Mama Massi’s, Stone Town, Zanzibar
What if I told you the best food in all of Zanzibar was hidden in an unassuming house and cost only 70¢ US?
However, this food doesn’t come easy as it requires a bit of adventure to find, but here’s how. Because it isn’t on any maps, here is my poorly drawn map to Mama Massi’s. If you were to start at the docks, which if you took the ferry from Dar Es Salaam is where you would first enter Zanzibar, you should follow the blue line up until the green circle. This is where she should be.
Around the green circle is where you would find this restaurant but it’s easy to miss so here are tips. When approaching the area you’ll know that you have gone too far if you see a mosque.
If you have made it here then you know to turn around, walking in the direction of these men, take a right at the parking lot and walk straight ahead until you find a house with a light turquoise second story porch.
However, you’ll really know you’re in the right place because the best food has the best bodyguards — a whole pack of cats, all right in front of the door.
I was a bit hesitant at first as, going through the doorway, I didn’t see any tables, or really even smell food. There was a dark entryway with a light at the other end beckoning me toward a small atrium full of light, fresh air and a sweet woman surrounded by a menagerie of pots and pans, frying certain things over a small fire-lit stove in front of her.
There’s no menu at Mama Massi’s, only melt in your mouth deliciousness.
I sat on a small bench beside her watching her stuff spices between slices of potato to be dipped in batter and fried, before she stood up and hurried off upstairs, where I saw several small children had gathered to see this stranger, yours truly. She quickly came down with a large water bottle for me and returned to her preparations.
Soon enough she reached into the pile of cluttered bowls and rinsed one in some questionable water before serving me… something else I was a bit hesitant about, but decided to enjoy all the same. I was told what I was eating was called Bhajia, kachori, and rojo mix
This meal was constructed with the most succulent and juicy all vegetarian ingredients. The Bhajia, which are the colourful fried balls are made of a mixture of potatoes, chickpeas and other spices all melded together and fried alongside the kachori, which are two slices of potato stuffed with the red spicy flavourful paste seen at the bottom right of the bowl, dipped in batter and fried to perfection. The sauce dribbled on top was optional and met with my heavy hand while the white paste was a soft cleanser should things get too spicy. It was absolutely savoury, umami, full of juice and flavour that filled every crevice of your mouth without anything being over done or imbalanced. It was a simple meal with seconds at the ready should you request them, although I would have to say I’m quite sure the “menu” would change every meal so if you take this journey I cannot guarantee you will have the same dish. Though I guess you could request it, and I’m pretty certain whatever she gives you will be some of the most delicious food you ever eat.
I ate all around Stone Town, the largest hub on the island (co-incidentally, the birthplace of one Freddie Mercury) and I have to say I kept coming back here time and time again. However, if it’s hard to find or if, say, the rain has the cats hiding… ask locals where to find Mamma Massi, as I did, and they’ll kindly lead you to her kitchen and even walk you in. While there she did give me an unopened ice cold water, however I would suggest bringing your own beverages just in case.
This is not a tourist spot, and is absolutely local and should be regarded with respect. There are no tables, and only room for four.