Zanzibar, also known as Spice Island, has food like nowhere else in the world. Because this Island off the coast of East Africa has had Arabian traders, Indian immigrants, and Portuguese invasions, the regional cuisine is just as much of a melting pot as the island itself.
Whether you’re going to a high-class restaurant or eating on the streets, Zanzibar offers a culinary adventure, unlike any place you’ve ever seen. If you’re going to this island on a Safari, you can’t miss these amazing Zanzibar dishes.
This popular street food is way different than what the rest of the world considers pizza. Zanzibar pizza is a pocket of dough filled with meat or fish, onions, peppers, raw egg, cheese, and mayonnaise. The entire thing is then fried in oil.
The result: a crispy, chewy taste of heaven that is one of travelers’ favorite Zanzibar dishes. It’s often served with tomato sauce or chili sauce. You can also get them as a dessert filled with chocolate, banana, Nutella, or mango.
If you’re in Stone Town, the best place to find these are at the Forodhani night market.
Mchuzi Wa Pweza
Zanzibar food is known for its amazing incorporation of the local seafood, so be sure to check out this octopus curry dish. The octopus is cooked with turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and cinnamon and then simmered in coconut gravy. If you see a local scouring the rock pools at low tide, they’re likely seeking an octopus to make this delicious dish.
This isn’t only a Tanzanian food: it’s a staple dish throughout East Africa. This easy-to-make and affordable side dish is a must-try. Made from maize flour and water, it’s consistency is a cross between mashed potatoes and polenta.
To eat it, break off a piece and smash it into a ball, then dip it in your main dish before consuming. It can accompany anything but is often found with mchuzi, a soup local to Tanzania.
Biryani ya Zanzibar
While biryani is popular across the globe, the Tanzanian food variation is quite spectacular.
The rice is prepared with spices such as ginger, cumin, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg. Separately, a curry made of beef, goat, or fish is prepared. Then, the two components are combined to make an unforgettable dish.
A close cousin to Biryani ya Zanzibar, but instead this dish requires one cook the rice and meat components at the same time. This Zanzibar dish also has more spices and is drier than biryani (since there isn’t any curry).
Onions, vegetables, and meat are cooked with spices like cardamom, cloves, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and cumin. There may also be nuts and coconuts included.
Meaning chips and eggs in Swahili, this dish is a very popular comfort food. It’s essentially an omelet with french fries. Of course, french fries in Zanzibar are a bit different in that they are always freshly peeled and fried to a crisp.
Locals often eat it with toothpicks and some ketchup. You can also add fresh chilies or kachumbari (a tomato, onion, and chili pepper salad) for extra flavor.
Similar to a kebab, this Tanzanian food includes skewered, marinated meats that are slowly cooked over open coals. The smell is strong and delicious and tends to draw in crowds late at night, as it is frequently sold on the street near bars and clubs.
Usually, it’s made of lamb, goat, or beef. The Tanzanian version is a little smaller than those found in other parts of Africa, so be sure to order several.
This dish is similar to mshikaki in that it is slow roasted meat (typically goat). Often, they’ll take the meat off the carcass and throw it onto the grill right before your eyes – meat can’t get much fresher!
Be ready to wait for about an hour. But it’s worth it for this delicious, smoky meat that’s filled with flavor.
Octopus and Cassava
This is the Tanzanian food version of fish and chips. It’s made by frying pieces of octopus and cassava (a starchy potato) which is then served on a piece of newspaper. For extra flavor, add some salt or some chili tomato sauce.
Urojo (called Zanzibar Mix on mainland Tanzania) combines a ton of classical Zanzibar cuisine components to make something unique. It’s sort of like ramen, and it’s a coconut curry broth filled with toppings.
These toppings include egg, meat skewers, chutney, peppers, onion, cassava chips, falafel, and bhajias. So, it’s kind of like everything we’ve talked about so far taken together and mixed into one dish.
This Tanzanian food is popular as a side dish or snack. What does it mean? Fried plantains, of course!
They’re usually not sweet, but some will add sugar before the frying process to bring out the sweeter flavors of the plant. Another variant chooses to sprinkle the plantain with salt and grill it instead.
Supa Ya Ndizi
This is yet another plantain dish and also known as Mtori. Here, the plantain is crushed into a paste, cooked in chicken broth, and then seasoned with pepper and salt. It’s usually served with bread, rice, roti, or chapati (sort of like naan).
Date Nut Bread
This extremely popular Zanzibar food is unlike anything you’ve ever had. To make this bread, dates are coarsely chopped and combined with chopped walnuts. It’s both nutritious and tastes amazing – be sure to try it for breakfast.
Wali Na Maharage
This decadent Zanzibar dish consists of mushy red beans and rice cooked with coconut milk. It is usually served with meat, fish, or vegetables. The seasonings include cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, cloves, and pepper.
Coconut Bean Soup
This Tanzanian food will be a staple for you if you’re a vegetarian. But you definitely don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it! This soup is made from coconut milk, shredded coconut, tomatoes, kidney beans, and spices.
This is a popular dish in East Africa that has two possible spellings depending on where you go. This dish is made of shredded meat, wheat, and spices. Together, it ends up looking a lot like porridge.
While not a dish, you have to be sure to check out these local fruits, too. Zanzibar has some of the largest avocados and some of the sweetest pineapples in the world.
They also have amazing papaya, bananas, jackfruit, and passion fruit. But there are two that you have to try.
You’ve probably noticed by now that coconut is really popular in Zanzibar dishes. And it’s not very surprising since Zanzibar is a beautiful island paradise. So why not do something special and drink madafu – coconut juice straight from the coconut!
This “king of fruits” is famous because it smells absolutely terrible but tastes absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, they’re only during durian season, so be sure to visit at that time if you want to try this unique fruit.
Sweet Zanzibar Dishes
You have to try these sweet treats on your trip to Zanzibar.
This is a Swahili doughnut. The dough is made of coconut milk and cardamom and then deep fried. Usually, it’s served with chai or jackfruit.
Ndizi na Kastad
This dish consists of bananas that are covered in sweet custard. On top, they sprinkle nutmeg and cinnamon. Sometimes it’s made with pineapples or oranges instead of banana (or even with the banana)
If you want a more traditional flavor, go with Nutella, mint, cocoa, or Amarena cherry. But if you want something exotic, get masala, ginger, baobab, peanut, hibiscus, or even avocado!
While these drinks may be similar in name drinks around the world, you’ll notice the Zanzibar variants are quite unique.
Tanzanian coffee tends to have some spicy notes. For an unforgettable experience, go to Jaws Corner in Stone Town. Here, you can drink your coffee while chatting and playing board games with locals – and if you’re lucky, they’ll bring you some kashata (peanut brittle) to enjoy with your coffee.
For some unforgettable tea, order some ginger or spiced tea from a babu chai (tea vendor). Then, sit on the steps of the shops in town and enjoy!
Sugar Cane Juice
This is the absolute best on a hot, sunny day. They hand-crank this juice in front of you and add lime and ginger. Unforgettable!
Now Go Forth and Travel!
If you’re planning on going to Zanzibar anytime soon, make sure to check out some of these dishes for an experience you won’t forget. We also have a great guide on the top 10 things to do while in Zanzibar.
Do you want to visit Zanzibar but don’t have any idea how to start booking your vacation? Contact us! Our travel specialists will make sure that you get the best value for your money.