A trip to Zanzibar presents an unexpected seafood feast
Andrew studied hospitality management in Switzerland in the early 1990s and returned to South Africa to witness the transition to Democracy in 1994. After working with several hotel groups, private lodges and restaurants, Andrew began a career in rail tourism, starting as Train Manager with Shongololo Express, and later as Operations Manager at Rovos Rail, a leading 5-star luxury train operator.
Rovos Rail offers a trip that starts in Cape Town and disembarks at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. As operations manager, I would accompany the train for its long transit from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to Dar es Salaam, before a three-day layover between trips. As soon as all the preparations for the next trip were done, I’d head for Zanzibar on a quick 20-minute flight. Zanzibar, also known as the ‘Spice Island’, was infamous for its slave trade and famous for giving the world Freddie Mercury.
On one trip, after checking in at Hotel Tembo in Stone Town, I asked the hotel concierge where the best place to eat was. His response? At sunset, when the fast for Ramadan breaks, head to the open market square for a seafood buffet.
The buffet consisted of an entire city block of open coal fires and the smell of grilled seafood in the air. As the sun dipped into the ocean and fast was broken, brisk trade took place. I was overwhelmed by choice – game fish such as barracuda, net-caught fish, calamari, crab, lobster, mussels and much more.
Where and how to start?
With that, a young teenage boy in broken English said, “Mister, take a seat and I will buy for you.” I asked him about the price and he said, “No worries Mister!” Now having travelled, I know this should set off alarms. I said, “Right, how much?” He said, “Give me USD10 and you will be full!” The boy then disappeared, and I thought, there goes my 10 bucks! But pleasantly surprised, a coconut with straw arrived shortly and with that, I started my feast with refreshing ice coconut milk.
“Do you like spicy or not?” “Spicy,” I replied, and he was gone once more. No more than two sips of the coconut milk, the young boy arrived with a chunk of spicy encrusted grilled tuna on a banana leaf. Any 5-star restaurant in Europe would be proud to serve such a tasty piece of tuna cooked to perfection. Then my “buyer” was gone again only to return with three seafood kebabs with calamari, octopus and prawns, slow-cooked in coconut milk and then grilled on an open fire.
The next time the boy returned, he had what looked like red snapper, whole and cooked on the coals directly, fresh and crisp. I was feeling full but was presented with a large lobster tail, steaming hot. Now worrying about cost escalation, I asked my “buyer” how much more he wanted. He responded that he would bring me dessert and that was dinner done.
Moments later, a white creamy dish arrived. I suspect it was a sago-type pudding, a new taste for me unlike any other. My “buyer” asked if I would like coffee. I did, and he asked for USD2. A coffee arrived in a small plastic yoghurt cup, and it was a local blend from Mbeya, which is situated on the mainland. The coffee had half a red chilli swirling around in it. “Drink it Mister!” was the command. Apprehensively, I had a sip and it proved to be a wonderful digestive.
What a magical evening for USD12. Nowhere else in the world!
Seafood buffet ala Zanzibar