Explore the Spicey Vegan Street Foods of Zanzibar

If you’re a frequent visitor to Zanzibar, then you’re familiar with a subtle aroma that hits you the moment you land at the airport or inland ferry port. Arab traders in the nineteenth century were already familiar with these precious spices scents and before them the Portuguese, English, and Turks.

The most sought-after was clove and pepper. Not only for the way they taste, but also the properties and intense aroma which made them natural preservatives for food long before the invention of refrigerators.

And if you thought cloves and pepper are the only spices available on the island, then you’re not alone. You’ve probably heard about the Myristica. This is a mind-blowing tree whose fruit provide not one but two spices: Nutmeg and Mace. Both grant you an unmistakable and fabulous flavour that leave your taste buds craving for more.

Queen of spices

You may also want to throw into the bucket the queen of spices: Cinnamon! This is a fantastic digestive which has been credited with providing good health with anti-inflammatory properties. All these form the commercial allure of Zanzibar. More than anything else these spices have helped Zanzibar secure place on the world map.

Vegan food and culture tour

While on a casual stroll on the streets of Stone Town, I got a chance to breathe in the smells and scents of the various spices as I explored and experienced the Swahili food and culture. Here are five vegan foods available on the streets of Zanzibar that have been prepared with locally grown spices and are likely to remain in your taste buds long after you’ve left the island:

  1. Masala pilau, coconut, and black pepper

I have to confess that I am not very adventurous when it comes to the Swahili diet. But the moment masala pilau landed on my mouth; I tasted heaven! Or what a food taster would conjure heavenly food to taste like. I became an instant convert to this rice dish loaded with cumin seeds, black pepper, cloves, coconut cream, cinnamon, and cardamom.

  1. Grilled sweet potatoes, bananas coconut bread

On a simple grill laid on top of a wooden bench at Fordhani gardens, Mousa the chef sells assorted sweet potatoes, and roast plantains all sprinkled with generous portions of saffron, red pepper, and cinnamon. Next to the heap lies a bowl with a pink sauce that I learn is freshly made with a mix of tomato paste, garlic, and ginger. The accompanying coconut bread is served with onion soup. Four diners are busy at his table.

  1. Chapati maharage (Chapati and beans)

Chapati is a round flatbread made from wheat flour and oil. It has its origins in the Indian subcontinent but is a must-eat dish in many homes in Zanzibar. On this cuisine tour, the bean soup is a tasty concoction of garlic, ginger, and onions, with a heavy dose of clove powder and yellow turmeric.

  1. Urojo soup and potato balls

Arguably the staple vegan food on the island, Urojo or Zanzibar mix is a thick tasty broth prepared from wheat flour multiple ingredients. With its origins in northern Tanzania, its popularity has spread quickly to the coastal areas including Zanzibar.

Urojo is added shredded cabbage and carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, bread crumbs and dumplings. Add to this spices such as ginger, saffron, cinnamon and cloves and the taste is just magical.  The saying goes: “You cant visit the U.S without tasting the hamburger. So you cant come to Zanzibar and fail to eat Urojo.”

  1. Vitumbua crunchy dumplings

Served during breakfast alongside muffins and crunchy dumplings, vitumbua is fried dough with a mixture of eggs (non-vegan), garlic, cloves, and cinnamon. Its given to school children in the morning and can be packed for lunch as well eaten as a midday snack.

Unscrupulous vendors

Make sure to stick to a vendor that attracts a large crowd of diners. This is an indication his food has passed the test of quality and freshness. Not all vendors are trustworthy and not all food is as fresh as some vendors like to claim. Many of them overstock to attract customers and sell food that has lasted a couple of days. This is a perfect recipe for a nasty stomach ailment, and you don’t want that while on a foreign trip.

Drink of choice

The drink of choice in many street eateries is sugar cane juice. Due to the heat, I took considerable amounts of the chilled and coloured variety after every meal. Its made fresh squeezed right before your own eyes and added with a shot of ginger to give it an extra healthy kick.

About food prices in Zanzibar, that is a story of another day. Are you a vegan in Zanzibar? Looking for a restaurant? Find my review of Forodhani Food Garden