We arrive at the food market a little after sundown: the tour group had gone for sunset cocktails together and then headed their separate ways for dinner. Strolling past the stalls earlier that day - seeing the chatty vendors setting up their offerings for the night - had ensured we'd be heading back there come meal time. We are hungry so here we are!
As soon as we get there a smiling tout approaches us and eagerly explains the foods available at his table tonight. "This is beef, and this is tandoori beef. This one is chicken, and this one is tandoori chicken. It's like the tandoori beef but with chicken. This is telapia..." and on it goes. Octupus, squid, vegetable skewers, shrimp, felafel, naan, roti and samosas. A spread fit for kings. My mouth is watering. We explain that we have just arrived and want to look around first. And so we move on.
The next table employs a tout too: smiling, friendly and eager. "Hello my friends, let me take a small moment of your time to explain what's on offer. This is beef, and this is tandoori beef. This one here, see, is chicken. This is chicken too, but tandoori chicken. You see?..." I can see a pattern emerging here. The table offers the exact same foods, at the exact same prices, and is even arranged identically (meat front left, seafood front right, samosas, felafel and breads back left, a little space for food prep back right). Again we move on, eager to see a little variety. I spot a sugar cane man; grinding and squeezing the sweet juices out for purchase as a drink. I make a mental note to come back and try that.
The next tout who approaches us is given a stern ultimatum: "Unless you can show or tell me something different to any of the other tables, I'm not buying." He gives me a little smile and launches in. "This is beef, and this is tandoori..." bla bla bla... until I hear mahi-mahi! That's different! And it's Sjane's favourite fish. Seems he's jagged our business for the evening. We order a bit of everything, pay and head off to find somewhere to sit and eat.
I leave Sjane momentarily to go back and get some chilli sauce (no surprises there) only to return and find Sjane deep in conversation with the lady next to her (again, no surprises). Amina is a Zanzibari Tanzanian currently living in West London and we chat about a whole host of things: Islam and the respective times for men and women's Call To Prayer, pronunciations of basic Swahili words, raising teenagers in England with some value of their cultural heritage ("Ugali is prison food, Mum!). Mostly we talk about Zanzibar and how it's changed since her childhood. She remembers wandering down to the Forodhani Food Markets alone as a small girl and buying a stick of sugar cane to munch and suck on. Listening to the friendly vendors chat and do business under the dimly lit trees it's easy to be transported back in time: it seems to me that it may look different but the heart of Forodhani is still very much the same. A meeting place for locals and visitors, a place to socialise and listen to the waves caress the shore. Amina's husband returns from the mosque and they take their leave. I wish them a "good apetite" in more appalling Swahili.
All this sugar cane talk has made me thirsty, so we head off to buy a drink. It's as good as it sounds; sweet and refreshing, with a little lime or something added. As fresh as humanly possible. It'd be rude not to stay for dessert, so Sjane grabs a Zanzibari Pizza (crispy pan-seared crepe folded over Snickers, nutella and banana) and I grab another sugar cane juice for good measure. We go to bed with full bellies and smiles on our faces.
The remainder of our time in Zanzibar was spent on the north-western beaches called Kembwe. Here Sjane elected to go for a scuba dive and I elected to lie on the beach and relax. We both had plenty of sunset cocktails, and have to thank the Goldfinches for keeping us well hydrated while on island time. I don't really want to leave!