Zanzibar’s Spices

In celebration of World Health Day (16 October), I’ve reflected on all my travels around the world and the wonderful opportunities I’ve had to eat culturally diverse cuisines; from sushi in Tokyo to pastries in Paris, pizza in Rome and sticky rice pudding in Thailand.

Banana Tree

I have fond memories of seeing all the coloured spices in Dubai’s souks and embarking on a spice tour when I was travelling through Zanzibar. It was a nice blend of nature and culture intertwined, particularly since I was visiting during Ramadan in early September (2010). I shared the experience with a small group of tourists, visiting from various corners of the globe. We were first to meet in Stone Town, which is a great place to get a little lost. The locals were sure to help me out with directions and grins on their faces with amusement. I managed to duck into the House of Wonders originally built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace. I didn’t get much chance to explore inside, but I did bolt upstairs for the view of the old fort built as a defence against the Portuguese in 1700. Today, an appealing amphitheatre and markets dominates the scene.

From Stone Town it didn’t take us long before we found ourselves surrounded by a supermarket of food. I saw and smelt a wide range of spices; in fact the taste tests were half the fun. By the end of the tour my head was beginning to swim with all the botanical facts – there was cardamom, nutmeg, turmeric, cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa, pepper and ginger. And the king of all spices was the clove (which are delicious in mulled wine along with some cinnamon sticks and aniseed). Jackfruit, breadfruit (custard apple), mango and banana were some of the tropical fruits I munched on. However, it was the lemongrass that had to be one of my favourites, as I just love that refreshing smell.

Another special treat in Zanzibar, is visiting the island’s only national park – Jozani Forest. The water table is quite high, so careful walking is needed to ensure you will not trip over the tree roots. There are over 100 tree species in this forest, but I particularly liked the Mahoney trees, which are native to Madagascar. Lush ferns lingered and butterflies fluttered about in the forest. The highlight for me was seeing the Sykes and Colobus monkeys. These dudes have groovy hairstyles and striking looking fur. Even better, they were not perturbed by our presence and we could get quite close to them as they foraged for their own food and spices.

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