Forodhani Gardens is an innocuous looking park by the waterfront of Stone Town. You might walk past it barely noticing it by day, when there is so much more to draw you into the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Zanzibar’s capital city – whether it’s the historic architecture featuring the famously ornate doors, or the spice plantations this semi-autonomous region of Tanzania is known for.
But as the African sun starts dipping into the horizon, painting the sky in brilliant shades of red, orange, and pink in the process, this little manicured garden situated across from the Old Fort, really comes to life. Spires of smoke trail their way upwards, fragrant aromas of fresh seafood and spices waft around, and the sizzling sound of foods being grilled fills the air… the famed Forodhani Night Market begins, at dusk each day.
The grounds are filled up with numerous makeshift stalls set up by fishermen peddling their freshly caught wares for locals and tourists alike. Swapping their fishing gear for chefs’ hats, they cook up a storm of every conceivable kind of seafood – from various types of fish such as mackerel, to prawns, squid, and lobster, and the more exotic eel and octopus, displayed in rows upon rows in all their glory.
This isn’t the easiest of places to navigate. First, there is quite a bit of hustle, with everyone trying to attract the obvious tourists (and their dollars) to their stall with well-practised sales pitches, and it can all get quite intense. You have to be prepared to be immune to the pressure, and go to the stalls which look the busiest, and where the food looks the freshest and cleanest. Because that’s the other area of concern – there is no regulation of hygiene standards and some tourists have reportedly ended up with stomach ailments after eating here. Questions have also been raised about the freshness of the seafood, but as long as you use your common sense and instinct, it should be fine. The fact that there are always throngs of locals here, enjoying a family evening out, makes it feel as authentic as it is reassuring that this isn’t just a tourist trap.
Typically, you choose what seafood you want, which is then priced by weight – there might be a bit of bargaining required – and cooked a la minute according to your preferred style and combination of spices, and served with a side salad (it may be a good idea to skip the raw vegetables, to minimise any health risks).
Even for those who aren’t fans of seafood, there is plenty on offer. Zanzibar pizzas – a sort of stuffed crepe; chicken and meat skewers; grilled cassava; handmade breads; even falafels, all to be washed down with the local beverage of choice, fresh sugarcane juice.
Taking in this bustling colourful market while the Indian Ocean breeze gently caresses you, is a uniquely sensory experience. Nowhere is the confluence of cultures – from Arabian and Indian to the indigenous Swahili – that has shaped this island country’s identity over the centuries more evident than in this nightly culinary celebration, and it is not to be missed.
Where else to go for seafood in Zanzibar:
- The intimate Terrace Seafood Restaurant at Zanzibar Serena Inn offers an elegant experience with fresh local ingredients.
- Dining at the ultra-exclusive Mnemba island resort – which is home to only 20 luxury beach villas – is as fresh as it gets. You can get what the fisherman has literally just brought in, cooked to your personal preferences; it’s only for guests staying at the resort however.
- The Rock restaurant, perched atop a tiny island that it’s the only occupant of, is worth a visit as much for the Instagram bragging rights, as for the locally sourced and flavoured seafood.