Categories: Africa, Recipes

Recipes From Afar: Chicken Pilau, from Zanzibar

In this special guest post, we hear from Laurie Vaquer, founder of Take Me Cooking, a platform that enabled local cooks to share their cooking with travelers around the world. Her inspiration comes from a particularly special trip to Zanzibar. (Bonus: She shares some of her favorite Zanzibari recipes.)

African woman holding ingredients from the Stone Town market to make Zanzibari food
Ingredients for a Zanzibari feast. All photos by Laurie Vaquer.

In the past few years, I’ve gone to Zanzibar three times, and I’d return in a heartbeat. My second visit was in December 2015; I was staying with friends in the capital city, Stone Town. As I wandered the narrow streets and admired some beautiful typical Zanzibari wooden doors, I thought of researching a way to cook while in the city. Via Google, I obtained the contact details of a cooking tour company in Stone Town and emailed for information.

The very next day, Shara of Tangawizi Bistro met me at my hostel, and we went directly to the market to buy all the ingredients for the recipes we were going to cook together (it was just the two of us): chicken, spices (grown on the island), vegetables, sweet potatoes, coconut, and more. The market tour itself was amazing, with all those delicate and exotic flavors in the air (except in the butcher’s area, of course).

Stone Town has a small city center, so we walked to a friend of Shara’s and sat down on a mat on the floor of her patio. The patio was really a traditional open-air kitchen—quite normal in some places in Africa, charcoal cooking being still widely used.

Shara explained what we were going to cook: chicken pilau, spinach in coconut milk, and a sweet potato dessert. We made everything from scratch, even the coconut milk, using a traditional grater. While we were cooking, children from the neighborhood watched us through the surrounding windows, eventually coming closer to see what was going on.

This experience was truly astounding. I felt uniquely lucky to have such an incredible time, one to one, with a woman from Zanzibar. Once the cooking was complete, we sat down in the living room and shared the food with the children. Of course, it was delicious!

Plate of homecooked Zanzibari food from Stone Town cooking class

After this fantastic time with Shara, I began looking everywhere for such authentic cooking experiences every time I’d travel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I’d had hoped. For instance, in Addis Ababa, I only managed to attend an Ethiopian food tour. It was a lovely tour, but I would have loved to cook and taste instead of only tasting the various dishes.

It was then that I decided to quit my job as a real estate project manager and create Take Me Cooking, a platform to enable passionate local cooks to share their cooking with travelers. I truly think this is the best way to meet amazing people while traveling.

And now, for those Zanzibari recipes—with special thanks to Shara. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Preparing ingredients in a pot for chicken pilau in Zanzibar


  • Half a chicken
  • ¼ cup cooking oil
  • 7 cloves of garlic, minced  
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp black pepper powder
  • 1 Tbsp cardamom powder
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 red onions, sliced
  • 2 potatoes, skinned and quartered
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 3 cups basmati rice

1. Cut the chicken into pieces as you wish; wash and then pan-fry in an ovenproof pot with some cooking oil. Add garlic, ginger, and rest of spices, and cook for 5 minutes. Cover with water and bring to a boil.

2. When the chicken is well cooked, remove it, keeping the broth in the pot.

3. In a pan, add cooking oil and sauté the onions, potatoes, and pepper.

4. Add the broth into the pan along with the chicken pieces.

5. Finally, add rice and stir mixture well; bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer, and cover the pot until water is absorbed and rice is cooked, about 20-30 minutes. Then put the whole pot in a heated oven for 5 minutes.

Cooking spinach in coconut milk in Zanzibar


  • 400 mg spinach
  • ½ Tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk

1. Wash spinach thoroughly. In a pan, sauté onions till soft.

2. Add tomato, pepper, and salt; cook about 5 minutes.

3. Add spinach and coconut milk. Cover the pot, and when most of the liquid is gone, remove from heat.

Woman grating coconuts to make a sweet potato dessert in Zanzibar


This dessert can also be done with plantains instead of sweet potatoes.

  • 3 or 4 sweet potatoes
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1½ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp cardamom

1. Peel the potatoes and cut into pieces. Place in a pot.

2. Add coconut milk, sugar, and cardamom, and raise the heat. 

3. Let it boil until you no longer see the milk. Remove from heat. Serve hot or cooled/refrigerated.


About the author:  Laurie Vaquer is French and currently based in Buenos Aires after living four years in Africa. She created, a platform that enables travelers and passionate cooks to connect in order to have a wonderful experience like the one she had in Zanzibar. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Published On: August 26, 2017

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