Not that spice aisle, though it’s rather popular in our house, but the Gauguin-green, beguiling beauty that is Zanzibar, the one one-time hub of the spice trade – and a great deal less palatably, the slave-trade between Africa and the world.
And Freddie Mercury was born there.
She, let’s call her she, has had more outside influences than I have had hot dinners (and that’s a lot); Oman, Portugal, the list goes on. The old part of the capital, Stone Town, witnessed the shortest war in the world at the end of the 19th century: the Anglo-Zanzibar war, which lasted all of between 38 and 45 minutes depending on who you ask. This amazing piece of trivia has not only been banked by the BSG amongst his treasury of random facts, but is greatly bumped up his favourites chart due to the fact that it was begun at about 9am… once the British had finished their breakfast.
Our breakfasts each day were altogether more peaceful affairs, consisting of some of the greatest tasting fruit I have ever encountered. Every bright orange mango was a good one, the bananas were short and sweet and the custard apples were a revelation. Considering that pineapples were brought over by the Portuguese – so aren’t strictly native to Zanzibar – it’s hard to imagine them tasting better grown anywhere else.
Of course, some food tourism was inevitable, and between bouts of competitive reading and swimming sessions we took a spice tour, to see the origins of the spices we know so well in their orange-topped jars; I have a new-found respect for each and every one. Fresh nutmeg looked like a formidable armoured beetle, black in its in its danger-red mace casing. The turmeric and ginger roots were fiery when scratched out of their earthy bed and the cardamom and cloves unrecognisable in their pungent greenness*. Huge almond trees provided cool shade underneath dark, waxy leaves. Like all good tourists, we spent a small fortune in Tanzania Shillings on a few bags of the stuff, still drunk on raw nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. One of the bags contains a rust-hued curry powder, the same colour as Zanzibar’s fertile ground. We used it this week to make a fish curry; the closest to kissing the spice isle a fond farewell, until the next time. Asante sana!
* pics from left to right: cardamom, nutmeg, cloves
The mix looks like a lot, but chances are you have nearly everything in your cupboard already. Make up a big batch and keep it to use again and again – I guarantee you’ll want to. Equally it will make a great meat or veg curry too. It takes no time at all to put together.
For the curry:
1 onion, chopped
Zanzibar spice mix (ground turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, chilli powder, coriander and garlic)
500g skin and boneless firm white fish (or a mix including squid and shellfish) in bitesized pieces
1 carrot and 1 courgette, chopped into short batons
Tin of chopped tomatoes
Tin of coconut milk
Salt and pepper
For the yoghurt:
3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
Handful of chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Salt and pepper
Soften and lightly colour the onion over a gentle heat. Add the mix of powdered spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and carrot pieces, turn up the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add coconut milk and turn down the heat. Cook for 5 minutes, before adding the courgette and fish. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 5 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.
Serve with the coriander yoghurt, some warm chapati (or rice) and cauliflower cooked in ginger, turmeric, cumin and cinnamon.