Our guide, Chum, had already led us through the alley ways of Stone Town and past a few of the key tourist attractions and was not too sure if we were up for a visit to the markets of Stone Town. He kept warning us that they “smell very bad” but I was really keen to experience the side of Zanzibari life that often gets overlooked by tourists and so we headed off to mingle with the local doing their Thursday morning shopping!
Stone Town Market
Stone Town Market (officially known as Darajani Market), is the main bazaar of Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is a chaotic maze of stalls and people and noise and colour and a must-see if you ever find yourself in Stone Town. This little slice of local life is an amazing cultural experience that will stay with you long after you leave the island or head to sunbathe on the beach!
Around the outskirts of the main building are all manner of stalls selling cheap Chinese toys, clothing, leather shoes, bread, hats, dates and baskets plus the usual fruit and veg and plenty of green umbrellas signalling a spot selling airtime for cell phones!
No matter where you travel, one of the best ways to experience local life is to explore the local fresh market. Markets are not only where things are sold and traded, but they are also where people congregate to socialize, meet friends, and eat.
Stone Town Fish Market
Our first stop was the notorious Stone Town Fish Market. As Zanzibar is an island, the majority of locals eat a diet that consists of mostly fish and vegetables. Fish and a variety of seafood is in abundance in the waters that surround the island as we discovered on our visit to the Stone Town Fish Market!
And not even Chum’s warnings could prepare us for the sights and smells that we were to hit our sense as we entered the dark building filled with people. Our eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the market and we slowly followed our guide through the throngs of people catching glimpses on either side of us of the piles and piles of seafood on offer.
From squid to octopus, shark to tuna, all manner of fish was piled high and being roughly prepared into portions for the shoppers to take home for supper! It was like nothing I’d ever seen before! The fish market consisted of rough cement shelves on which the fish were displayed. Behind each “shelf” or shop the fishmonger was hacking away at their haul with the hugest machete knives all the while shouting out the prices of their offerings and trying to sell their unique pile of fish…
I snuck as many photos as I could without interrupting or irritating anyone – this was far too good a photo op to put my camera away! I was fascinated and loved the “realness” of it all!
After we snaked our way to the end of the long warehouse market, originally built in 1904, and we stepped into another the room at the end which was crammed full of people. Above the noise of the crowd Chum told us that this was the area where the fish auctions were held – the fisherman brought in the fish from the boats and then sold them on auction to the highest bidder who then took the fish to their “Stall” in the market next door to be sold on to the shoppers.
We missed the first fish auction of the day, to see the more exotic catches or larger fish get auctioned off you need to get their earlier than our mid-morning arrival, but when we arrived there were still auctions taking place, albeit for the smaller fish. About 50 men (and a few women) were crowded around the large cement “table” in the center of the room. One of the men held up the next “lot” of fish to be auctioned off and another man across the room started the bidding in Swahili. From our spot in the corner of the room we managed to watch the actoin and stayed for quite a few of these rounds. And I managed to sneak a few photos of the experience… I hope they give you a taste of it too, although the pictures really don’t do the smell justice, that has to be experienced for yourself!!!
After our senses were sufficiently assaulted in the Stone Town Fish Market we headed out the door and across the courtyard to the Stone Town Spice Market…
Stone Town Spice Market
Zanzibar was once known as the “Spice Island” and spices was the main source of their wealth up until the 1960s. Spices are still very much a part of the Zanzibar culture and as many of the people are from Middle Eastern origin spices are very common in Zanzibari cooking hence the Spice Market is a very popular market in Stone Town!
We wandered through the market stalls very keen to buy a few of our own spices to take home and were grateful for the guidance of Chum who took us to a stall holder he knew (and trusted to not take us for a ride) and we stocked up on some of our favourites.
Right next to the Spice Market is the Fruit and Vegetable Market, another rabbit warren of alleys and stalls filled to overflowing with a huge assortment of fresh food… including a few we’d never seen before (hello Jack fruit)!
The abundance and size of many of the topical fruits and vegetables are testament to the fact that the island has an amazing climate for growing all manner of produce, and although the fruit can appear a bit overripe at times tyou really are spoilt for choice here!
Stone Town Chicken Market
As we wound our way through the back streets of the market we came across the Chicken Market as some of the vendors were unloading their huge basket full of live chickens off the back of their wooden cart.
We decided to slip inside quickly to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the market. Again our eyes took a few minutes to adjust to the dim, dinghy interior of the market. Adding to the poor visibility was the smoke and incense being burnt inside, which I assumed was to help to keep the chickens calm!
We didn’t spend too much time in here, it wasn’t really the place to hang out and I was starting to feel a bit out of my depth…
However what was very interesting was when Chum pointed out to us the difference between the free range chickens – healthy cockerels crowing from their perch on the baskets in the center of the room vs the battery chickens that were small, deformed and pale and looked almost dead already in their tiny cages. It was quite horrifying!
Stone Town Meat Market
It was then almost time to move on from the market area but not before we took a quick turn through the Meat Market, definitely not for the faint-hearted or those vegetarians amongst you but still a fascinating place to see – and smell! We didn’t stay long!
After spending about an hour exploring the delights of the Stone Town Market we decided it was best to head off in another direction to see the last few sights of Stone Town…. but you’ll have to come back next week for more about this unique town!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about my African Adventures exploring Zanzibar click one of the links below:
Images: Kathryn Rossiter