Mustapha's Place

Zanzibar, Bwejuu, Tanzania, East Africa, budget hotel

Spice world

Zanzibar is often known as the spice island. The exoticism of its name can only be matched by the transporting scent of fresh cloves, miles away from the Christmassy fustiness of their dried cousins. But if you come here to visit, what should you take home with you? Often pre-packaged spice mixes feature overground spices that are past their best - the humidity here means that things go soggy and lose their oomph quickly.

Instead buy whole spices separately. The pinnacle, in my humble opinion, and this may surprise some of you, is the not-too-exotic black pepper. OK, black pepper isn't hard to come by anywhere in the world, but this stuff is something else. The word aromatic was made for this black pepper - whisk it around in a grinder until you have a coarse powder, then stick your nose in. After a few sneezes, see what you get - it's punchy, feisty, multi-dimensional stuff that transforms the dishes you will use it in. Some varieties even have the pungency of dark hashish (though not the effect).

What other spices can you get your hands on? Cumin and coriander seeds, cardamom pods and nutmeg are all good here. Local women use a special nutmeg brew sometimes at weddings that gives them a bit of a buzz and helps them past any social anxiety - I confess I haven't tried that yet... But it's all heady, sensual stuff.

Cinnamon is also great here - you get huge wooden slabs of it rather than the prissy, neat little sticks you get in global supermarkets. It's robust, earthy stuff that flatters curries, lamb and fruit.

In terms of best value, buy vanilla. Vanilla vanilla vanilla. This stuff is top drawer (well, the world-renowned Madagascan vanilla is from just one island down). It's glorious and you can get about 20 pods for about TSH 6000 - that's about $5. Compared to how much we are charged in Western supermarkets these are wonderful prices, and the product is unbeatable. Fill your backpacks with it and take home enough vanilla pods to fill up your basement and make your home town smell like ice cream!