Kizimbani is a cluster of villages along a very straight road cutting through inland Zanzibar, about 10km north of Stone Town.
Durian is very easy to find here. During the season, you’ll find piles of them being sold along the road and in front of people’s houses, kilometers and kilometers of durian.
But durian is not the reason most visitors come to Kizimbani.
The area is famous for Spice Gardens aimed at tourists. When you drive along the road you’ll find aggressively waving men trying to flag you down for a Spice Farm Tour.
If you stop anywhere to have a look at a durian pile, you’ll be immediately accosted by friendly offers for Spice Tours.
These Spice Tours operate on communal land once owned by the Sultan of Zanzibar. By 1838, it’s on record that the Sultan had massive plantations of cloves and coconuts at Kizimbani managed by slave labor.
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The Sultan stayed at his palaces in Stone Town, but the slaves lived on the land and were allowed to grow whatever they wanted between and under the clove and coconut trees. When slavery was abolished in 1897, the slaves became tenant farmers, and again could grow whatever they wanted as long as the land owner got the cloves and coconut harvest. Not much changed.
Over one hundred years later, the result is the Spice Farms, which are intermixed with fruits of all kinds – including very old Zanzibar durian trees.
About Tangawizi Spice Farm
Although there are around 10 Spice Gardens in the Kizimbani area, we decided to spend our very first day in Zanzibar at the Tangawizi Spice Farm in Dole Village.
Tangawizi is one of the larger Spice Gardens and one of the few with an online presence. I’d contacted them months before our trip while looking for information on the durian season and since they have several Zanzibar durian trees and durian lovers on staff, we’d been chatting.
Going to visit them was a good place to kickstart our Zanzibar durian adventures.
We arrived knowing full well that Tangawizi Spice Farm is what you might call a “pleasant tourist trap.”
It’s designed to showcase of all the various spices that made Zanzibar the famed Spice Islands in an hour-long, easily walkable tour.
But, it’s also designed to bring income to the community. Tipping and souvenir-buying is encouraged at every step of the way – to the guy who climbs a coconut tree and sings, to the man selling soaps and perfumes, and at the end when you are presented with a large assortment of packaged dried spices.
This style of tourism can be a little awkward.
But depending on what you do with your time there, it’s also an opportunity to talk with local people, to get your questions answered, and to taste a lot of delicious things.
The Spice Garden Tour
We started our day at Tangawizi with the Spice Tour led by a young village guide named Wasafi who announced each spice by the scientific name as well as the local Swahili name, and told stories about how the spices are used in Zanzibar today and in the past.
Each spices was planted in a different area, and the tour wound around mud houses and home gardens where children played. We also met groups coming from the neighboring spice farms, Jambo Spice Farm and Mr. Kato Spice Farm, who share the same routes.
Wasafi explained that since the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964 broke the land blocks into smaller holdings, the farming area used by the spice tours have many owners who cooperate to allow the tourism activities. Each owner grows something different to contribute to the Spice Tour experience, and the various tour companies are in charge of the guiding and marketing.
Tangawizi – Ginger
We started with the namesake of the Tangawizi Spice Tour -– Ginger.
In this photo are actually 2 gingers, Zingiber officinale, which is the normal edible ginger, and Zingiber cassamunar, which is a relative of galangal.
In Zanzibar, the most popular way to consume ginger is as a tea, or as a powder in spiced coffee, which Wasafi promised we would get to taste later.
Wasafi said his least favorite spice was vanilla, which is relatively new to Zanzibar. Although the Portuguese first brought it to Zanzibar in the 17th century, when they were hoping to transform Zanzibar into a Spice Island to supply aristocratic kitchens in Europe, vanilla only became a cash crop in Zanzibar in the 1990s.
The government promoted it to try and help local farmers escape poverty, but the program was a bit of a flop. Still, many of the houses in Kizimbani have vanilla vines.
Today in Zanzibar, nutmeg is very common. Wasafi told us that the crumbly inner seed is used as an aphrodisiac by local woman – “Ooooh lala,” he laughed.
Nutmeg is originally from eastern Indonesia, but in the 18th century the Dutch East India company conquered the spice islands and blocked trade with other nations.
The British stole seeds and tried growing it on Penang Island, but their endeavors were foiled by Zanzibar, whose plantations were closer to Europe and had the benefit of unlimited slave labor.
Karafuu – Cloves – The King of Spices
Cloves are known as The King of Spices in Zanzibar, and are the reason the Sultan of Oman invaded Zanzibar and stole it from Portuguese influence. For over 150 years, Zanzibar was one of the biggest clove producing regions in the world, the clove industry growing and growing until it peaked in the 1950’s. Today, Zanzibar still counts cloves as one of its main exports.
