Taste the Less-Touristy Part of Zanzibar
Discover the Zanzibar restaurants from the less-touristy side of the island
In the last few years, Zanzibar has become a major tourist attraction. But for us, who seek to avoid crowded places when traveling, planning a holiday on an island full of resorts was not on top of our list. However, since Zanzibar spices are so famous that the island is also known as the Spice Island, we decided to try and design a trip to suit our style. The result? Well, in our case, the journey of our life so far.
Unfortunately, if you are looking for information on Paje Beach, Nungwi, or Kendwa, you won't find it in this article. Neither will you read about our experience at The Rock Zanzibar restaurant. Why? Simply because we stayed as far as possible from all these 'must-see' places and went for locations where there were more locals than tourists. This being said, let me tell you everything we learned from this vacation, gastronomically and more.
So, let's say that you've heard about Zanzibar Tanzania yet don't know exactly where Zanzibar is located. In that case, you should understand that you will be traveling in the East-Central part of Africa to reach it.
Thus, you will be getting there either by plane or boat.
Now, regardless of your means of transportation, the first part of Zanzibar Africa that you will set foot on arrival will be the Western one. If you want, you can stay in the surroundings, as there are some beaches, hotels, and resorts there. Of course, you can also go North or East to the up-mentioned popular locations. But, as imagined, we didn't do any of that. We chose to go as Southern as possible and fell in love with that region.
We booked our accommodation in Kizimkazi, a small but full of personality fishermen's village. Now, if you Google Kizimkazi, you will only learn that it's the best place to spot and swim with dolphins.
Yet, since just a bunch of tourists are around, nobody talks about the white powdery soft sand, the crazy clear water, the rocky cliffs, the big baobab on the beach, and the fantastic food that part of the island offers. In other words, we mostly went there blindly and decided to go with the flow, discovering a new and wonderful thing each day.
Long story short, the place we chose as basecamp was Hotel Sarabi. The reason why we picked it was its direct access to the beach. We literally had less than 30 seconds to walk from our room to the ocean. Furthermore, it turned out clean, comfortable, and without that enclosed resort feeling. In other words, it's a great place to start and finish the day.
At Sarabi, they also have a restaurant, and we actually had lunch there a couple of times. The food is correct, but it lacks character. I think they want to combine the traditional and European ways of cooking, which is not the best approach in my opinion.
Anyway, we were perfectly satisfied with what we ate there on the days when we were too lazy to get up from the sunbeds and walk for more than a minute.
Right next door to Sarabi is another complex called Aya Beach Bungalows. It has a charming restaurant that serves delicious seafood dishes and crazy good desserts. Actually, I can honestly say that here I had one of the best sweet encounters ever - Panna Cotta with mango and passion fruit jelly.
At first, I was reticent to eat Panna Cotta in Zanzibar, but I am so happy I did it. This is definitely something I will be trying to recreate at home.
Anyway, the complex is operated by a lovely couple from Bulgaria. They managed to bring some European standards to the restaurant without ruining its authenticity. I am talking about the little things such as good espresso, the possibility of paying by card, and cold sparkling wine.
But moving on, you should know that these two, let's call them lodges, are the only ones in the surrounding area. However, walking just a couple of hundreds of meters on the beach will get you into the village where you will find not one traditional Zanzibar restaurant but at least four. We tried two of them for lunch, and we were blown away by each experience.
I think we ate at the Sun Set Restaurant on our second day. We saw it during our morning run and decided on the spot that it was a place to try out. So at lunchtime, we took our lazy selves from underneath the lovely shade of the coconut trees and walked for a couple of minutes on the beach to reach it.
I can tell you that the sun didn't make things easy for us. However, we arrived at the venue surrounded by the locals who cheerfully told us about various opportunities. From boat trips to private tours, to live music or weed - you name it, and these boys were ready to offer us all for the right price.
Anyway, we entered the restaurant hot, dehydrated and hungry and were greeted by a young woman who we realized was the waiter, the cook, and the bartender. To make things easier for her, since we were a group of 6, we basically chose the same thing - grilled tuna with mashed potatoes and a salad.
Yes, we waited a while for the food to come, but we didn't mind since clearly, she cooked everything on the spot. Furthermore, we had cold water and white wine to keep us company, plus a million-dollar view.
When the order did come, it was just as expected - simple yet extraordinary. The mashed potatoes were made with coconut milk instead of regular one, turning each bite into a tropical surprise. As for the salad, I can honestly say that it was truly the best fresh salad I ever tasted. She added freshly ground pepper to it along with the regular dressing, which changed it in the best possible way. I ordered fresh salad at other venues, hoping that it was tradition to prepare it so divine, but no. You will only find this recipe at the Sun Set Restaurant.
