar to a flaky chapati. Once they add the ingredients, a square piece of thinly sliced dough is spread on top while the pizza cooks in the pan. When it’s ready, they cut it into squares. I had the veggie pizza from a street vendor in Paje, but it’s easy to find this everywhere.
Several hotels and restaurants prepare this for breakfast. The thin crepe-like pancake gets rolled up. Adding honey on top is enough to flavor.
Most of the time, this food is eaten for breakfast or in the afternoon for a snack. I only saw street vendors selling this before 10:00 am. It perfectly combines kochari-potato, boiled egg, beef skewers, and cassava flakes. A sweet and spicy mango sauce on top turns this into a soup-like dish. Spicy pili sauce and coconut sauce give it the final kick. The sweet, sour, and spicy mix was the perfect combo and hit the spot. Some will dip chapati bread or Mandazi in it.
Grilled Banana Boconut with Chuku Cuku Fish
Not sure what was better, the chuku chuku with vegetable soup or the sweet grilled bananas with tomato sauce. The cumin-flavored fish tasted similar to tuna. I took my time eating the bananas to savor each bite. Grilled banana is quite popular in Zanzibar. I ate this for lunch at the laid-back, colorful Garden Bob Swahili Restaurant, with bright green and pink tablecloths and green, yellow, and black painted stairs.
Vegetable Coconut Curry
Many restaurants will prepare vegetable coconut curry as a side dish. Twice I had the curry with kingfish and octopus, which was tasty. The curry is infused with cumin, paprika, and a hint of cinnamon. I took small bites so I could taste the spices. The coconut milk gives this a little sweetness, making this a perfect side dish.
Beans and Chapati
Chapati is very common to eat for breakfast or lunch. I ate this in a village, and the beans were fava. Fava is a brown bean that tastes creamy after it’s cooked. It is pretty filling, so it’s possible to eat only this unless you’re hungry, then order a side such as vegetables.
This popular snack can be bought at most street vendors and the night market. These sweet and sour fried potato balls are a perfect snack. It is easy to buy these from most vendors around the island. Lukemann’s in Stone Town also makes Kochari. This is an excellent buffet-style restaurant that locals also visit frequently.
Plantains are also a good option, either grilled or with coconut milk. I was told many don’t eat desserts, so I considered this a dessert. I found grilled plantains at the night market and some other vendors selling them in the morning. Some places will also add coconut milk to the grilled plantain.
Peanut Encrusted Fish
I found this simple fish restaurant in Paje. Since I had already tried coconut-flavored foods, I was ready to see how the peanut-encrusted fish was. The peanuts were placed between and on top of the fish, making this crunchy sweet fish with soy sauce a fantastic combo. It also came with tomato-flavored bananas, which tasted like a light, sweet chili sauce. Just look for the Fish Restaurant in Paje on the main road.
I had spinach as a side at Lukemann’s and in a village in Pete. This sauteed side dish goes well with rice and chicken. Some restaurants will add ghee for flavor. Ghee resembles thick and creamy butter.
For seafood lovers, the island has many places to order seafood. Besides the Chuku Chuku fish and peanut-encrusted fish, I ate grilled octopus with rice and tomato-flavored vegetable curry. I had the octopus at Amore Beach Restaurant. Some restaurants will also have coconut-flavored fish on the menu.
Pickled Salad and Relish
Several places will ask patrons if they want relish or pickled salad—the sweet relish pairs nicely with rice with its slightly sour vinegar-like taste. It’s typically not on the menu, so ask the server to bring some with the food.
The fruit is fresh and sweet. When I went in January, mangos, coconut, and pineapple were in season, so I had them almost daily. The mangos had at least four different varieties. I like to support the locals, so I bought fruit from the side of the road and also at the Darajani market. Most hotels also have fruit with breakfast.
Stone Town Markets
The Darajani market is the oldest in Stone Town. Finding fruit, vegetables, fish, spices, and more is possible. Most of the locals shop at this market. At night, visitors can also visit the Forodhani market. Dozens of vendors sell meat and fish kebabs, Zanzibar pizza, snacks such as samosas and falafel, and shawarma. Come with an appetite. Prices start at 3,000 Shillings (roughly $1.30).
Zanzibar Coffee House
For those wanting some spiced coffee with hints of cardamom, the oldest coffee house in Stone Town is a place worth visiting. They also sell pastries and pizza. It is good to come before 5 pm to enjoy the rooftop views of the city. After 5 pm, they do not serve drinks on the roof.
If eating with hands, use the right hand, as the left hand is considered dirty. Tipping at restaurants is not mandatory, but it’s a nice gesture. Anywhere from five to ten perfect is okay and entirely a personal choice.
Zanzibar is quite the place for those foodies and ones who are always up for trying new foods. One will quickly find themselves searching for foods mixed with cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, and clove. Having enjoyed all the above dishes, some of my favorites were Ugali, peanut-encrusted fish, bananas in tomato coconut sauce, and Urojo.
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Traveling with friends, solo and in group tours, Erin has explored South America, Southeast Asia, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa. She is currently a freelance travel writer living in Sur, Oman. She taught English in a foundation program at a university in Sur for four years. Previously, she taught English at a university in Nanchang, China for five years. Erin is a travel writers university member, from Travel Writers Cafe, and is always planning her next trip.