The Taste of Swahili Coast

In the village of Alfeneseni, outside Zanzibar, an east African island popular with holidaymakers for its pristine white shores and soothingly warm turquoise water, I watch as Kazija Haji and her sister Bahati Omar prepare vegetables, rice and fresh coconut on an ancient-looking grater called an mbuzi. This, they add to the chicken curry (kuku wa nazi) for our lunch. The food is mildly spiced and fragrant – ginger, a hint of turmeric, black pepper, and, as with most meals, begins with a cup of sweet chai – cinnamon, ginger and cardamom spiked tea.

Much earlier in the day, in the city, we have small cups of kahawa, black coffee infused with cardamom and served with kashata – caramelised peanut snacks. While distinctly Zanzibari, in the broader context, food from the Swahili Coast that runs from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique and technically refers to a strip of the deep harbours in southeast Africa comprising littoral Kenya, Tanzania and the upper part of Mozambique, shares many commonalities. The warm water Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, Comores and Pate form part of this region too.

The Swahili

While Waswahili (“people of the coast”) refers to an ethnic and cultural group of people, like Kazija and Bahati, who reside in the Great African Lakes Districts, the language KiSwahili is a national language of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is spoken across several more regions too. With its roots in the Bantu language, Kiswahili took shape with the arrival of the Arab traders from around the 2nd century AD.

By the 11th century AD Swahili culture was defined, along with the rise of Islam. The Swahilis adhere to the Muslim faith and it’s entrenched in all aspects of life from architecture to dress code – woman wear modest, but colourful patterned kangas with headscarves in matching materials, music, art and of course, food. Consequently, pork and alcohol are taboo in Swahili culture.

Swahili Cuisine

Swahili cuisine reflects in some ways the long history of conquest and occupation along the east coast by the mighty seafaring nations of the time – the Portuguese, the Arabs and the British. Arabic and Indian influences, the latter from immigrants and traders who arrived on the coast, bear the strongest influence on Swahili food, though on the whole, food of the East coast of Africa is sometimes referred to as bland.

This certainly isn’t the case in Zanzibar, where Swahili culture is dominant. Once famed as the spice island, Zanzibari cookery contains dishes flavoured with cloves, ginger, pepper, some chilli and fresh coconut. While the spice plantations cultivated by the Arabs are largely defunct today, apart from a handful used in the tourism industry, these were once invaluable in the spice trade route and at a time, around 1812, even overtook Indonesia’s production when Zanzibar became the largest clove producer. Ginger, black pepper, lemongrass and cinnamon were also introduced by the Arabs and after the demise of the slave trade the spice plantations buoyed the island economically, for a while.

Coffee is referred to as kahawa, reflective of its Arabic roots: “gahwa”, similarly flavoured, is often served with dates in Arabic culture. Dates are reserved for the fast during Ramadan and being imported are too expensive for everyday consumption along the Swahili coast. Kashata is enjoyed with coffee instead. From the Hindu and Muslim Indians, a great many foods have made their way into Swahili daily life. Take kachoris, chapatis – though these are made with oil not ghee usually, sambusas (samosas), pilau rice and briyani beef or chicken and boiled eggs, and mild curries and stews using fresh coconut milk. Chinese Fish, chicken, goat and beef feature, though vegetables form the staple of most meals. The Goans, Yemenis, Chinese and Parsis have all made small indents in the food scene too.

Popular Foods to Try

Made in the African Great Lakes region and across southern Africa, ugali (it goes by many names) is a staple food made from maize meal, millet or sorghum flour, salt and hot water. It resembles a thick “dough”. It can also be made into a thinner consistency porridge with the addition of water or milk.

Nyama Choma

The Taste of Swahili Coast

This refers to seasoned roasted meat on the barbeque or grill. Chicken and beef are popular.


The Taste of Swahili Coast

A delicately spiced rice using cardamom, cumin seeds, cinnamon and cloves. Briyani with chicken, beef or goat is also popular and used as celebration or special occasion meals.


The Taste of Swahili Coast

A thick triangular or circular pastry with Indian origins, filled with spiced potato, peas and other fillings, and deep-fried – a popular street snack.


The Taste of Swahili Coast

Deep-fried triangular doughnuts served with milk and sugar.

Wali wa nazi
Rice cooked with fresh coconut milk and sometimes grated coconut flesh.

Mchuzi wa Samaki
Fish cooked in a delicate curry sauce or gravy with coconut.

