The crowd was nowhere near what I’d expected; actually, far less. I take it that early August is low travel season, relative to some other months. The scene is pretty much what you’d expect if prior to the visit, you’d watch the Anthony Bourdain episode on the gardens. Like he did, order your food with the chili sauce, which isn’t all the spicy but helps with the flavor. The seafood is unlikely to be as fresh as the sellers claim. Make your rounds and purchase what appeals to you visually. Don’t be surprised at some prices; a spiny lobster skewer, and an octopus skewer, cost me $22. EACH. No, I did not haggle.
Several observations in my decidedly unscientific one night observation:
1] Most people did not eat at all, and simply wandered and looked around.
2] Those that bought a food item, more chose from a meat vendor than a seafood vendor. Not surprised, since worldwide the tourists who can afford to visit Stone Town are likely to prefer meat/chicken/lamb vs seafood.
3] The most popular food item was the Zanzibar pizza. I did eat various seafood, and also one Zanzibar pizza. The pizza was my favorite.
4] Do not go if you don’t like, or are allergic, to cats. They are all around the gardens, and will wait patiently for a morsel from you. No, I was mean and didn’t feed any cats.
5] Negotiate the price BEFORE the seller takes your chosen seafood to reheat or recook. If you wait until after it’s been handed to you and sat down, the seller names his price and there is little room for negotiation.
6] Flies are everywhere. After the vendor recooks your food, pick it up and eat promptly. If your seller gets a little distracted, he may set it down and flies will get at it.
7] Have your own handwipes or napkins handy. The sellers ration napkins, and the grease will easily soak through the thin paper plates served with the food.
8] Do visit the gardens in the daytime when the sellers are not there. It looks totally different. I was pleasantly surprised to find the area clean, with little indication that a wild market scene occurs in the same square each night.
9] Your experience is incomplete if you simply gawk at the food tables. Sit down for a spell, like I did for several hours on the seawall, and observe the bustle. Whether you like the food or not, this seaside scene is most certainly unique.
If, or rather when, I return, I’d likely focus on the pizzas. They are small and can ordered in so much variety to widely vary the taste.
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