Monday, March 08, 2010

Spice Tour of Zanzibar

The morning after our arrival in Zanzibar we went on the Spice Tour of the island. There were 15 of us, all tourists, taking the tour that day and we were soon bustled into cars and driven to various locations. We would stop, tumble out, and our guide would then point out a plant, pass around a leaf or piece of fruit, encourage us to smell it or taste it, while talking about its various uses, which were usually culinary, sometimes medicinal, and occasionally recreational. Our guide was a natural entertainer and constantly threw in information which made a spice memorable. For example, when he showed us nutmeg, he cut open the fruit, explained the spice was obtained by scraping the hard threads which encased the pit, and then told us that, contrary to what many men believed, nutmeg would not act as an aphrodisiac and, if taken in large doses, would cause impotence. He then turned around and pointed to the breadfruit tree and said the monkeys liked to get drunk on the fermented fruit. In addition to telling us about the fruits and spices, he told us stories about the island and its buildings, so by the end, we all imagined we were experts on the plants and history of Zanzibar island. Right before we returned to the city, we were served a meal on the hoods of the cars. The dishes-fresh lemongrass tea, fish curry, and bananas in coconut milk with cinnamon-were all made from the various spices with which we had just become familiar. The meal was perfect with the tanginess of the tea complimenting the curry and the coconut giving the bananas an almost buttery flavor and we all sat in the middle of a tropical paradise, licking the plates.

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