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Goldenmilk Co: the Rise of 'Super Lattes'

Goldenmilk Co: the Rise of 'Super Lattes'

"A no-foam skimmed latte with an extra shot … and three drip coffees with room for milk. Searing hot. And I mean hot". It's not a tongue twister, it is simply (!) a "latte" in the guise in which the peerless Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly) demands every day in The Devil wears Prada, in its larger format.

A cousin, albeit a distant one, to the Italian cappuccino[1], the "latte" has for some time been an established favourite in cafes over half the world. And to those few who are still asking themselves what the difference is between a cappuccino and a latte, in the words of those who would make a meal of the comparison[2], it is halfway between a café latte and a cappuccino, this last having the quantity of frothed milk reduced.

There are then variations on the theme, such as using tea instead of coffee (not just any tea, but valued Yerba mate or matcha for example), or a shot of spice (nutmeg, ginger or cardamom) or sweet syrup (vanilla, maple, stevia, agave, rice...), which in cappuccino would not be allowed. And "variations on a theme" could be the key to understanding a newcomer to the world of lattes, or the latest cult choice in the world of more-or-less creamed drinks, more-or-less frothy and above all more-or-less healthy; the "latte superfoods". Well, let's just call them simply "super lattes".

Green tea, Peruvian ginseng, spices and...

The trend began at the end of 2015, with the rise of the superfood matcha, that Japanese green tea[3] with superior anti-oxidant properties to any other green tea. It kicked Masala chai, the Indian black tea seasoned with a mixture of spices and herbs, a decided, to the sidelines, and then arrogantly joined the latte recipes. And there it transformed the super lattes, assigning them a special place amongst the wellness trends of 2016[4].

Examples? What do you think about a latte with almond or coconut milk, with matcha and tahini (a cream from the Middle East based on sesame seeds), honey, cinnamon and white, or black, sesame seeds? To accompany matcha in the superfood hit parade for lattes there is also the maca, otherwise known as "Peruvian ginseng". The roots of the typical Andean plant, which in actual fact has nothing to do with the better known "Panax ginseng," was immediately noted for its high energising properties, as well as an aphrodisiac and it didn't take much before a "cocktail" of almond or coconut milk, with added maca, vanilla seed paste, cocoa, honey, virgin coconut oil and Goji berries appeared. Or even coconut milk with maca, matcha, tahini, coconut butter and whole rice syrup.

And to listen to the bloggers who have literally flooded the web with reports on the matter, the lattes in question are not only a health panacea, but above all, really good. Shall we copy them? We could, were it not for the fact that many recipes require ingredients that can't always be found unless one lives in a metropolis like New York, Sydney or London, where the opportunities for "global" shopping are not wanting. And yet, we could opt for an easily feasible super latte such as the "matcha coconut milk" by Love & Lemons[5], or turmeric which is causing a storm on the web, ultimately gaining a hashtag, #goldenmilk, which is a mine of information and suggestions, recipes and variations on the theme. There is also this one, which adds coffee to the melange of almond milk and turmeric [6]... And just as well, we say!

Golden milk: The super latte of super lattes

Turmeric, spice of 2016 and queen of the wellness trends as inferred from many sector studies[7] (here is the Baum+Whiteman 2016 trend report[8]), has launched the widespread trend of Golden milk[9], another super latte, otherwise known as "turmeric latte" or haldi dhooh – for those who won't give up on the original Indian name.

On the crest of the wave at all latitudes (from Australia to the States, from Great Britain to South Africa), the recipe marries almond oil, honey and, obviously, turmeric to cow's milk or better yet, vegetable milk (almond, rice, coconut, soya...). Possibly also with an extra touch of vanilla and ground cardamom, or cinnamon and nutmeg, or dates and açaí powder, or even ginger and black pepper as in the traditional Ayurveda recipe[10], popular in India as a powerful remedy against flu, above all in the version with fresh turmeric root extract.

To those who object that it would be like drinking a diluted curry before nine in the morning, in the version with coconut milk in particular, bloggers suggest the addition of an “extra”: honey or maple syrup, or perhaps coconut sugar and sweet spices ... good health!

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  1. ^ Italian cappuccino (
  2. ^ make a meal of the comparison (
  3. ^ matcha, that Japanese green tea (
  4. ^ wellness trends of 2016 (
  5. ^ "matcha coconut milk" by Love & Lemons (
  6. ^ adds coffee to the melange of almond milk and turmeric (
  7. ^ inferred from many sector studies (
  8. ^ Baum+Whiteman 2016 trend report (
  9. ^ Golden milk (
  10. ^ traditional Ayurveda recipe (
  11. ^ Follow Fine Dining Lovers on Facebook (

50 Best Restaurants 2016, Top 10 in 10 Dishes | Gallery

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50 Best Restaurants 2016: Top 10 Dish Pictures | Gallery...

