Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pizza for the Adventurer

All right, Mr./Ms. Adventurous Eater: so, you think you’ve tried every type of pizza there is. You’ve ordered the egg and ham pizza in Australia, had slices of biltong grace your South African pie, and eaten just about every topping combination from yuppie vegetarian (organic rocket pesto accompanied by slow-roasted tomatoes, Thai basil and fresh, hormone-free ricotta) to redneck carnivore (name-your-meat slathered in ranch dressing).

But have you tried Zanzibar pizza? I didn’t think so.

When Mark and I visited Zanzibar last November, we discovered that one of the most popular food items at the night market was this stuffed bread dish. It’s not really pizza – there is no cheese or sauce to speak of – but, it somehow tastes strangely similar. The bread lies somewhere between a crêpe and a chapatti, the filling typically includes mince meat, onion, chili, egg, garlic and mayonnaise, and the whole shebang is topped with hot sauce.

Last night Mark and I made a vegetarian version that compensated for the meat with cabbage and tomato. I could have closed my eyes and told you that what I was eating was Zanzibar pizza. But, as I have previously writtenit is impossible to separate a food from a place or an experience. Zanzibar pizza is no different. Without the sound of waves crashing and vendors hawking, the smell of fish grilling, and the sight of smoky fires and headscarf-clad women, Zanzibar pizza was Zanzibar pizza, but it wasn’t Zanzibar pizza. Does that make any sense?

If you’ve never eaten Zanzibar pizza on Zanzibar, then you won’t have this problem, and you will enjoy the dish for what it is – a tasty snack or light, casual main course that welcomes being washed down with a frosty glass of beer.

Zanzibar Pizza
Adapted from A Taste of Zanzibar: Chakula Kizuri
Serves 6

2 cups / 250 grams plain flour
½ teaspoon / 2.5 milliliters salt
½ cup / 125 milliliters water (plus more, if needed)
Vegetable oil, for coating dough and frying
1 medium onion, minced
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
3 fresh chilies, deseeded and minced (I used two green and one red, for color)
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon / 15 milliliters fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoo
ns / 30 milliliters cilantro (a.k.a. fresh coriander) stems and leaves, chopped
6 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Tomato chutney and/or hot sauce, for serving

Sift the flour into a medium bowl and add the salt. Pour in the water, adding more, if necessary, to create a smooth dough. Knead the dough for three minutes, and then divide it into six equally-sized balls. Place the dough balls in a shallow dish, rub plenty of vegetable oil over them, and cover the dish. Let the dough sit for two hours.

Stretch the dough into a very thin 10-inch / 25-centimeter circles, making sure that the edges are thinner than the centers. Place 1/6 of each topping (onion, tomato, cabbage, chili, garlic, ginger and cilantro) in the center of each circle. Now, here is where talented Zanzibari street vendors would effortlessly crack an egg over these toppings and seal the dough into a package without any egg sliding out. I am not this talented. So, I would recommend frying the eggs until they are just set, and then adding one to each pizza. Grind salt and pepper over everything, to taste. Then, fold the top and bottom sides of the dough to the center, and close the dough package by folding in the left and right sides. Make sure there are no holes in the dough or any cracks where egg or filling could escape.

Cook the pizza packages, using as little vegetable oil as possible, in a fry pan over medium-low heat. How many you can cook at one time depends on the size of your fry pan. (Note: If you need to make multiple batches, it is advisable to keep the dough balls covered until you are ready to use them.) You want to cook the pizzas until the dough is toasty-brown on both sides and the fillings are warmed through, all while making sure that runny egg doesn’t escape during the process of flipping the pizza. Acquiring such certainty requires about eight minutes of cooking on one side, and three on the other.

Serve hot, with a spoonful of tomato chutney or hot sauce on top and, if you desire, a garnish of extra cilantro and minced chilies.

Okay, maybe now you’ve tested every pizza possibility.


Sean said...

Wow, that looks good. I'll have to try it!

Speaking of Zanzibar, my mother went there a number of years ago and fell in love with (but neglected to buy) a book called Zanzibar Style. Should you come across a copy, I will pay handsomely for it! :-)

deb said...

Ah, this post is making me hungry for my favorite pizza - artichoke and red pepper pie. The artichoke, roughly chopped with mayonnaise and red pepper flakes, takes the place of a traditional red sauce. Top it with sliced yellow and red bell peppers (sauteed first), feta cheese, and ground thyme. Not as exotic as Zanzibar pizza in Zanzibar - but delicious nonetheless.

Jeanne said...

Zanzibar is one of the places I still want to visit... It always sounds impossibly exotic! And you are so right about a food being eaten at a particular place (and time) deriving some of its unique taste from its context. The same food eaten at another time and place can taste quite different and may lose a lot of its magic. This recipe sounds great and even better - it seems as if you can vary the ingredients according to what you have available. My kind of recipe ;-)

Carolyn said...

Sean – I know exactly the book you are talking about. Next time I know anyone headed to Zanzibar, I'll ask them to pick up a copy for you.

Deb – Your favorite pizza sounds like it could become my favorite pizza! I bet a slice looks amazing, too, with the green, yellow and red colors.

Jeanne – For some reason, I think everything I've been cooking recently goes in the “flexible and adaptable” category! Maybe I’m just tired of getting my heart set on making a particular recipe, then discovering there is one critical ingredient I can’t find in any of the shops…. So, flexible and adaptable I will be!

I hope you make it to Zanzibar one of these days!

Dazy said...

I like pizza with chilled beer. This recipe would keep me busy in the kitchen again. Planning to have this in the weekend.

Anonymous said...

Been there - done that. If you ever get the pleasure, you can usually strike up a conversation with the local chefs and they'll let you try to make your own pizza. We were epic failures but its worth the try.

You also fail to give praise to the dessert style pizza. The concoction of bananas, shaved chocolate & chocolate sauce is the perfect ending.

Thanks for the recipe - we'll be sure to try it!

Anonymous said...

oh, my heart is aking when i read this...
i've been in zanzibar and i ate each and every night at the market and of course, pizza!!! this is too delicious to be true and you know, i don't even dare to try your recepe out because i'm scared to loose my memory of what it felt like when i ate this pizza amongst all those smells and colours and people and impressions and the wafes and the sky and the adventure and what not...
i'll print the recipe out, maybe one day i'll have the courage.
thanks for it anyway!

Anonymous said...

I just came back from Zanzibar and i can say that the pizza is the most amazing street food i have had anywhere!