By day, life around Zanzibar’s Forodhani Gardens moves at a leisurely pace: tourists and locals stroll down the seawalk, either sidestepping the eager advances of the city’s ravenous stray cats and taking in the views of an impossibly crystalline Indian Ocean. On the outskirts of Zanzibar’s historical Stone Town, this small park awaits the lucky travelers that manage to navigate their way through the heart of this historical neighborhood’s labyrinth of narrow streets.
After sunset, this quiet corner of Stone Town is almost unrecognizable. The once calm Seawalk is rapidly filled with chefs, clad in white hats, setting up gas lamps, grills and rotisseries, spreading out their wares across rows of tables. The Night Market is a culinary playground for all—visitors and locals pour in, families gather with small children, and of course, the tenacious stray cats hunker down and wait for scraps. The chefs are a blur of motion, excitedly pointing to their culinary creations, cooing and coaxing until even the most hesitant eater gives in to their expertly spun sales pitches.
The Night Market perhaps best represents Zanzibar’s wonderful amalgamation of cultures and cuisines. Zanzibar was once a trading center, at the intersection of the spice trade, the slave trade and the ivory trade. Arab, Persian, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese merchants passed through or migrated to the island, leaving a lasting impact on Swahili culture. The vestiges of Zanzibar’s often tragic history linger in many ways; most noticeably in the unique blend of cultures on the Market’s signature white cardboard plates. Dishes vary widely, from Zanzibari pizza, falafel as big as your face, sugar cane juice, enormous samosas, coconut bread, seafood skewers (although debate persists pertaining to the actual freshness of the market’s pescetarian offerings), and crepes dripping with ribbons of chocolate syrup.
For the culinary curious and history buffs alike, Stone Town is a magical little corner of Zanzibar, and the Night Market offers a glimpse at an expansive (and appetizing) history and culture—even if it means fighting with a covetous cat over that last morsel of crepe.