My recent trip to Zanzibar was an eye-opening one, especially when it comes to matters spices. These vital ingredients in most people’s food were originally introduced to Zanzibar by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, brought from their colonies in South America and India.
A visit to the spice farm much later gave me a detailed history, health benefits of the spices as well as the best way to use them in food. For instance, I didn’t know that spices have to be cooked separately before adding anything else. I’ve always wondered why after using spices like masala, I would end up getting a sore throat.
Head Chef Madaraka Mataba of Matemwe Asilia Zanzibar taught me all this and so much more during their traditional Swahili cooking class.
Its aim is to recreate authentic Zanzibar dishes by showing guests how the locals mix and match their unique spices.
“Your friends and family back home will be happy that you attended,” he tells me as he places the spices on the table. “Well, in this case, my mum and dad, since I’m not yet married,” I respond. As we chat on, Madaraka tells me he became a cook accidentally, and after studying for it, he saw that he was great at it.
His accent is similar to that of our Swahili at the Coast, which I point out, and he tells me he has never been to Mombasa, despite the fact that it’s seemingly a place he would relate to well.
He pours a little bit of olive oil in a pan and cautions against cooking with too much oil, as it’s not good for one’s health. We continue chatting as we cook, and talk about how different Kenya and Zanzibar are and the fact that there are some tribes such as Kambas, Luos, and Maasais, who have been assimilated in the 120 tribes that exist in Tanzania.
I was surprised by this, and he too was stunned at what I called cooked rice ‘mchele’, as the correct term in Swahili is ‘wali’.
Asked what makes him better in his skills, he says it’s thanks to interactions with other chefs and also researching on the Internet. It is here too that he learnt about our famous comedians Daniel Ndambuki aka Churchill and Mamito, whom he loves. His dream is to one day watch the Churchill Show live, and shake the hands of his favourite comedians.
Here’s the recipe for the fried chicken in coconut sauce that we made at the cooking lesson and had with wali.
Crushed ginger and garlic
Spices: Curry powder, garam masala, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, paprika and turmeric.
Carrots cut into small pieces
Chopped green, red and yellow bell pepper
Finely chopped coriander and fresh chilli
Chicken breast diced and partially cooked
Wait for the pan to be hot before pouring in two tablespoons of olive oil.
Add the onions and fry till brown, then garlic and ginger, and stir.
Sprinkle two teaspoons of curry and add garam masala, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, turmeric and cumin. Make sure the spices cook completely before adding anything else.
Add the carrots then green, red and yellow bell pepper and stir.
Put salt to taste, two teaspoons of soy sauce and one teaspoon of paprika.
Add three tablespoons of coconut milk and three tablespoons of yoghurt and stir.
Put in finely chopped coriander and fresh chilli, then tomato paste.
Mix in the partially cooked chicken, add one cup of water and let it simmer.
Once cooked, serve with wali.