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Mama Jamila's breakfasts
Early mornings in Stone Town are the best. The air is still cool, the streets are relatively quiet, and you have the whole sun-drenched day ahead of you. It’s also the best time of day to indulge in Zanzibar’s Swahili-style breakfasts.
If you look closely enough, there are little nooks and crannies all over town to grab a chai tangawizi (ginger tea) or cardamon-fused ndazi (fried doughnut). Everyone, from street sweepers to school children, imams to young mothers, fishermen to government workers, have their favourite spots to fill their early morning bellies with hearty snacks.
Mama Jamila, of Hurumzi’s Peace of Love park, is top chef of this particular genre of chakula cha njiani - food on the way. I’m biased because I live in Hurumzi, but I think Mama Jamila runs an incredibly satisfying outdoor breakfast bar.
If I’m up early enough (she starts serving promptly at 7am), I’m lucky to savour her bites while chatting with the early morning customers who typically crowd around her boiling bots of uggi (porridge) and marharagwe (kidney beans).
Her menu is simple and delicious, serving up Swahili classics like vitumbua (deep-fried coconut-rice balls), chapati (Indian-inspired grilled flat-bread) chai maziwa au chai kavu (tea with milk or without) bofulo (fresh mini-loaf of bread) supo ya nyama na ndimu (meat soup with lime) mandazi (doughnuts) maharagwe (beans) uggi (porridge) ceki (cake) and juci ya embe (mango juice). Her food is always fresh, hot, and devoured by around 11:30 a.m.
This morning I made it in time to grab a hot-off-the grill chapatti, flaky and light, with a side bowl of tasty maharagwe and a cup of chai kavu. My love ordered up his favourite – Mama Jamila’s sopu ya nyama with a splash of ndimu, a meat-lover’s dream but not for the faint of heart. This soup is prepared by boiling down all the cow bones & parts, leaving hunks of fatty bones for one to joyfully gnaw at while dipping fresh bofulo in the savoury meat-fused broth. A splash of lime makes this dish a real morning energizer.
At Mama Jamila’s, there’s no official sitting, so the custom is to find a spot and dig in - slurping, sipping, dipping, and dunking while catching bits of playful conversation. You end up eating with local neighbours and strangers alike who soon become your friends. The park offers plenty of impromptu lounging spots under shady trees or against the cement ledge.
And if you’re still craving something else, a few other neighbours sell kisheti (fried sugar-coated doughnuts tied in an 8-shape) and Zanzibar’s classic urojo (mix), which hits the spot any time of day!
I used to be a morning coffee devotee, insisting on at least a cup in the morning before I left the house. For a long time, I also missed those “American-style” breakfasts – eggs, bacon, toast. But now that I’ve come to know and love Mama Jamila’s fanciful corner of tasty Swahili goodness, I’ve managed to break the morning coffee habit.
I still love coffee (especially the zing of Zanzibari-brewed coffee, served fresh in places like Jaw’s Corner or Darajani) but Mama Jamila’s array of treats do the trick for me now.
To find Mama Jamila’s nook, wake up early, wind your way to the Hurumzi neighbourhood, and then ask for Peace of Love park, unless you stumble upon it first. It’s between Clove Hotel and 236 Hurumzi, tucked behind Hurumzi Street where it meets Changa Bazaar Street.
By “park” I mean wide, open expanse speckled with a few trees where neighbours lounge, hang out, and sometimes gather to watch football on the community television.
Mornings, between 7-11:30am, Mama Jamila is situated in the southeast corner of the park, often wearing a flour-splashed black bui-bui with a colourful kanga head-wrap, grilling chapatti with a sense of confidence and ease. Expect to spend anywhere from 500 to 3,000 shillings for a hearty Swahili-style breakfast!