The Week in Bites <br> 19 June 2016

The Week in Bites <br> 19 June 2016

50 Best Restaurants in The World

This week was all about the 50 Best Restaurants in the world[1], a list compiled by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. The big winner was Osteria Francescana, a restaurant tucked away in Modena, Italy.

Osteria Francescana is owned by three-Michelin starred chef Massimo Bottura[2], who could not contain his excitement over topping the list. In second place was El Celler de Can Roca (last year's number one) while New York's Eleven Madison Park moved up to third place.

See the full list of winners here[3].

A Talk With Massimo Bottura

Fresh off his big win we chatted with Massimo Bottura about his restaurant being the first in Italy to ever top the 50 Best Restaurants list.

The renown chef shared some surprising plans for the future.

Read all about it[4].

Top 10 in 10 Dishes

The week ended with a bang as we brought you a mouthwatering gallery of the top 10 dishes from the world's 10 best restaurants.

See them all and pick your favorite[5].


  1. ^ 50 Best Restaurants in the world (
  2. ^ Massimo Bottura (
  3. ^ See the full list of winners here (
  4. ^ Read all about it (
  5. ^ See them all and pick your favorite (

The Science of Steam Cooking

If you think of the number 100, you are not likely to be reminded of the delightful taste of lightly cooked stuffed ravioli, crisp vegetables in olive oil or tender flavour-packed fish fillets. And yet, the number 100 plays a fundamental role in dishes such as these. Has anything come to mind? Exactly: the temperature of boiling water. Once it reaches 100°C, this precious liquid turns into steam – its gassy form – and becomes the preferred cooking method for a healthy diet, but this does not necessarily mean that it is less tasty: steam cooking, that is. Don’t underestimate it. Today, we shall be presenting some convincing arguments.

First of all, just consider the "magic" of steam: its maximum temperature coincides with that reached by water in its phase of transformation, in other words 100°C. This is what happens in normal conditions, that is to say, when pressure is around one Atm. If the pressure increases, so does the temperature of aqueous steam and this is the principle underlying the working of pressure cookers. So steam cooking makes use of the most ordinary steam at 100°C, so long as you have atmospheric pressure: all you need is a pan and a basket and you can get started.

Consequently, there are two advantages. The first is that, in steam cooking, the water comes into contact with the food in a gassy form, without immersing it in liquid. The water does not become “dirty” so there is no “boiling-point elevation” and the temperature remains practically constant.

The second advantage is that the aqueous steam cooks food while preserving its moisture. It is hard to imagine a more natural, healthy and flavour-friendly cooking method than steaming. Since there is no immersion, as in boiling, most of the nutrients and molecules responsible for providing food flavours remain, without being dispersed in the liquid. On the basis of this principle, we can draw up some rules for steaming food properly.

First of all, make sure there is plenty of water under your basket. In this way, even if the liquids released by the food fall into the pan or into the dish, the variation in temperature will be negligible. Another important recommendation is not to salt the water: this is a common error which actually serves no purpose. The steam released is nothing but water, in any case, and if you add salt you will only delay evaporation: to add flavour, add salt to the food once it is cooked.

At this point, choose your ingredients carefully: red meat for instance does not lend itself well to steam cooking. Chicken morsels are preferable, but vegetables, potatoes, fish and rice work the best. Try cooking some simple broccoli, for instance: you will not believe the taste. When steaming fish, learn to aromatise the cooking liquid. Use one part white wine to four parts water, adding spices and herbs such as pepper grains, bay leaves and thyme.

The Science of Steam Cooking

Finally, always bear in mind that steaming is fast, and takes no more than a few minutes. The ingredients have to be selected on these grounds.

Would you like a recipe to try as you learn? Let’s borrow a recipe from the region of Campania: a traditional Christmas salad[1] called "insalata di rinforzo". Cut about 1kg of white cauliflower into pieces and steam for around ten minutes. Then put it all into a bowl. Add 100g of black olives, a few anchovy filets preserved in oil, mushrooms and artichokes (also preserved in oil), 100g of green olives and 50g of capers preserved in salt, taking care to rinse them thoroughly.

Season with plenty of olive oil, three spoonfuls of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Leave the salad to rest in the fridge for a couple of hours and, when you are ready to serve, add some escarole salad leaves. Who said steamed food was boring?


  1. ^ traditional Christmas salad (