Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fresh and Spiced in Zanzibar

On top of the beautiful white powder beaches and completely relaxed lifestyle, Zanzibar's "spice island" heritage makes for intricate and delicious local food. The highlight in Zanzibar was definitely the seafood and the unique use of spices. 
Calamari, straight from the ocean

The seafood we had in Zanzibar was literally sea to table. Sometimes we would watch our guesthouse's staff fish for octopus and roll it around in the sand -- after it was dead -- to soften up the meat. They would then rinse it in the ocean, bring it into the kitchen and, voila! We had fresh grilled garlic octopus with fresh cut veggies and cardamom rice. The same was done with snapper, squid and any of the seafood plates we ordered: they'd fish it, put it on the menu and we'd eat it within minutes, at most hours. 

The spices were also really fun to have. Nepal definitely lacked in spices and though Ethiopian food was very good, the spices were not too diverse. Zanzibar cuisine uses a lot of cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, turmeric and fresh vanilla beans. These spices are widely used and I loved it! 

One of the best additions to black tea: cinnamon

For example, tea in the morning was always brewed with freshly crushed cinnamon sticks and instead of plain white rice, they'd make it with cardamom and/or cinnamon and turmeric. 

The Rock restaurant in Zanzibar
The best use of spices we encountered was at The Rock, an amazing restaurant on top of a rock in the middle of the ocean. During high tide, the water completely surrounds the place and you either have to swim or take a boat to/from the restaurant. They had a seafood pasta dish with an EVOO (so nice to have olive oil again!) and fresh vanilla bean sauce -- it was delicious!

As a bonus, we also enjoyed thirst-quenching, made-to-order fresh juices. They had passion fruit everywhere and I particularly liked a passion fruit banana coconut yoghurt lassi. It may have been topped, however, by a coconut, lime, ginger smoothie at one of the best cafes in Stone Town (the capital). 

Although we didn't go to Zanzibar for the food, we were pleasantly surprised by how good the food actually was! The spiced, fresh food was a much welcomed addition to our travel diet; we certainly did not mind spending 10 days in this wonderful food heaven! 

The Sea in Zanzibar has a lot of  amazing fresh seafood to offer

A very interesting dish with savory bananas/plantains

Thursday, August 8, 2013

22 Hours in Dubai, 16 Hours of Eating like Maniacs

A one hour long urban hike to Terminal 1 at 2 AM (don't ask) and an incredibly uncomfortable "nap" at the arrivals hall at the Dubai Airport until 6 AM was a very rough welcome to the city. We were cranky. We were tired. We were not so excited about being in Dubai for 22 hours anymore... until we stepped into our first super market.

Holy hell there's good food in Dubai! We had such a great time devouring this city, we just wish we had a little more time and way bigger stomachs to handle all of Dubai's deliciousness.

Here are a few simple steps you can take to eat the city in just one day:
Lots of affordable drink selections at local supermarkets

1. Eat a few snacks at the local supermarkets before breakfast.

The morning consisted of two stops at a couple of local supermarkets. There are tons of supermarkets all over the city and this simple fact already livened us up a bit.

We tried one of the date milkshakes and got enough sugar to bounce around for an hour or two before our big breakfast.

2. Sign up for a breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding.

We signed up in advance for this pretty cool breakfast that they only do on Wednesdays at the SMCCU. The Cultural Center feeds its guests a traditional Emirate breakfast and the wonderful hosts then answer any and all questions from the audience.
Drea volunteers to try on the local clothing
The purpose is to promote an open dialogue regarding the local culture and traditions. They explained how, in the UAE, women are free to wear whatever they want, many just choose to cover up as a personal preference plus it helps prevent sunburn. We also learned that husbands need to have their wife's permission to marry a second wife and that becoming pregnant before marriage lands you (and your kid!) in jail. Apparently jail in the UAE is quite posh though and they take good care of you. Another interesting fact about Dubai is that this year Ramadan, the fasting month, is during the hottest month and you can't drink water!

We had a few small cups of delicious saffron and cardamom coffee followed by a feast of lemon chickpeas, home made pancakes with a creamy cheese and honey, local bread and a traditional noodle dish. Not a bad start (finally!) to our already long day.

A beautiful setting for a traditional Emirate breakfast

3. Lunch up at the mall. Any mall!

Sushi treat @ the mall
We decided on the Mall of the Emirates for our next food stop. We walked around Dubai a bit and eventually the 100 degree weather got the best of us so we decided to run and hide in the mall for a while. We're both allergic to malls -- we hate shopping! -- but the heat was just unbearable.

