Slow-Cooked Spice Beef Curry - Cardamom Chicken - Lime Coconut Octopus with Star Anise - Vanilla, Cardamom, and Coconut Pumpkin - Zanzibar Spice Pilau Rice - Banana Caramel Tart
The movement of the tides may dictate daily life on Zanzibar, but the island’s historical life owes more to another natural phenomenon – the winds. The first colonisers to blow in on the breeze were Arabs and Persians in the 9th century. Their dhows brought previously unknown spices, citrus, and tropical fruit, but by the 15th and 16th century, with Portuguese colonisation sweeping East Africa, dhows were replaced by galleons, and recently acquired South American staple foods such as maize and manioc were added to the mix. Next to arrive were the Omanis whom, courtesy of established trade routes with India, introduced new East Asian spices, and established Zanzibar as in important port in the global spice trade. Along with the spices came the recipes to utilise them, and, by the end of the 17th century, samosas, curry, masala, and biryani were being made in kitchens all over the island, adapted to suit the local ingredients, and influenced by the Arabian and Portuguese inflected cuisines that had come before.
The menu below attempts to make the most of this unique and extraordinarily rich culinary heritage, by starting each recipe with a similar set of ingredients and spices readily found on Zanzibar. The trick then, has to been to try and take each recipe in its own direction by featuring a particular spice or ingredient more predominately amongst the others, such that this ingredient is ‘showcased,’ so to speak. The beef is all about cloves (Zanizbar’s most important spice both historically and at present in terms of trade); the octopus about star anise and woody cinnamon; and the chicken influenced by Indian cuisine and defined by its strong use of cardamom. The other thing that I have varied in order to make each dish unique is cooking time. A long cooking time gives the beef a melting texture, the octopus is grilled to add flavour before cooking in spices and coconut milk, while the chicken is marinated for a long time before being cooked only for the time necessary.
If you want to make these dishes all together, as part of a big feast, they’ve been designed to each offer something a little different and work together well. Otherwise, pick and choose, and serve with the vanilla pumpkin or pilau rice, or both, on the side!