Now, just a few steps from this place, there is one of the oldest baobab trees on the island (350 years or so). Around its impressive trunk, another diner has recently opened - The Baobab Cafe Restaurant.
Unfortunately for us, we managed to eat there only on our last day and couldn't repeat the experience. We were so blown away by everything about this place that I can't even say for a fact what exactly I ate there.
From the very second you enter the premises you are welcomed by the owner who is a wonderful and kind man. He is also the one who takes the order, but unlike the other locations we've been to, there is a lot of staff moving around you.
We later found out that he trains villagers to become waiters and cooks so they can find a better-paid job on the island. Furthermore, each day, he serves breakfast and lunch to the kids studying at the school, which is just a few buildings away.
Now regarding the food options, there is a daily menu but also an all-timer one from which you can choose your meal. I am sure that regardless of your preference you won't be disappointed. The food is fresh, and it's cooked and served with love.
Most importantly, our experience at The Baobab Cafe Restaurant was not just food-related. It was so much more than that. It made us realize how happy and affectionate the local community of Kizimkazi is. They are so genuinely delighted to offer you a good time that they go that extra mile to do so. There was nothing fancy about this restaurant, yet each and every one of us left the place with a full heart, a smile on our faces, and the regret that we didn't celebrate New Year's Eve there. Because yes, the owner turned our lunch into a dancing party which none of us will forget.
Regarding other lunches we enjoyed while in Zanzibar, I must tell you that they were included in three tours we had, tours which I totally recommend.
First of all, you should not miss the chance to take a Zanzibar spice tour. There are many spice farms from which you can choose, but we were suggested to visit Shabuta Spice Farm since it is a community plantation and not a government one. So, we did just that.
We tried fruits and spices harvested right in front of our eyes. I will only say this - the exotic fruits and spices we import in Europe are nothing compared to the ones growing in Africa.
Anyway, after three hours of testing spices and learning new things, we were invited to have lunch, right there, in the heart of the community. I can't even start to describe how well we were treated and how good everything they cooked was. We had pilau rice, banana stew, a salad, a curry, and a crazy good fruit juice.
Honestly, I was so mesmerized by everything that I didn't even take too many pictures. Therefore, you will have to trust me when I say that the whole experience was just perfect.
When you exit this amazing Zanzibar spice farm, you can buy whatever spices you want. Of course, we loaded our bags with everything that looked appealing, and I recommend you do the same.
Yes, you will find them cheaper in the local market of Stone Town, yet, by buying them from the farm, you really help out the people working there. Remember that the minimum wage in Zanzibar is $100, so every dollar counts for them.
Speaking of Stone Town, you should not miss the opportunity to visit the city no matter where you are base-camping. The island's capital is full of history, personality, and authenticity.
The only thing that you should remember is that since you will be walking between stone walls and not on the beach, you won't feel any breeze. So, make sure you dress properly.
For hydration, don't miss the chance to stop and enjoy a glass of karimbu juice. This is a refreshing sugarcane juice mixed with lime and ginger. You will find many vendors in Stone Town preparing it on the spot.
Now, regarding food, there are a lot of restaurants in the city, and some of them look quite fancy. I won't lie and say that the possibility of an air conditioner didn't seem appealing at the time. However, we stuck to the plan and went to the local restaurant recommended to us - Ma Shaa Allah Cafe.
This is a small venue that doesn't seem like much at first glance. Yet, we were more than happy that they offered us cold water and we had a fan above our table.
The food this restaurant serves is a fusion of Indian and local cuisine, making it impossible to choose just one dish. Basically, we asked for, I might say, almost everything on the menu and shared it. I can only express this - what a feast that lunch was.
You know that feeling when you eat so much that you feel your stomach pressing your lungs? Well, that was our status when we got up from the table. Everything was so incredibly delicious that we simply couldn't stop eating.
So, yeah, if you visit Stone Town, enter a tanzanite store and check out the Zanzibar gem if you want a/c, but choose a local restaurant instead of a touristic one.
Moving on, I want to talk about our last lunch experience while in Zanzibar. We are crazy about boat trips and take one on each sea-related holiday. And, since we love to snorkel in the open waters, we couldn't say no to a blue safari. Yet, this trip was so much more than what we expected.
We stopped on an atoll to have lunch, and just as in the spice farm, again, we were blown away by the food we were served and the fantastic way we were treated.