The clove flower buds are either pressed fresh for oil or dried into the spice you’re probably familiar with at home.
Interestingly for you fruit nerds, Zanzibar grows a different variety of cloves than you’ll find in SE Asia.
Ndizi Nyekundu – Red Banana
Throughout the spice tour, we kept coming across stands of these beautiful red bananas growing over the gingers or vanilla or turmeric plots.
Since people are still living on and around the Tangawizi Spice Farm, the land also serves as a kitchen garden. Papayas sprout from random corners, bananas crowd around seating areas, and soursop and jackfruit trees intermingle with the cloves and cinnamon.
And of course, there are durian trees too.
Zanzibar Durian Trees
Sprinkled around the property at random, we counted around 10 durian trees ranging in age from babies too young to produce to towering trees nearly 100 years old.
The old ones are legacy trees, trees that lived through the Revolution and were planted in a time when wealthy Arabs owned the land and ex-slaves tended it, a time when Zanzibar was still a Spice Island governed by a Sultanate and squabbled over by European colonialists.
As we walked around, we’d been collecting durians to eat with our lunch. As excited as I was to learn how all these spices are used in local day-to-day cooking, the durian smelled amazing and it was going to be hard to wait.
Tangawizi Local Cooking Class (Vegan Zanzibar Food)
Many people order a local-style lunch when they come to Tangawizi to enjoy the fresh ingredients and spices, but we decided to sign up for the cooking class.
As someone with food sensitivities, I love to take a cooking class toward the beginning of visiting a new place in order to better understand what ingredients people commonly use in the area so I know what I’m in for.
Luckily the meal plan was already plant-based, so all they had to modify for us to make it vegan was to leave out the fish. Note that after booking a vegetarian class, we did have to re-explain when we started cooking that fish is not vegetarian, at which point the fish got passed through a mud-wall-window and someone else had lunch.
We sat in the shade of an outdoor building with no walls, where we made everything by hand without electricity or plumbing.
We washed the vegetables in big bowls of water, then either finally sliced or shredded them with a grater.
We even used a grater to create the tomato soup broth, and to grate the coconut meat to squeeze with water into fresh coconut milk.
The result was a beautiful and tasty plate spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin.
On our Zanzibar vegan menu:
ice, a fluffy basmati type cooked in vegetable broth with cardamom, cumin powder, cumin seeds, and a stick of cinnamon.
- Pilau – a fluffy long-grained rice cooked with grated vegetables and spiced with cardomom, cumin powder, cumins seeds, and a stick of cinnamon.
- Tomato and eggplant sauce with fresh-made coconut milk
- Salad of grated green papaya, carrot, and green bell pepper
- Local spinach in coconut milk
- Banana boiled in coconut milk and cardamom.
It was a delicious introduction to Zanzibar cuisine!
While the rice was cooking we couldn’t help but cracking into a few of the durians that dropped while we were on the spice tour.
Some of the other guides noticed the aroma, and quickly descended on the durian party!
“Durian grows around here,” one of the guides explained. “We all love it since childhood.”
The durians were super fresh, some having crashed to the ground while we were walking around, and the aroma was intoxicating.
All Zanzibar durian trees are kampung-style – planted from seed – and each tree had a different flavored durian fruit. Many of the trees have nicknames to tell them apart, but when I tried asking about grafted varieties, the guides didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about.
“This one is my favorite,” said one of the guides, handing me a durian and a petite cup of hot ginger tea.
The durian was so fresh it was numbing, the grassy-caramel flavor zinging into my sinuses, the thick syrupy texture coating the inside of my mouth. It was one to eat slowly, despite its thin flesh.
The next had a thicker, nuttier, ivory-yellow flesh, equally fresh, criss-crossed with delicious wrinkles.
Tangawizi also buys durians from its neighbors to serve at fruit tastings and to sell to tourists, so we were able to try fruits from 5-6 different trees in one sitting, with the eating help of Tangawizi’s guides 😅
I had a feeling they were accustomed to afternoon durian sessions after the tourists had gone home.
Sitting with the guides eating durian, it no longer felt like a tourist trap. Or at least, it was a very pleasant and friendly tourist trap.
It was just our first day on Zanzibar, and we’d already seen a 90-year-old Zanzibar durian trees and were surrounded by smiling durian lovers, swapping durian stories and talking about durian flavor.
I had a feeling it was the start to a very good durian-hunting trip in Zanzibar.
How to get to the Tangawizi Spice Farm
Tangawizi Spice Garden is one of around 10 Spice Garden Attractions in Dole Village, Kizimbani, about 10km north of Stone Town, Zanzibar.
It’s pinned on Google Maps, and I also pinned them in our Durian App so you can find out when the durian season is here next year and plan your visit to see some Zanzibar durian trees.
Contact Tangawizi Spice Farm: