Steeped in history and a cultural hotspot, Stone Town is a firm favourite in the ‘top picks’ list in guidebooks of Tanzania. Yet, if recent news is to go by, it seems to also be the creator of all of Zanzibar’s bad press. It was in Stone Town that the infamous acid attacks occurred and just a week before our arrival there had been a bomb scare. But to put things into perspective, this level of terror is somewhat minimal if you compare it with the track records of popular holiday destinations like Egypt, Israel, Thailand and even Kenya of late. So I don’t think it’s tarred reputation should deter you from seeing what some would say is the gem in Zanzibar’s crown! *
Our first stop in Stone Town was one of the things I was most looking forward to- the Forodhani Gardens night market. The market was just a short walk from our hotel and can be found in the area known as the Forodhani Gardens, right by the sea front. Hundreds of people circled, plates in hand and children in tow. Cats prowled optimistically, their eyes scanning the floor for scraps of food. Men with 2 foot tall chefs hats and equally extravagant sales patter greet you, each one hoping too win your business for the evening. Flumes of barbecue smoke haze the air, depositing a lasting smell of fire-cooked food and good memories on your crumpled fresh-from-the-suitcase clothes ready to inspire moments of reminiscence when worn again later in the week.
We opted for seafood….and didn’t regret our decision. Tandoori squid and octopus and a generous helping of special coconut breads (which were like the lovechild of a naan and a pitta) went down a treat. And there is always something special about eating food on a paper plate and with a stick, however unglamorous it seems! All was washed down with a huge jug of sugar cane, lemon and ginger juice. Whilst this wasn’t really to my taste, it is a local delicacy and is fun to watch being made. The sugar cane is sped through a mangle by someone with very big biceps and very sticky fingers until every drop of juice has been extracted and collected in a big bucket strategically positioned below.
The famous Zanzibari pizza was to follow (too busy eating to take a picture I am afraid). Recommended by my good friends Jamie and Taran, these Zanzibari pizzas are unlike anything I had eaten before. A cross between an omelette, a pizza and a pie, you watch your chef swirl a piece of dough around a hot plate with a cracked egg and some filling (in our case, avoiding yam, chocolate and dairylee for the unadventurous option of mozzarella and tomato) and then fold it up and flip it over to create an interesting little parcel of flavour.
At the night market we stood out like a sore thumb as tourists. Being pale, blonde and clutching a camera made it all fairly obvious! This meant that we were prime targets for scams and pestering. Each representing (and being paid by) a different food stall, men in aprons and chefs hats competed for our business and tried to tempt us to their stand. Being the first night this was quite intimidating and it took time to learn that British politeness wasn’t going to cut the mustard when it came to getting these guys to go away. Try not to be gullible and believe their chat about NGO charity funding, having the freshest fish in the market and offering the best price (I was definitely guilty of believing all of this at first)! Take your time to look round and go for the one you think looks tastiest. And top tip: always ask about the price before you buy.
Having sat on the sea wall and tucked into such delicious food we were ready to make a move. Making a move with a tummy full of octopus and Zanzibari pizza meant a purposeful stroll became something that more closely resembled a slow waddling amble….but apparently this is the African way…..
* This is based on visiting in July 2014. Always refer to the foreign office travel advice website for current information on the security risks, terrorism and safety.