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Octopi in Zanzibar

Passport & Plate - Mchuzi wa pweza (Zanzibari octopus curry)

Worldwide | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 3 photos

2 small octopi, cleaned, with heads removed
2 tbsp coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch fresh ginger, crushed
1 tsp chilli powder
1.5 tsp turmeric powder
1 bay leaf
1tsp cinnamon powder
500mL coconut cream
1 hot red chilli, sliced


How to prepare this recipe
1. Using a rolling pin, hit the octopus legs to tenderise the meat. Cut into small bite sized chunks.
2. Place octopi in a pot of boiling water, and then lower to a simmer.
3. Simmer for approx. 15 mins until octopus chunks are tender. Remove and drain.
4. In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat and add the cooked octopus.
5. Add spices and toss with octopus chunks.
6. Add coconut milk, stir and bring to the boil, then reduce heat.
7. Simmer for approx. 10 mins until curry thickens.
8. Garnish with sliced red chili and serve on basmati rice.


The story behind this recipe
The people of Zanzibar are amongst the friendliest people I have met on this planet, and I was lucky enough to meet women from a coastal village in Nungwi who took me spearfishing for octopi. In the crystal clear turquoise waters of the morning low tide i dodged sea urchins as i attempted to spear my prize while the women around me caught octopus after octopus with practiced ease.
Despite my own poor [ie: zero] success rate, we set about preparing the octopi for cooking: beating the octopi on rocks by the shore of the beach to tenderise the meat, and rubbing sand along the tentacles to remove slime and smooth the rubbery tentacles.
Sheltered from the tropical sun under an overhanging rock formation, we cooked the octopus in a pot set upon coals, adding a variety of ingredients inspired by Zanzibar’s various culinary influences - Swahili, Indian and Persian - that are representative of Zanzibar’s rich cultural and political history.
The smoky air and aroma of spices held the promise of something incredible, and the end product did not disappoint: a fragrant curry, dyed a rich yellow colour from the turmeric, and studded with red spots of chopped chilli.

Sitting on the soft white sand and gazing at the palm tree-studded shoreline with the simple but stunning backdrop of clear blue sky, we ate the curry served with rice on pottery plates, the pieces of fresh octopus meat tender and spiced to perfection. Each ingredient played its own part without overpowering another - the heat of the chilli balancing the sweetness of coconut milk - and the combination of flavours bursting on the tongue.
Once satisfied, we washed the curry down with tangawzizi (ginger beer), its strong ginger bite cleansing the palate before we moved on to dessert: Zanzibar’s famous tropical fruit.
There is no doubt that the “spice island” of Zanzibar is truly paradise, and upon returning home I had to create a piece of Zanzibar for myself.

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