We were on a mission to get sushi (hadn't had it since February) but were distracted by so, so many things inside this gargantuan place like: penguins, american food chains, indoor slopes for snow skiing and way too many stores. We had a whole tray of sushi and we each got a pot of loose leaf green tea... heaven.

For dessert, we headed to another spot within the mall that specializes in chocolate: Galler owned by a Belgian chocolatier. A rose dark chocolate cake, a chocolate dome thing and two coffees later, we were stuffed!

The "Dome" at Galler

4. Call up Al Bait al Baghdadi restaurant to order Iraqi Masqouf. Then go there and eat it!

Masqouf: a phenomenal way to eat fish!
We had never had Iraqi food before and after reading about it on this great Dubai foodie blog:, we decided we absolutely had to try it.

Masqouf (apparently pronounced more like "masgoof") is an amazing fish dish: the fish is cut open in a long half, salted for a few hours and then slowly cooked by the heat from wood embers. Order the fish by the kilo (three of us stuffed ourselves with a 2 kg order -- that's 4.5 pounds!) and eat up. They served the fish with amazing pickles and hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli and fatoush as side dishes.

Oh and before the feast, we had a complimentary dal (lentil) soup that we loaded with fresh squeezed lemon juice. At the end they give you cardamom tea (for free!) to finish it all up. What a dinner!

Well, if you still have time or an appetite after all that -- wow! We went straight to the airport after our delicious Iraqi dinner to catch our flight to Sri Lanka. With all that wonderful eating, we were able to sleep as well as one can sleep on a budget, red eye flight.

Cheers, Dubai! Way to redeem yourself with your wonderful, eclectic, diverse, fresh, delicious grub!

Iraqi food treasures in Dubai

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chillin' like a villain in East Africa's version of paradise

Zanzibar, the perfect place to escape from it all!

Spending 3 months in land-locked countries (Nepal, Ethiopia) made us realize we really missed the ocean. Feeling worn down and exhausted, we booked a last-minute flight from Ethiopia to Zanzibar. We splurged and went against our quasi-scientific budget. Oh well, sometimes we just have to treat ourselves to a little something.
It was hard to contain our excitement
Zanzibar is a wonderful little island off the coast of Tanzania and with a rich spice trade heritage. It's a semi-independent part of Tanzania (you have to show your passport upon entering and leaving) and the economy mostly relies on tourism. The capital, Stone Town, is a bustling little place, full of tiny little streets that often turn into mazes where you can happily get lost.

Hard to take life too seriously in Zanzibar!
You can walk the entire 'city' in about a half hour if you know your way around and don't get accosted by too many touts (taxis, hashish, spices, they have it all). The harbor is nice to walk around and they have a really scenic waterfront public park where you can get amazing passion fruit juice and even free public outdoor wi-fi!

Stone Town has delicious fresh seafood and tropical fruits to offer and we enjoyed amazing dishes such as lemon fish soup for breakfast, coconut ginger lime smoothies, freshly pressed lime sugar cane juice and beautifully spiced seafood dishes with cinnamon straight from the tree and fresh, whole vanilla.
We ate from sea to table, every day

Our brief stay in Stone Town -- just a day -- was enhanced enormously because of our wonderful Couchsurfing hostess  This amazing Brit showed us the entire town and gave us an amazing hookup at Evergreen Bungalows for the remainder of our stay in Zanzibar.

We left Stone Town and headed east to one of the least touristy beaches on the island on an overcrowded local bus. Because of low season and our hookup, we got to stay in an amazing eco-lodge right in front of the beach in Bwejuu. Our huge bungalow was so close to the water, we usually fell asleep to the sound of small waves crashing on Zanzibar snow, aka fine, powder white sand.

For 10 days, we did absolutely nothing with the exception of one awesome snorkeling trip. Oh and a few en-suite full body massages.

Beautiful snorkeling site
Doing nothing felt great. It re-energized us. We felt amazing! We'd take turns going from the hammocks hung between palm trees to a quick dip in the perfectly calm azure ocean. We even dared to go on a tremendously difficult 15 minute walk on the flat, white sand beaches to the main part of town just to switch up lunch. In between our incredibly relaxed activities, we'd either take advantage of the free wi-fi, drink and eat meaty, sweet fresh coconuts or eat freshly caught seafood.

If this isn't paradise then we're all screwed.

When life gives you lemons, make a mint lemonade with a tad of sugar and an optional shot of rum and bring it over to Zanzibar. We guarantee you'll relax in ways you never even thought possible...

Perfect chill out spot -- our awesome hotel

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