Zanzibar Pizza - Gastro Obscura

Prepared Foods

Zanzibar Pizza

Vendors fill these crispy pancakes with as many meats, sweets, or vegetables as their imaginations allow.

Pizza purists may balk at a dish that veers so far from its original definition, but on the Tanzanian islands of Unguja and Pemba, “Zanzibar pizza” makers pan-fry their crispy, stuffed snacks with pride. More like a mash-up of a crepe and savory pancake, these tasty fried pockets of dough house a dizzying array of fillings—from avocado with squid to lobster with cheese to Snickers bar with banana.

To begin, vendors flatten a ball of dough, layer on another smaller piece of dough to reinforce it, then pile on as many meats, sweets, spices, and vegetables as their imaginations allow. Popular savory combinations include ground beef, chicken, and mushrooms or—the vegetarian option—mayo, processed soft, white cheese, chopped veggies, and egg. Those with a sweet tooth might opt for Zanzibar pizzas stuffed with Nutella or mango and cheese. After folding up the sides, vendors then fry their creations on a hot tava (a large, flat or concave frying pan) in ghee (clarified butter) until crispy. When they’re ready, the pizzas are slid onto a paper plate and smothered with fresh, spicy mango-chili sauce.

There are at least 30 Zanzibar pizza spots on Unguja and Pemba. The popular late-night snack emerged nearly 30 years ago when an inventive cook named Haji Hamisi traveled to Mombasa and was inspired by the Kenyan city’s famous egg chapati (a stuffed, pan-fried meat omelette).

Zanzibar pizza is similar to Nairobi’s mkate wa nyama (meat bread), or the stuffed grilled pancakes (mutabbaq) made in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen, and India. But what makes a Zanzibar pizza unique are its local sauce, its meshing of styles, and its playful stuffing combinations.

Where to Try It
  • Salim Mhammed Vale runs this stall in the bustling nightly food market of Forodhani Gardens along the waterfront. He’s there by four p.m. and doesn't leave until after midnight. Salim was the first one to introduce the hazelnut spread Nutella to the Zanzibar pizza mix, hence the name of his stall.