Destinations, Featured Places, Food, Zanzibar

Tasting Zanzibar: Dinner in Stone Town at Emerson Spice Hotel

November 4, 2012

We found ourselves at sunset in Tanzania, making that upward, upward climb, not pursuing Kilimanjaro’s summit, mind you, but following the wooden stairways winding skyward to the rooftop restaurant at Emerson Spice Hotel in Zanzibar.

My hopes for spice revelations in Zanzibar briefly went up in smoke after our disheartening spice tour…but the flavors and atmosphere of a magical night at Emerson Spice high above Stone Town’s skyline effortlessly resurrected the romance of our East African dream.

From the street, only a few hints indicate the treats to come. If you know to look up, you’ll spot the filigreed balconies and catch a glimpse of the tower sitting atop the old building, but the reward comes from making the trip up the many-storied staircase to arrive on top of the world for a sensory delight confirming that this, indeed, is the best spot in the city for fine views, fine food, and fine company, too.

During our stay in Stone Town, we’d spent much of our time in the darker streets below, zigging and zagging through narrow alleyways between our guesthouse and favorite coffee shops and market stalls. What an incredible view to behold, emerging from the last flight of stairs to catch the day’s final golden rays as they kissed the city goodnight.

Calls to prayer rode the waves of the wind, echoing up from mosques below.

The colorful scene greeted us with promise:

Silken pillows under sumptuous fabric awnings.

Smiling servers in bright smiles.

A menu crafted for seekers of flavor…

Vegetable Spring Rolls
Goat Stuffed Tomato
Passionfruit Ceviche

Tuna Timbale
Nyanya Chungu

Turmeric Calamari
Grilled Mango
Beetroot Salad

Kolekole Coconut Fish
Nassor’s Knish
Lemon Gras Basket

Passion-Mango Givre
Cardamom Banana
Lemon Cake with Limoncello

Favorites in bold…snapshots below.

On queue, the city’s power halted, and the restaurant generator kicked into gear.

Flickering candles softened the scene, and while Ted made fast work of an ice cold G&T, I warmed up to my Cabernet Sauvignon and we both warmed quickly to our nearby table-neighbors. One couple from Auckland, New Zealand shared stories of their recent time on mainland Africa and invited us for a visit once our route crossed their homeland. Another three travelers, Sandy, Mike, and Laurie, fresh from an extended walking safari in Tanzania invited us to join their table, and the five of us conversed on into the evening about the insights and challenges, reminders and blessings, perspectives and passions of time spent in new physical and mental spaces.

Emerson Skeens in jaunty straw hat, black polo shirt, white shorts and white hair made the rounds from table to table, welcoming guests to his piece of paradise. This restaurant owner and man-about-town has been on Zanzibar Island well over two decades, stewarding the city’s architectural relics with a passion for history, a businessman’s eye for renovation, and a philanthropist’s heart for preservation.

Zest for life fueled his work in transforming the three adjoining World Heritage Site buildings into the piece of art today known as the Emerson Spice Hotel, and exceptional flavor and beauty stand as a testament to his joys.

Spaces are magical, always have been for me. Since childhood, often when I walk into a space for the first time, I’m confronted with a narrative, a feeling, a history, some characters. Like Jaques, in “As you Like It,” there is a myth, an opera, a film or a play stretching out on stage before me. These stages present themselves for me to play on and, for even more fun, to play with…
-Emerson Skeens

Our table of travelers and philosophers shut the night down, chatting until every other table stood empty and smiling servers stood waiting to finished clearing our crumb-less plates.

We might as well have been floating on air that night during our descent back down the stairs.

If only every mountaintop experience could include those glowing candles and magical lamps and perfectly delicious bites of Zanzibar…perhaps, just maybe, then I may stand a chance at convincing Ted to climb Kilimanjaro!

Emerson Spice Hotel & Rooftop Restaurant

Tharia Street, Kiponda, Zanzibar
Five Course Meal – Set Menu: $25/person
Emerson Spice invites guests for sunset cocktails from 5:30pm onward, and at 7 o’clock the evening’s delectable feast of Zanzibarian flavor begins…
Reserve ahead of time and arrive early enough to stake claim a spot with ample sunset views.

Many thanks to Emerson Spice for hosting us during our time in Stone Town, Zanzibar. After such a beautiful evening, it’s no surprise to us that Conde Nast chose them for their Hot List 2012!

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  • Reply inka November 4, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Ooooh, I love your posts from Zanzibar. I have been there in – wow, looong ago – 1999. It is now 13 years, and still thinking so many times about Zanzibar – a dream. With bad faults though. Our housekeeper at the eastside was arrested and killed in jail a year later – just because, whatever, his hair being wrong. Police at that times was unpredictable and corrupt. But the people – so warm, so nice, so open, not talking about beautiful stone town and the streets full of history.
    I really was touched there, much more than somewhere else in Tanzania. You brought it back to me a little.

