Zanzibar is an island recognized for growing and exporting African spices. With its mysterious alley ways, known for their ornately carved doors, Birka-clad women move silently through the streets while loud speakers call faithful Muslims to prayer. An array of exotic and exciting food tempts the foreign traveler in selecting and savoring the island’s exotic cuisine.
It is evening and and my friend has made reservation’s for us to eat at Sambusi’s Two Tables, located in a private home .We have the address and decide to walk from our hotel, the Dhow Palace, in historic Stone Town. It is dark and we are walking single file along the semi-lit street hardly wide enough for two cars. Huge arched doorways cast shadows into the street creating a somewhat ominous atmosphere. This reminds me of the honeymoon couple from Norway I met today who told me they were robbed of their money, passports, everything, while at the beach yesterday. Standing on a corner, we check the address and turn toward a residential section. We comment on the absence of traffic and people. Our husbands pause, look around for signs, house numbers, anything, and decide on a route. We are now cutting through yards and wishing we took a cab like the hotel desk clerk recommend we do, but gladly stumble on the correct house. The entrance is hidden around the back, something the owner failed to mention. We knock on the door and after a couple of minutes are greeted by a teenager who shyly motions for us to come in and leave our shoes inside the door way. This we do, and are led upstairs to the living room where a woman is watching TV. She barely smiles, indifferently nods to us while the son leads us to the enclosed porch with two tables. We are the only ones here this evening, we are told.
It is a long narrow room with jalousie windows overlooking the deserted, dark street. Void of any decorations or pictures on the pale green walls, a ceiling fan hums on low speed, enough to drown out the TV. Each table has six chairs, a clear plastic tablecloth like our grandmother’s once used, paper napkins and cutlery.
Our host, the father of the house, introduces himself as Salim by saying that he and his wife, Hidaya, prepare the food themselves. He appears in traditional Muslim attire, long shirt over baggy pants, shoeless but wearing a white lace prayer cap. Knowing we would be in a Muslim home, Paula and I were appropriately attired in skirts and shirts with sleeves, our husbands in long pants. Courteously, in broken English, our host explains there is no menu and we would be served a course at a time. The guide book didn’t mention any of this, but the four of us are always open to adventure and something unique. We are brought bowls with warm water to wash our hands in and warm towels to dry them with. He now brings us chapattis to nibble on and fruit drinks made from tamarind. Next, we are served small bowls of pumpkin soup with coconut milk and a touch of allspice. We food snobs give this the thumbs up. When my husband asks for more, our host politely reminds him that he must save room for the other dishes. One by one, the courses come, seasoned perfectly with spices grown on the island and prepared with skill and knowledge of age old Persian/Indian/African recipes. The curried chicken and baked fish were excellent.
This, we decide is the way to enjoy a meal. After two hours, we are finished, rewash our hands and get a bill which in American terms is $20.00 a couple. We thank our host, shake hands, find our shoes and announce we don’t have a clue how to get back to our hotel.
He makes a few gestures as to you walk here, turn there, so forth and so forth and we ask him to please call us a cab. Instead, he offers his teenage son to escort us back through the yard and the unlit streets. He takes us a different way, darker and lonelier then the way we thought we knew. We find our steps quickening through the maze of alley ways until we are in the light of our hotel. We bid him goodbye and a thank you with gratitude and relief. He is offered a tip and accepts.
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Pumpkin Soup with Coconut
7 oz. cooked pumpkin or squash or canned pumpkin pureed
1 small onion, chopped coarsely
1 small piece fresh ginger chopped very finely
22 oz. water
13 oz skimmed milk or regular milk
A dash Tabasco sauce
2 vegetable stock cubes
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
9 oz coconut milk
A pinch of saffron threads (optional)
Peel, remove seeds, chop and boil pumpkin for 20 minutes. Place in a sieve on a big bowl, press lightly on the pumpkin and allow excess water to run off. Set pumpkin aside and discard water or use canned pumpkin.
- Peel onion and chop coarsely.
- Peel the ginger and grate or chop very finely.
- Add to the saucepan: prepared pumpkin, water, coconut milk, skimmed milk, Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, vegetable stock cubes, grated ginger, salt, cinnamon, cloves.
- Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add coconut milk. Heat for 2 minutes (without boiling).
- Let the soup cool for 15 minutes and blend for 1 minute with a hand blender or turn it in batches into a food processor or blender.
- Return the soup to the saucepan. Add a pinch of saffron (optional). Simmer for 5 minutes (without boiling).
- Always adjust spices to taste.