In Zanzibar, many people believe (or will tell you so) that the only place you can find durian trees is in the Spice Gardens around the area called Kizimbani.
But there are Spice Gardens sprinkled all over the island’s interior, relics of the plantation aristocracy that made Zanzibar the Clove Capital of the world.
There’s an incredible diversity of local Zanzibar fruits and plant knowledge here, plus some very old durian trees.
About Village Green Spice Farm in Mitakawan Village
Mitakawan Village is located on the East side of Zanzibar, about 40 minutes from Stone Town and 20 minutes from Kiwengwa Beach.
The village has 2 or 3 Spice Gardens open to visitors. We chose to visit Village Green Spice Farm.
Like Kizimbani, Mitakawan was once covered in large plantations of clove, cinnamon and coconuts. But Mitakawan is further away from Stone Town, and has never become reliant on tourists in the same way as Kizimbani.
Here you won’t get chased down by guides hollering “SPIIIIICE!”
In fact, you’ll mostly be ignored unless you enter inside the Spice Farms. People are busy working in their farms. As farmers.
It was only around 2018 that the villagers realized they were already growing same spices that were being marketed in Kizimbani, plus more. So they decided to start offering Spice Tours as well.
When you enter Village Green, you’ll find a small outdoor seating area and a covered dirt-floor kitchen. There is no running water and no toilet. If you need to wash your hands, a covered bucket or bowl of water in the kitchen will do.
The village is working on creating a demonstration garden so that tourists can easily meander down paths and get a highlight of some popular Zanzibar fruits and spices, just like in Kizimbani.
But for now, it’s an incredible verdant gold mine for the horticulturally interested, and probably not as good an experience for those who want the highlight reel.
“We have everything. Everything. But if you want to see EVERYTHING,” our guide Ali warned us, “You have to walk.”
Because the village is both tiny and huge. Within a small space, you can find paddy rice planted under coconut trees, cassava interplanted with meandering sweet potato vines, okra in the shade of Golden Mango trees; the corners of the field trimmed in papaya and Zanzibar Apple.
There’s no monocropping here.
But it also means the fruit trees are planted at random around people’s houses and dispersed amongst the fields.
Enormous islands of 100-year-old mango trees and other edible local fruits like Mfuu erupt from the savanna of rice or cassava, providing shade and lunch to the farmers.
Our treasure hunt crossed and criss-crossed the village over several hours as we tasted exotic fruit after exotic fruit from incredibly old trees.
“We didn’t plant these trees,” Ali told us, waving at the coconuts that marched in lines across the field and the black humps of mango trees in the distance. “They were planted by our grandparents and our grandparents grandparents.”
He says that nowadays, people aren’t planting trees. They’re planting short-term crops that have a quick turn-around for money, and cutting the old trees to sell in Stone Town as charcoal.
So better let them know that these fruits are a tourist attraction before they’re gone!
Zanzibar Fruits at the Spice Garden
Fuu Fruit (Vitex doniana)
Among the Zanzibar fruits I was most excited to find was Fuu, as I had never heard of it before this trip and certainly have never tasted anything like it.
It tastes like a chocolate brownie soaked in raisin rum, with a cakey-dry, moist crumbly texture almost like a Canistel. There is a large seed in the middle, so there isn’t much to eat, but I am now a huge Fuu Fan.
The fruit came from an impressively gnarly, squat, thick-trunked tree who knows how many years old. Apparently other people in the village like it too, because Ali said we had to be quick to get there early before someone wants lunch.
Zambarau (Syzygium cumini)
This one was familiar, as this “Bottle berry” grows like a weed in many tropical countries. But again, the tree was huge! It would require at least two people to wrap their arms around it!
The season was just beginning when we were there, and Ali told us the fruits can get sweeter than what we experienced. They were soft to the touch and plump like a plum, with a pretty purple-white interior, not too sweet, and very refreshing. The more reddish ones were too astringent.
Kungu (Terminalia catappa)
Also known as the Sea Almond or Tropical Almond, this tree with waxy round leaves grows all over Zanzibar and is a favorite food of small children.
Ali recounted to us that during his school days, he would often smash Kungu nuts open during recess for a snack.
The bright pink flesh around the nut has a floral aroma like guava and is slightly sweet but a little astringent. Inside the nut is a small deposit of fatty sweet meat like a mature coconut. You would have to open a lot of these to feel full, but I guess with enough time and rocks it might be possible.
Bungo (Saba comorensis)
Bungo vines grow rampant at Village Green, covering whole trees with kudzu-like ferocity. It was amazing to see a fruit that seems so incredibly exotic just throwing itself everywhere.
I guess it’s because I associate Bungo with the more rare, precious, and notoriously picky Willoughbeias from Asia. They’re actually very similar.
Both are orange on the outside, have an orange citrusy-floral flesh that makes me think of marmalade, and a curious jigsaw arrangement, like orange segments thrown at random into the shape of a ball.
Like Willoughbeia, Bungo is a rubber vine. It exudes a sticky white sap when cut that natives used to use to trap birds and the British colonizers experimented with for making Rubber, before they brought over rubber trees from Brazil.
Ali taught us how to make Bungo Juice by blending the bungo pulp with water and sugar, straining, and serving cold. It’s delicious.
Bungo La Kizungo (Garcinia sp)
Ali brought us to the far side of the village, where he said. As soon as we saw the small , fat tree with perpendicular branches and waxy leaves throwing out in twos, I had Garcinias on my mind.
