Culinary Trouble in Paradise



When it comes to food, all Italians were obviously not created equal. The first nation to invest in Zanzibar’s tourism industry have not only managed to stuff-up large parts of the once-pristine coastline with hotels that make a whore-house look like a Herbert Baker, but they have also brought some shocking examples of Italian culinary ability to the Spice Islands.

And I won’t even mention the aesthetic pollution from bunches of middle-aged pale ones, origin Milan and Bologna sporting soccer tattoos, pot bellies and greasy back hair. And that’s just the women.

In the capital of Stone Town one finds a few outlets manned by aforementioned types selling something called pizza. “Offa coursa it izz gooda pizza,” the guy with the mullet and the gold chains replied when I asked if this thing called a pizza was authentic. “I come-a from Napoli!” Well, so does 45% of Italy’s cases of pubic lice, but I was not going to get into an argument. I was hung-over, lost, hungry and it was about 87 degrees in the ice-bucket.

I paid for the flat box and hit the road in search of shade and an ocean breeze.

Inside the box lay an object of weird, mysterious origin and nameless description. Basically, it looked like the concave part of my Frisbee after a Dachshund had thrown-up in it. I took a slug of Kilimanjaro beer before venturing further and prayed to the sultan of swing.

Swahili octopus, fortunately not Italian.
Swahili octopus, fortunately not Italian.

I ventured exactly one bite further.

On top of a layer of dough as soggy as a teenaged girls’ underwear at a Justin Bieber-Justin Timberlake mud-wrestling contest lay a grimy, oily, greasy blend of cheese, burnt onion and pieces of meat which looked like they had fallen from an ambulance in Syria. The smell was rancid and rattish.

And as I bit into the slice, a lava-like substance gripped my throat causing me to wretch so hard one of the fishing guides came over with an emergency medical pack. For Mario, Sergio or Marco or whatever his name was had decided to disinfect his idea of a pizza with a chili sauce hot enough to sear the moustache off a Portuguese ballet dancer.

I placed the pizza aside, dreaming of the crispy, delicately flavoured pieces of culinary genius I have had at Fortunato, at Magica Roma, at the old Mamma Roma in Stellenbosch. Jesus wept.

A few days later I slipped off to a beach restaurant on the north-east coast. Two Italian ladies, obviously of Lesbos island descent, were running a joint offering true Italian home-cooking. After a few days’ chomping grilled dorado, grilled kingfish, grilled barracuda and grilled grouper, I felt I needed a change.

Myself and a scuba instructor from the south island were up to some non-Afro cuisine, thus.  The menu sported all the usual suspects: carpaccio, stuffed mushrooms, pastas, veal scallops, seafood.

I went for the calamari as I had seen the delectably fresh squid the boats had brought in days earlier, and the scuba instructor needed carbo-loading with a pasta Alfredo.

The Italian ladies smiled, poured Antinori white wine and opened beer bottles with their eyelids while arm-wrestling beefy Masai warriors. That sort of thing. Just another night in Zanzibar.

It only took 89 minutes for the food to arrive – not an excessive amount of time if you consider you are dealing with a combination of Italian and African.

But smoking sideshows, they could have done better with the food.

How difficult is it, really, to stuff-up calamari? Well, Sambo as taught in the kitchen by his Italian Mistresses, did a great job. Cut into thin strips, the calamari had been cooked to death and a Viagra-induced stiffness. One of the Lesbos could have sharpened her voodoo doll needles on them.

After an hour of hectic chewing I did manage to get one piece into my mouth and this tasted worse than it looked. Like chewing on a piece of un-tanned leather that had been left in a sardine factory.

Should I really mention the Alfredo, that daunting, challenging dish of ham and cream and mushroom lashed over some bog standard pasta? Dense. Mushy. Pulverised. Gooey. Heavy. Miss Scuba managed half a plate, but the next day she had to be prised from the ocean floor, sinking like a brick on an open water dive.

But truth be told, some Italian cooks need to sleep with the fishes on Zanzibar.


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