I'm not even going to talk about the surreal beauty of this place because words and photos can't even start to describe the reality of the surroundings.
I will only say that we had the pleasure to enjoy an abundance of scrumptious dishes on this out-of-this-world piece of sand - a plate of grilled seafood (lobster, tuna, shrimps, and so on), pilau rice, chapati, and the best possible fruits. We even tried baobab fruits which might I say taste like candy.
I am sure that regardless of the guide you'll choose to take you on a blue safari, you will enjoy such a feast. However, if you are an adventurous type, maybe suggest going through the mangrove forest and visiting the fishermen's island to see the oldest baobab tree around. Because for us that was the best part of the tour.
Now, I hope that I haven't lost you on the way since I still have a thing or two left to tell you about our dinner choices.
We mostly preferred going out to eat, and for that, we hired a taxi to drive us around. The roads are not very friendly, and driving by ourselves didn't seem like a good idea for us. Especially since they drive on the left side of the road.
So, if you stay in Kizimkazi and want to check out other restaurants, here are the ones we tried:
- Eden Rock Zanzibar
The restaurant is part of some kind of a hippie resort. It has a no-waste policy, so be prepared to have a very short menu to choose from. However, the food is extremely tasty, and the service is excellent. As a plus, the place is loaded with cute animals.
Now, even though we chose this location for dinner, I do recommend you try it out at lunch as I imagine the view from there is breathtaking.
- Karamba restaurant
This one is also part of a hippie-ish resort but fancier than the first one. They have a more gourmet approach, and the food is indeed something else. For instance, you can even have tuna ceviche or seafood pasta and not just the traditional curries or grilled fish.
I can't say for sure, but I think that this is a more pricey kind of venue than what you'll find in the rest of the area. Nevertheless, it is a restaurant that you should not miss.
- Fruit and Spice Wellness Resort
We are not all-inclusive resorts kind of people, but we wanted to see how things look in such a place. So we booked a table, and for $25/person, we had access to their open buffet.
I have to say that if you are into this kind of experience, this resort is indeed perfect. The food is everything one could wish for, the service is exquisite, and the surroundings beautiful.
However, it's all a mirage. Nothing about this place reflects the real world outside its walls. But it's good to have a look and appreciate the authentic Zanzibar that's out there.
- Stone Village Restaurant
I left the best for last. This restaurant has just recently opened, and it's owned by a very nice local couple. We talked to them in advance and asked them to prepare us a special dinner for a birthday celebration. We didn't order anything and just told them to cook us whatever traditional food they wanted.
I do believe that they prepared all day for us because we ended up with a feast and not just a dinner. We had grilled barracuda, a spicy curry, pilau rice, a birthday cake, sparkling wine, and a special Massai dance.
I don't know if and when we will go back to Zanzibar, but I do know that this is the restaurant where I would always love to return.
Lastly, I want to share with you some information that might come in handy:
- In Kizimkazi, there is an ocean tide which changes from one day to another. We had days in which we could swim during the mornings, while in others, we only had water in the afternoon and evenings.
- You can't find a better sunset than in Kizimkazi.
- Don't expect to find bread on the table.
- If you really want to taste something 100% authentic, try to find a venue that sells Konyagi (some kind of chemical-made gin) and mkate wa mayai (cardamom sponge cake). However, I do suggest you only go with the latter.
- The local currency is the Tanzanian shilling. I suggest you exchange some when you arrive at the airport.
- You can pay with dollars everywhere, but don't expect to receive the change in anything else than shillings.
- If possible, paying by card might seem a good idea, but you will be charged a 3% fee for each transaction.
- There are many 'beach boys' ready to offer their services. You might end up with an honest fellow, but there are scammers among them, so you might reconsider hiring one.
- If you are looking for a tour guide, please contact Tobby. He is an incredibly charismatic and smart guy. You can find him at the Aya Beach Bungalows.
- The European part of me wishes to make dinner reservations wherever we go. I really don't think it's necessary around Kizimkazi. Yet, if you want to contact the restaurants, I suggest you do it on Whatsapp and not on Facebook messenger. They answer faster this way.
- Remember the saying Hakuna Matata because you will hear and use it a lot.
- Don't forget the sunscreen cream and mosquito repellant.
And that's it! I hope that this article will turn out helpful and you will enjoy the Southern part of Zanzibar as much as we did.
In the end, I will leave you with the most famous song on the island, but if you ever have any extra questions about Kizimkazi, please don't hesitate to contact us directly on our Instagram page.
PS. The food pictures are not as bright and shiny as they could have been because the light was not the most appropriate for food photography.