Round, bright yellow fruit with a pointy tip. The yellow skin is very thin and surrounds a fleshy, smooth as butter pulp with several seeds arranged like oranges in the middle.
Ali said the villagers sometimes make juice with it, as they would with regular Bungo, but everybody likes regular Bungo better. It’s more floral, more citrusy, and is a little bit sweeter than this Bungo La Kizungo. So if they eat it, they just suck on the sweeter meat around the seeds and throw the rest away.
La Kizungo literally means “not from here.” So this Garcinia is the “Bungo Fruit Not From Here” that apparently is not much loved.
Sorry Garcinia lovers 😝
As soon as I saw Embe Maggi I was excited. It’s a totally different mango from the other orangey mangoes we see around Zanzibar. Could it be a different species? I think yes.
Embe Maggi means “Water Mango” and it is so similar to the deliciously floral, completely juicy, strong perfume-y Mangga Air or water mangoes of Borneo (M. laurina). It’s a small mango, mottled dark green, and is basically a balloon sack of sweet zingy juice with a lot of fibers.
You could never slice the cheeks off this mango as you could for Haden or Nam Dok Mai or any other M. indica. If you tried, your knife would stick on the tough robe-like fibers and all the juice would drain away.
You eat this one by massaging it gently to release the juice, then ripping a hole around the stem area and sucking out a sudden refreshing lemonade of mango juice. It’s truly one of the best things ever.
Unfortunately, sucking out the juice like a mango otter-pop exposes you to the sap, which can cause blisters. I actually ended up getting “Mango burn” on my chin after this. So Richard opted for the tilt and squeeze option, the juice flowing out of the mango like a squeezy juice box.
This mango obviously bruises really easily and is not transportable. It’s one to eat greedily under the tree on a very hot day, which is exactly what we did.
Ndemu Tamu (Citrus limetta)
There are many kinds of citrus in the village, but one of the most delicious is the Sweet Lime, which is probably the same as Mosambi in India.
It’s not sour at all, and tastes something like Pomelo except very juicy. After our long walk in the heat, it was refreshing and I could see why farmers working in the fields would want to keep a Sweet Lime in one corner.
I asked Ali if they make juice with Sweet Lime, as they do in India, and he said no. The tree’s whole purpose is to be eaten in the field, when you’re thirsty or need a break.
Last But Not Least: Zanzibar Doriani
At the entrance to the village is a single, extremely large durian tree that towers above even the coconut palms.
Like all of the old trees in the village, no one is sure the who or when of the tree. “It was the Arabs, before..” is the general answer.
So it’s likely whoever was living on the plantation in the late 1800’s is responsible for this tree. But who they were is lost from memory.
The durians that had fallen in the night were waiting for us in the Durian Guardian’s hut when we arrived to Village Green. We actually ate durian first thing, for breakfast.
It was a good start to what was quickly becoming an incredibly memorable day.
The durians flesh had become like a wrinkled up yogurt skin, completely smooth and creamy beneath a paper-thin membrane holding that luscious cream in.
Richard said it had a slight strawberry sweetness to it, with a vanilla yoghurty tang and a menthol that had me breathing in coolness.
Throughout the day, we would pass by the tree and check if anything fell. And about 4PM, we got lucky! One big one had dropped for us while we were visiting the Bungo La Kizungo.
And it smelled absolutely intense.
Richard said this was the best durian he’d eaten in Zanzibar so far, and I would agree it is among the most intensely numbing and delicious.
It was such an intense eating experience that I didn’t mind at all that the flesh was thin. We decided to come back again one day to get some more of this special tree.
Cooking Classes at Village Green
After a long day wandering the fields behind the fast-moving Ali, walking what must have been miles and miles, he decided we should take a cooking class and experience some local cuisine.
After seeing all the fresh ingredients growing all around us, we readily agreed.
Just like everything at the Village Green, it was a lesson in food diversity.
The open air kitchen is set up under a mat roof and has three fires, where pots of cardamom and coconut milk bubble.
Ali said they prefer to use clay pots because it gives the food a better taste, but that they are hard to come by nowadays..
It was starting to get dark by the time we settled onto a mat placed under the mango trees and Ali showed us how to dig in.
There were so many different dishes it was hard to know where to start.
We had picked much of it during our time with Ali – the cassava leaves, the cassava root, the breadfruit, and the okra had all been harvested in front of our eyes.
And here it was, on a beautiful plate on a quiet evening as the stars began popping out of the blackness beyond the mango leaves.
On my plate:
- Ugali wa sembe – corn meal paste
- Ugali wa muhogo – cassava paste
- Mponda -–breadfruit paste
- Kisambu cha nazi – cassava leaves pounded and boiled with coconut milk and spices
- Majani ya viazi vitamu – Sweet potato leaves
- Bamiya la nazi na binzari – Okra in turmeric coconut milk
- Mchuzi wa kukanga – Masala Curry
- Mchuzi wa nazi – Coconut Curry
- Ndezo za nazi – Banana with cardamom and coconut milk
It was all so good I told Ali he and his community should write out their recipes for a Swahili Cookbook! What do you think? Would you take home a copy of their cookbook if you visited the Village Green?
How to Get to the Village Green Spice Farm in Mitakawan
Village Green Spice Farm is located on the East Side of Zanzibar, around 20 minutes from Kiwengwa Beach.
If you’re crossing from the West side (Stone Town or Bububu), Google Maps can easily lead you astray onto some rutted, muddy tracks through the interior, so keep to the main highways (in yellow) to avoid needing to turn back.