Today’s episode is a tribute to Anthony Bourdain. I’m devastated by his passing. He travelled the world responsibly with an amazing cultural awareness. He made “weird” Asian food cool. He had such cool wit and sarcasm. I spent a lot of time trying to emulate his style for this episode, which goes to show you how much natural talent he had. So enjoy.
Stone Town is a place you probably don’t know about unless you were planning to visit Tanzania. Vibrant and rich in history, from the moment you step foot into its narrow winding alleys, you know right away that you’re in a one-of-a-kind place. You marvel at beautiful doorways and architecture you can’t quite identify. You remark at the joy of walking around free of cars before a motorcycle almost takes you out. You escape the labryinth of the streets to discover the building interiors are mazes themselves (and perhaps, fire hazards waiting to happen).
You take a selfie on an Instagram worthy beach. You enjoy a pirated movie with a refreshing tropical drink in hand. You awe at a real life aquarium on a floating restaurant. A used ramen truck from Japan drifts by. Another Instagram worthy beach. Ancient imported turtles greet you with defiance. You watch football on TV in a dimly lit square. And you gaze at it all with a panoramic view worthy of royalty, while the call to prayer echoes in the winding alleyways that started it all below.
And then, when you think you’ve exhausted Stone Town and it has nothing left to offer, like the last act in that tranny show you so fondly remember, it kicks you in the face, and transforms into something else at night for one -last – hurrah. Depleted and over-stimulated, you find yourself squatting on a curb with a tangy meat skewer in hand, then realize, you’ve fallen in love with it all. And did I mention the food?
Stone Town is richly steeped in history. With several civilizations conquering, trading, and copulating at one point or another, for better or for worse, the cultural residue of each empire still remain – very, very much remain. If there was such thing as culture porn, then its enthusiasts can have orgasms identifying the origins of each nook and cranny of Stone Town. You’ll see a petri dish of Indian, Arabic, African, and European influences in the myriad of doors, the cluttered architecture, and of course, the food. After all, you can’t have a spice or herb route without testing the product.
Most tourists make Stone Town a must-see stopover in Tanzania before they inevitably hop over to the mocktails, the steaks, and the culture-free bliss of a Zanzibar beach resort. Or they skip it altogether in favour of the mainland, where the bucket-list adventures of a safari or Kilimanjaro await.
But, here’s my advice. Spend more time. If you must, take a selfie at Freddie Mercury’s house on your way to a beer by the beach. Do visit the Slave Market and museum at some point. Then grab some ice-cold sugar cane juice, follow the food, and the rest will take care of itself. And did I mention that Stone Town is still hipster free?
I’ve got time here. In fact, a lot of time. So my culinary adventure will literally begin at the top, spiral its way through the streets before I get down and dirty – and self-cater – at the fish market. Note that some Swahili is required.
My self-catering shenaningans and foray into gastronomy are an adventure in themselves and I will revisit it later. As for now, my first order of business is to escape the heat and get a glimpse of Stone Town’s ever-changing food scene up top in the Tea House restaurant. Located in the elegantly discrete Emerson on Hurumzi hotel, it’s not to be confused with the nearby Emerson Spice Hotel.
Befuddled? Well, the Emerson Spice hotel should also not to be confused with the nearby House of Spices hotel. It’s a mess, I know. They’re all nestled in the same web of alleyways, and it’s OK. Please do ask someone for directions, lest you wander into parts unknowns and stumble upon another Instagram worthy beach.
Of course, if you do find it on your own, then the reward that greets you will only be sweeter.
Panoramic view of Stone Town and the ocean? Check. Pillow-top dining? Check. A gentle breeze to escape the heat below? Check. Cold alcohlic beverages? Check and double-check for their refreshing interpretation of a mojito.
For today, I order the seared tuna straight from the fish market (4) along with the prawn and pineapple skewers, which are accompanied with a lemon garlic dip. Both are served with infused rice, beet salad, and coconut spinach. The Tea House Restaurant also serves a patty made of zucchini, grean pea, and tumeric. Though not as formidable as the other two dishes, it’s a worthy vegetarian option.
The call to prayer is distinctly louder in Stone Town than in many places I’ve been to. Fortunately, the management have left the penthouse suites open where I find some solace, with a self-guided tour.