    By the way: I love the way you blog. Outstanding, different, critical, lovely. Thanks very much.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:00 am

      Wow, Inka. What an experience! How terrible to hear about the fate of your housekeeper. We found ourselves so frustrated with the inefficient bureaucracy at Tanzanian customs and immigration and then again at the dock in Zanzibar; I can imagine how the police force and other organized bodies must have been a few decades ago. I’d be interested in hearing more of your stories from your time spent living on Zanzibar.

      Thank you so much for your kind words about the blog. I’m really happy to be able to share it with people who enjoy the pictures and thoughts. Thank you for reading.

  • Reply jane luthy November 5, 2012 at 2:24 am

    I absolutely love your scarf Ted.

    Everything looks so darn exotic!

    Love to the two of yous.


    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:03 am

      Jane, I came around the corner and found Ted eyeing up the scarf in one of the little merchant stalls in Stone Town. He had the cutest smile on his face. He was going to put it back, but I insisted that he buy it. He looks so carefree when he tosses it on!

      Miss you like crazy!

  • Reply Kenin - The Constant Rambler November 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    Everything looks absolutely Amazing! I have to add this to my list now :-)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:04 am

      Hey Kenin, thank you! I absolutely recommend a visit if you’re ever in East Africa. Completely worth it, and unforgettable. I’ll be dreaming of a return for many years, I’m sure : )

  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica November 6, 2012 at 3:32 am

    What a great spot! I’m a sucker for good food, wine, and a view.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:05 am

      Amen to that! ; )

  • Reply Gary Tribbett November 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Great to see your bright shining faces. Oregon rains are here. God is blessing Clear Creek in so many ways. This is election day in the U.S., please pray.

    We love you!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:10 am

      Gary, wonderful to hear from you! It’s funny imagining Oregon rain whenever we’re out underneath hot, sunny skies. We’ll be home for some cloudy weather soon enough, though. We fly into Portland on Christmas day! : ) We’re excited to return to Clear Creek and reconnect with everyone.

      Very interesting to watch the election coverage from here in New Zealand. Now more than ever it’s a time for individuals and families and communities to work together on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters, isn’t it? Thanks for all that you do in the community!

      Looking forward to being back in Oregon and seeing everyone again : )
      Much love,
      Bethany and Ted

  • Reply Erica from LivingIF November 7, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Great photos and excellent post as usual! We were here for our honeymoon in 2009 and have wonderful memories of dinner at Emerson Spice Hotel. When we dined there several years ago there were no tables, just cushions on the ground and so dinner took on a very communal atmosphere, which was so much fun! Happy travels!

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:14 am

      You’re too kind, Erica! : ) Thank you. That’s so terrific that you were at Emerson Spice on your honeymoon! I can imagine that it would’ve been a lot of fun to sit on cushions and eat around shared tables. As it was, we found ourselves hopping between a few different tables chatting with really friendly people. We went back the next night, not for dinner but for a slide show and presentation about architectural history and preservation from a local professor and friend of Emerson’s. He’s built quite the community of visitors, locals, and expats. It’s a really special place, isn’t it? So cool to know you guys loved it, too.
      Hope you’re both doing great these days!

  • Reply Laura November 8, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I was in Zanzibar a couple of years ago and one of the few pictures I took in Stone Town was of this building! I have very strong nostalgia for Zanzibar and hope to revisit it again one day. (Oh and I should mention that in regards to your spice tour, ours never picked us up either and we scrambled to the tourism office who called a guy from another company to come back and get us. We had a pretty similar experience as you but still enjoyed the day and tasting different things. It was my first time having jackfruit!)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 10, 2012 at 4:18 am

      I’m glad you can relate to the tour experience – it’s oddly comforting when you know you’re not the only one. ; )

      Emerson Spice feeds that nostalgia, no doubt about it! I definitely recommend dining on top of Stone Town if you’re able to revisit in the future. Such a beautiful place…

  • Reply Andrew Buck November 13, 2012 at 12:38 am

    My mouth literally watered a little when I read “Lemon Cake with Limoncello” : )

    And I liked Ted’s scarf and shirt combo as well. It’s good to know you two are keeping life on the go as stylish as possible.

  • Reply Lindsay December 6, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Bethany, my dad and I are not headed to Zanzibar until July 2013, but I will definitely put this on our list of must-eats. We love the local hole-in-the-wall places, and this certainly fits the bill. We will be staying in Pongwe for a few days and I cannot wait to go exploring! Thanks for the suggestion.

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