Friday, June 21, 2013

Spice Tour - Zanzibar

A ten hour sleep had become somewhat of a rarity in Tanzania but thanks to my agonising sunburn and an ibuprofen I managed to catch one. This morning was another busy day: we were off to a spice plantation and a tour of stone town. Our group of eight managed to get our own mini bus (dalalala) and a nice guide Mohammed and Muskim was there too but who knows where he was going.

The spice plantation was essentially a massive community garden for the village and Mohammed was joined by a younger guide who couldn't have been older than 18 but knew his way around the plantation. We are all used to seeing spices dried and bottled but this tour allowed us to see all kinds of spices in their wild form. First we had to guess the spice by smelling the leaves but I can tell you that black pepper leaves don't smell much like they taste but trying peppercorns through any doubts out the window. Our young guide had made us cups out of leaves to keep our spices on us as we collected more and more: coffee robusta, lemongrass, cocoa and jackfruits. Cinammon was initially given to us as a bark which smelt just like Vicks vapour rub and that is exactly what it is used for. It is the bark that is actually used for  making cinnamon sticks and powder.

As we were guided towards a coconut tree a man was climbing up the tree using just his bare hands, some rope made from coconut husk and his own singing voice as encouragement. He climbed up to the top and grabbed some of the biggest coconuts I've ever seen and started throwing them down to the ground forming a big pile. As he hopped backed down he offered anyone from the group to have a shot
only to fail quite miserably - at least I made the photos look like they got somewhere. After that exertion the coconuts were cut open and I was transported back to a beach in Brazil some years ago as we drank the real coconut juice. The flesh of the coconut was very, well, fleshy and didn't taste like those back in the UK.

Lipstick Plant
After the first necessary tip to our impressive coconut guide we were handed bracelets and ties made from leaves - I think you can guess where the next tips were going. The next stop was vanilla pods which smelt gorgeous and are the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Zanzibar used to produce 80% of the worlds cloves but that has decreased dramatically but there is no escaping the spice as it is found in all of their food and drink - I swear it was even just pumped through the air. The following two plants were an example of the natural brightness of the natural world; the first being tumeric which was hard to miss and the lipstick plant which produces a red wax used in lipsticks.

Near the end of the tour we were taken to a little stall with bags of spices neatly stored and we were told - in classic African style- that we can choose what we want and then discuss a price. For us westerners shopping without a price was hard! There were all the spices you could imagine and packaged into beautiful wooden boats and butterflies full of spices. There were of course several  I'd never seen before and a personal favourite was banana essence. There were also familiar spices but under an alias - Nutmeg for example was advertised as a female aphrodisiac "to make woman not shy on wedding night to fulfil man's desires." At this point we had also acquired bags, frog necklaces and crowns made of grass and leaves.

Our final stop was with a man with a table of fruits and a man with a bucket who handed us several fruits. Some were familiar like mangos and lychees but others didn't even sound real. Take 'soursop' for example which was a spiky fruit with a taste somewhere between grapefruit and banana and a texture just as hard to describe.

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