The Myths of Zanzibar Island

By Abi King | Africa

May 24

Zanzibar Island

In Zanzibar, curved triangles glide across the horizon every evening, the silhouettes of sails rather than sharks, as fishermen return home for the day. Women stride into the water, wrapped in patterned kangas, to load the catch into buckets they carry on their heads.

The world calls Zanzibar the Spice Islands, thanks to the cinnamon, coriander and vanilla plantations that flourish here, plus the intersection of trade routes from the gardens and kitchens of East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Our dreary dinner, therefore, was something of a mystery.

I reread the choices: Moroccan chicken, Neapolitan pasta and chicken curry. By now, I knew that each dish was the same – some unidentifiable meat in a sickly tomato sauce, created by the chef who doubled as the barman and trebled as the receptionist.

I was still gazing at the handwritten menu propped up in the sand when the dhow boats returned and the fishing procession began. Gleaming octopus with tentacles dangling, buckets of silver, slippery fish and nets bursting with full-bodied, amber fish…

The chef walked past.

“Would it be alright,” I asked carefully,” if we bought some fish for dinner…or octopus… Anything, really.”

“You like seafood?” He looked confused.

I felt confused. “Er, yes.”

His shoulders dropped and he beamed. “Thank goodness!”

That night, we ate some of the freshest and finest seafood I’d ever tasted.

We also laid the ghosts of two myths to rest: that the food here was awful and that foreigners only eat meat.

Zanzibar Skyline


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