stone town: one of the strangest (and awesome) restaurants, ever

Back on Zanzibar, we got a cab to Stone Town. It was oppressively hot out. The cab driver took us as close as he could to our hotel and then he parked and lead us a few blocks through winding, narrow roads with our hulking REI backpacks on our backs. A. said the streets reminded him of old town Jerusalem. People sold vegetables and trinkets in doorways. The heavy wooden doors we passed were studded with metal — an old world protection against elephants. We saw women fully covered in Muslim garb and little girls in matching school uniforms with head coverings. I was fully conscious that my skirt didn’t cover my knees.

We arrived at our destination — the Zanzibar Coffee House (it’s clear I booked this trip, because I love coffee — A. doesn’t drink it — and it was delicious).

We relaxed for a while in our room, letting the heat pass and listening to the 4 p.m. call to prayer through the windows.

our hotel room in Stone Town

Then we wandered to the water and over to Mercury’s, a bar that honors Queen’s Freddie Mercury, who was born on the island. We sat on the deck, looked at the dhows on the water as the sun set and talked about relationships. And then we got a cab to Two Tables Restaurant (I had high recommendations from friends to eat there). The cab driver dropped us off and nodded to a handwritten sign on a tree. It had an arrow pointing down an alley and behind apartment buildings.

We walked, looking for a restaurant. We came to a screen door, and a note that said to ring the doorbell.

“Is this it?” We looked at each other, surprised.

A man missing one tooth who wore a white T-shirt pulled over his bulging belly answered. He was expecting us. “Come in, come in,” he said. He had a calm presence about him. He asked us to sit on the loveseat and wait — he was expecting three more people in five minutes — and he wandered upstairs.

The waiting room was one of the strangest places I’ve seen — it was as if we were in someone’s small, furnished basement from the 1950s with old trinkets and relics like an outdated drill press.

Turns out, we were. The other guests didn’t show, so our host asked us to leave our shoes, and he brought us upstairs. We were in his living room. Two women, fully covered in kangas (brightly colored fabric) sat with two little girls on a couch watching the news.

“Jambo,” I said. “Jambo,” they replied and the girls smiled shyly. Our host lead us to the dining room next to the living room (we could see the TV through the doorway). The dining room had two long wooden tables with four place settings on each side. It felt like a screened-in porch, but we were on the second level, looking out to another alley. At one point, we heard one of the women yelling, extremely angry — but it didn’t really phase either of us.

There was no menu — our host simply brought out dish after delicious authentic East African dish — pumpkin soup, puff pastries, curry, bread that tastes like naan. We ate and listened to the Muslim call to prayer through the windows and marveled that we were eating in someone’s home. I was full, but felt it was rude to not finish my plate, so I pleaded with A. to help me.

After we paid, we asked our host how to get a cab. He said we could just walk — and explained in his broken English. We must have given him blank stares because he walked us out — his hands folded behind his back, strolling slowly, while spewing out nonsensical politics (in a kind way). He walked us down the alley, across the street, into the neighborhood with narrow roads. He just kept walking. Men sat in the doorways playing games. Some zipped past us on motorcycles and bicycles. But I saw very few women out and about.

I thought our host was going to walk us all the way back to our hotel, but then he reached his stopping point about 20 minutes later. He pointed — said it was straight shot — and shook both of our hands with a big smile.

“Asante sana,” we said. “Thank you very much.”

And we wandered down the street toward our hotel, forcing ourselves not to hold hands.


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