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Zanzibar has long captured my attention. It has captivated and seduced vacationers and great explorers alike. Captain Sir Richard Burton said of the islands in 1856: “ earth, sea and sky, all seemed wrapped in a soft and sensuous repose […].” It’s difficult to not to get misty-eyed at the sight of tropical forests, white sands and glasslike seas in glistening shades of turquoise and indigo.
Our journey from the airport, skirting the capital of Zanzibar, takes us through jarring street scenes and chaotic traffic. The heat is unyielding. We drive through miles of thick, tangled forests of banana plantations and coconut palms in exuberant greens on both sides of the road–a mass of wild and cultivated foliage. Our destination: Jambiani.
Located on the southeastern coast of Unguja, the largest island of the Zanzibar archipelago, Jambiani attracts sun seekers and kite surfers. We arrive at the town on dusty dirt roads interjected with jagged coral, the village a mix of crumbling breeze block dwellings with corrugated roofs, pristine white lodges and tiny corrugated tin stores selling basic essentials.
Our room gives directly onto the powder white beach–basic yet spacious and comfortable–with the kite centre to our left. My husband is smiling from ear to ear! We’re the first to arrive for the kiting season, which is December through March, so he gets first dibs on all of the new season kite equipment.
The relatively small section of beach on which our hotel sits is isolated at high tide from the rest of its length by protruding rock ledges. The beach is a mosaic of vibrant colours and patterns. The locals’ whose lives seem shaped by this stretch of beach–a source of food, enterprise and recreation.
Each morning I’d wake early to the Muezzin’s call, get dressed and make my way to the beach strolling steadily to the sound of singing Whimbrel enjoying the moments of calm before the rhythms of the day gently unfold. A handful of children were already digging for clams and gathering seaweed.
Two worlds conjoin on Jambiani beach: the everyday lives of the womenfolk who wade through water at low tide gathering seaweed collected in rice sacks, which is apparently sold to the Japanese; chatty vendors wander the shoreline in search of tourists introducing themselves by their adopted European names; tall and sleek young Maasai men, who have ventured from mainland Tanzania, they lay out their red fabric on the sand welcoming everyone to their “supermarket;” and the tourists, here for the high winds, the sea and a heavy dose of sun.
Drifting through leisurely days delightfully uncluttered by the constraints of a schedule, I would often sit and chat with the Maasai. They are gentle, inquisitive and somewhat innocent in their manner, and I’m eager to learn about their culture. I read, I ate, and was gently swayed into a blissful sleep under the shade of rhododendron trees and the sound of the sea caressing the shore.
Jambiani beach seems more fully itself during the golden hours of early evening. The children, always happy and smiling, take turns to walk along the tightrope erected in front of the kite school. A few boys master impressive backflips off of the centre of the rope. The older boys gather religiously every evening on the beach to play soccer. The village women dig for clams in groups of two or more. The beach vendors make their way home during the final call to prayer of the daylight hours, as kiters fold away their gear in time for drinks before dinner.
On my last day, I walked from the shore out to sea along sandbanks as the tides began to recede. The sand was so fine it felt like China clay between my toes. As I walked, I felt a little hand slip into mine, I looked down as a bright young face beamed up at me. We walked and chatted in our own languages. I reclined in the bath-hot shallows and she splashing in the water in full hijab showing me her swimming skills. I praise her efforts as any mother-figure would. Precious.
There were so many beautiful, rich moments like these during my stay here.
Would I return to Zanzibar? Absolutely, but for longer and deeper next time.
We booked our trip through Kiteworldwide.com
Red Monkey Lodge
This was a meal I had when I first arrived on the Zanzibar archipelago. And although it is quite a simple dish, it was a very welcoming lunch after a long flight from Germany. You could call this dish a Tanzanian version of egg and chips; but eating this while looking out across white sandy beaches and crystal blue seas under glorious sunshine, gives these rudimentary ingredients a different character altogether.
This dish is very popular all over Zanzibar, and indeed mainland Tanzania. Eggs and fried potatoes are the base ingredients, but occasionally finely chopped red peppers and onions are added for a bit of variety.
For my version, I’m substituting the usual yellow potatoes with sweet potatoes, and garnish with fresh coriander and Thai basil, herbs which are used in abundance across the islands in a variety of dishes. The use of these delicious herbs teases out the sweetness of the potatoes, and also adds a hint of complexity to the flavour.
Although its a very simple dish, I’m sure you will find it incredibly satisfying and, of course, it’s really easy to make.
You will need
1 medium sweet potato
4 large eggs
2 spring onions
a handful each of Thai basil & fresh coriander leaves
2 tbs sunflower oil
black pepper & sea salt to season
Pre-heat oven at 200 degrees celsius.
Peel the sweet potato and cut into thin chips. Place in a bowl of cold salted water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat the chips dry with paper towel, place them evenly on a baking tray, and brush with 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper, then pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. When they are done, set aside and pre-heat your grill or broiler.
Chop the spring onions, crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk with a fork. Take a few basil and coriander leaves, roughly chop and fold into the eggs. In a heavy based frying pan (20 inches in diameter or so) add the remaining oil, and over a med-high heat fry the spring onions until tender but don’t brown. Add the sweet potato chips to the pan in a single layer, then pour over the eggs leaving it to settle. When the eggs start to set around the outside of the pan, place it under the grill for just a minute or two.
Garnish with the remainder of the herbs, and serve with a chopped salad of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions and drizzle with a little oil and a squeeze of lime juice.
During my stay on Zanzibar Island, I would often sit on the beach quietly taking photos of the village women of Jambiani as they dug for clams on the shoreline. This took place mainly in the early evenings, just as the sun began to set. The vibrantly dressed women against the pale blue of the sea and the golden hue of evening light was a vision to behold.
I asked a local man – the women did not speak to mzungu much – how the women prepared the clams they were gathering. “The clams are cooked in coconut with lime and salt,” he told me.
Eating on the island was an absolute pleasure for the scenes. There are very few fridges in local cafes and restaurants, so everything is freshly prepared–fresh fish, fresh coconut, mango, passion fruit, limes, Thai basil and spices are grown on the island were frequently used giving dishes the most delightful flavours and scented aromas.
This simple dish is an adaptation of the recipe given to me, but with a few additional ingredients which were abundantly used in the dishes of local restaurants.
You will need
clams 500 g
coconut milk 400 ml
zest & juice 1/2 lime
2 dried lime leaves
2 inches finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic crushed
1 level tbsp of tamarind
handful (20 g) of fresh Thai basil leaves roughly chopped*
salt & black pepper for seasoning
To begin, soak the clams in a large bowl of cold salted water for about an hour to remove any sand. Pour clams into a colander and rinse thoroughly under the cold water tap. Then swoosh around in the colander to remove excess water. Discard any clams that are fully open.
Place the coconut milk, dried lime leaves, ginger, garlic, tamarind, lime juice and zest and a generous pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper in a large pan and simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the lime leaves and any large bits of tamarind that hasn’t dissolved. Pop the chopped Thai basil into the sauce reserving a little for garnishing. Turn up the heat slightly, pour in the clams, place a lid on the pan and let the clams steam for 5 minutes or so. Check to see if they are all open, if not give them a few minutes more. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. Discard any clams that have not opened. Spoon the clams and sauce into dishes and garnish with the reserved Thai basil leaves. Serve with dense white bread or white rice.
Serves two as a main dish or four as an appetiser.
*It has to be Thai basil as regular basil doesn’t work as well