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The snack that's a Tanzanian crepe pizza pocket
A brief history of Zanzibar pizza
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
Pizza photo by Fanfo /CanStock
Not your standard crust-sauce-cheese-toppings pizza; this one’s more like a stuffed crepe, which makes it another entry the many Variations on a Hand Pie.
Take unleavened dough, stretch it paper-thin, toss it on an oiled griddle, then add toppings like beef or chicken and often some mayo, some onions or green peppers, some soft white cheese (like Laughing Cow)—or use sweet fillings like Nutella and banana. Lots of options. Put an egg on it, if that’s your thing (and it’s definitely a thing in the broader pizza industry). Once you’ve added everything you want, fold it all up, fry it on both sides till slightly crisp, and enjoy.
Forodhani Gardens, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Zanzibar has been a crossroads for thousands of years. Its earliest residents arrived on the island from the African continent tens of thousands of years ago; Persians arrived in the tenth century; they were followed by Omani Arabs and Indians and Portuguese and, eventually, the Brits (because empire). That long history of trade and colonization (and enslavement) here, which is evident in everything from the language to the built environment to the specific culinary specialty served in a specific park in Stone Town.
“Swahili cuisine is a mixture of the Bantu tastes, Arab tastes and Indian tastes, of all those cultures and the people who colonised us. … When traders used to come from India and Oman, they came with their food, and the locals – Tanzanians and people from Mombasa, Kenya – were trying to copy the same recipes. But due to limited ingredients, most of the foods were changed a little bit.”
Head to Forodhani Gardens, on a nub of a peninsula along the oceanfront, and you can see that history on display in the seventeenth century stone fort across the street and also in the site’s most famous snack, Zanzibar Pizza. You have your choice of booths here, 30 or so different ones offering the signature dish, “carefully prepared by vendors with names like ‘Mr Delicious,’ ‘Mr Big Banana’ and ‘Mr Chocolate.’”
Like Uganda’s Rolex, which we covered a while back, Zanzibar Pizza appears to have started as a riff on chapati, introduced by Indian immigrants. As the story goes, a man from Zanzibar named Haji Hamisi was in Mombasa, Kenya, in 1977, and saw a street food there made with an egg-topped chapati. He brought the idea home, started making it, and a new dish evolved as he and others adapted it over and over—a delicious, filling game of cultural and culinary telephone.
If you can’t get to Zanzibar yourself, you can watch the pizza-makers at work in this remarkably soothing, even mesmerizing video (fast forward to about 30 seconds).
Get it here
Many stands around Forodhani Gardens. Here’s the TripAdvisor link.
Will you like it?
Notes and stray thoughts
Sources here include “The mysterious origin of Zanzibar pizza” by Sarah Khan for BBC Travel, “Zanzibar in the Rain,” also by Sarah Khan, this time for the New York Times; “Pizza Toppings: Egg-cellent” by Denise Greer for Pizza Today; and the video “How Zanzibar Pizza is a Different Kind of Slice” by Great Big Story.
If you want to go down a Twitter rabbit hole related to what counts as pizza, go search for deep dish and see what comes up. (My view: it is totally pizza and also delicious.)
Apparently there’s a $1.3 billion skyscraper being planned for Zanzibar, kinda floating off the coast on an island.