While the Zanzibar pizza shares the name with a traditional Italian dish, this pizza from the Tanzanian island doesn’t have much in common with the Italian pizza. The pizza is made of unleavened dough that’s stretched and filled with different ingredients. Once filled, the sides of the roll are wrapped and the creation is fried in ghee until the pancake-like creation turns golden and crispy.
Various ingredients used in this filling might include anything from meats like chicken or beef, eggs, mayonnaise, cheese, various vegetables, and seafood. Sweet versions often comprise different combinations of peanut butter, mangoes, chocolate spread, or bananas.
Although it’s well known how the pizza is made and where it originated, this delicious snack has over the years become a common sight in Zanzibar Island. Its often prepared by street vendors and sold on the streets.
Like the Japanese curry and ramen, there are numerous cases where the traditional food from one region touches a different culture and achieves outstanding evolution. Located on the eastern coast of Africa, the Italian pizzas uniquely evolved and have increasingly become popular as ‘Zanzibar pizzas’.
After visiting Zanzibar last summer, this is my take on the unique pizza from Zanzibar Island. Where and how the pizza originated isn’t well known, but one visit to the Forodhani Gardens in Zanzibar and you will find this unique pizza being prepared here with mayo and processed cheese.
How The Zanzibar Pizza Is Prepared
- 5 large eggs
- ½ finely chopped, medium red onion
- 4 small diced Serrano chiles
- ½ tsp. fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Black pepper
- 450g ground beef
- 240 ml vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of water
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Start by sifting the flour in a large bowl and then add the ½ tsp. of salt plus water and then mix to make the dough. Knead your dough for about 5 minutes.
- Cut the dough into six equal balls. Pour extra oil over the dough balls, ensuring they are properly coated. Cover your dough balls with the tea towel and let it rest for about 2 hours.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, black pepper, salt, and ground beef. Break the beef with a wooden spoon, making sure that all seasonings are well mixed. Add onion and Serrano chiles and cook for 15 minutes.
- Roll your dough ball into a thin circle about 25 cm in diameter. Add the spoonful of beef mixture on top of your dough. Add eggs to the top of the added meat. Fold the dough inward, as if you are making an envelope. Press the 4 edges to seal them. Repeat this for all the dough balls.
- Heat oil in the large skillet. Place your dough packets in a skillet and cook on every side for 6 minutes, until the eggs are cooked and it turns golden brown. Cut your pizza into four squares.
Place of Origin
Pizza purists might baulk at a unique dish, which veers far from the original definition, but within the Tanzanian islands of Pemba and Unguja, makers of the ‘Zanzibar pizza’ pan fry the stuffed, crispy snacks with lots of pride. More like the mash-up of the savoury and crepe pancake, these delectable fried pickets of the dough house a dizzying series of fillings from the avocado with the lobster to squid with Snickers bar to banana and cheese.
For starters, vendors start by flattening the dough ball, layer on a new small piece of dough to reinforce it, then pile on different vegetables, spices, sweets, and meats as their imaginations let them. Popular tasty combinations include mushrooms, chicken, and beef or the vegan option – egg, chopped vegetables, mayo, and processed white cheese. If you got a sweet tooth, you may opt for the Zanzibar pizza that’s stuffed with cheese, or mango, or Nutella. After the sides are folded, the vendors then fry creations on the hot ‘tava’ in ghee until crispy. When ready, the Zanzibar pizza is then slid on the paper plate and smothered with spicy, fresh mango chilli sauce.
There are about 30 Zanzibar pizza spots in Pemba and Unguja. The popular snack emerged almost 3 decades ago after an inventive cook by the name Haji Hamisi went to Mombasa and was inspired by the city’s famous egg stuffed chapati.
The Zanzibar pizza shares many things in common with Nairobi’s meat bread, popularly known as ‘mkate wa nyama’ or the grilled pancakes made in India, Yemen, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. However, what makes this Zanzibar pizza more unique is the local sauce, the combination of different styles, and its incredible stuffing combinations.
The price of the Zanzibar pizza ranges from £1.45 (4,000 TZS) for the vegan pizza up to £5 (15,000 TZS) for the mixed seafood pizza.
Every evening the Stone Towns Forodhani Garden transforms into a food market. Ignore the fish kebabs and walk to the street vendors selling ‘urojo’, tamarind, and mango soup served along with chutney, cassava flakes, boiled potatoes, chickpea fritters, and hot sauce.
Pizza isn’t the staple of Tanzania. This is something we all need to get out of the way. Tanzania’s national dish is ‘ugali’, which shouldn’t be a surprise to any person who has read this blog because ugali is very popular in sub-Saharan Africa.
But after I watched CNN’s Parts Unknown by Antony Bourdain, I was impressed by the street food market there and nothing seemed as interesting as the unique Zanzibar pizza.
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Khan, S. (n.d.). The mysterious origin of Zanzibar pizza. BBCpage. https://www.bbc.com/travel/article/20201216-the-mysterious-origin-of-zanzibar-pizza
The complete guide to: Zanzibar. (2008, February 2). The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/africa/complete-guide-zanzibar-a3464076.html