As explained in the introduction, Zanzibar cuisines have borrowed heavily from food traditions of its visitors. From the Indian sub-continent (Pakistan inclusive), Zanzibaris got chapatis, biriani, a number of snacks, and miscellaneous other specialities.
Perhaps, Pilau, the famous spicy rice found in Zanzibar, was brought by Arabs but Persians could lay a successful claim to the origin of this spicy dish. A lot has been written about Pilau (see for example The Congo Cook Book, which presents versions of Pilau by different Chefs.
Apart from Indians and Persians, the Yemenis are famous for their halua and bokoboko. In addition, there is a wealth of sweets and refreshing drinks owing their introduction into Zanzibar by the Arabic and Indian traders.
The Comorians have enriched the banana eating traditions of Zanzibaris whereas the other Swahili neighbours from the coast of East Africa have added a number of dishes that are now part of Zanzibar cuisines. Ugali, stiff porridge, made either of maize or cassava meal is a notable example. However, there are some food types not quite popular to our neighbours but are important staples in Zanzibar. Cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, cocoyams and bread fruit are some examples.
Although credit should be given to the visitors, one needs to acknowledge the local initiatives of modifying the original recipes into colourful, delicious dishes unique to Zanzibar. Many years of experimenting with available ingredients have given Zanzibaris their own dishes. Furthermore, the uniqueness is largely attributed by the plentiful supply of coconuts, a variety of seafoods, and several types of spices. For example, coconut milk has largely substituted ghee and vegetable oils in most dishes. In Zanzibar, a typical traditional meal is not complete without using coconut milk either in the main dish, the sauce or the desert. It is not an exaggeration that, in the past, women had difficulties making family meals in the absence of coconuts. A coconut grater or mbuzi in Swahili is an essential household item for any family in Zanzibar.
Seafoods have also made their impact into Zanzibar cuisines. A king fish pilau, is as good as the one made of meat or chicken. Stews and fried products from oysters, clams, octopus, and squids are just delicious. Last but not least, all the delicacies in Zanzibar are seasoned with nice collection of spices.
With these few remarks, we hope you have an idea of what makes Zanzibar cuisines unique from those of its visitors. Whether you are a curious or serious reader, this website should answer many questions with regard to cooking traditions in Zanzibar.