Msasani Fish Market >> and a Recipe for Coconut Crusted Shrimp


I was allergic to shrimp for a hot minute in my lifetime. I must have been four or five or so, I think I was only allergic for a couple years, but it was enough to stave me off of that particular shellfish for a good twenty-five years. It’s funny how stubborn children can be, isn’t it?

Something changed when I moved to Dar es Salaam. The shrimp here are super fresh and meaty, with only a hint of seafoody-ness. This newfound love of shrimp (I’m also eating bananas and eggs now guys, look at me!) has resulted in regular trips to the fish market for a kilo or two of shrimp, plus whatever the catch of the day is.


The guys at the fish market enthusiastically offer to shell and de-vein any purchased shrimp for their customers (for a small fee, of course). While I always splurge and get my fish scaled and gutted, I always refuse the shrimp, and opt to have them bagged up, whole. They look at me like I’m crazy, and for a second, I doubt my decision.




But once at home, I dump my whole shrimp into the sink. The meticulous process of cleaning and de-veining the shrimp becomes a meditative one for me, and reaffirms my personal reasons for why I’ve refused this work to be done for me back at the fish market.

The sound of the faucet running at a slow drip and the small of fresh shrimp shells collecting in the basin reminds me of watching my mother prep dinner as a kid. The process of ripping shrimps’ heads off, then their little catepillar-y legs, then their exoskeletal shells, then deveining and rinsing–this becomes a one-woman assembly line, and is (odd, I know) soothing in its monotony and repetition. Pretty soon I have a loose heap of heads and shells on one side of me, and a pile of translucent gray shrimp on the other. That is a satisfaction of work well done that few other jobs can guarantee.

Fresh shrimp needn’t be cooked for long. Just several minutes in the pan until they start curling and turn peachy does the trick. Here, I’ve dusted them with coconut for an easy and healthy coconut crusted shrimp. I can’t wait to try this recipe, amp’d up with some tequila and lime, or a sprinkle of za’atar powder. But simple is good too, and I like this recipe for letting the true flavor of fresh shrimp shine through. Man, I am so glad I’m not allergic to shrimp anymore.

Coconut crusted shrimp

  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp (with heads and shells), peeled and de-veined at home.
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, or the pulp leftover from making coconut milk
  • 1 tsp salt + pinch
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 green onions (green parts only), finely chopped
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Rinse and pat shrimp dry with a paper towel. Season with a pinch of salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix shredded coconut with salt, pepper, paprika, and green onions. In another small bowl, beat egg.
  4. Set up your baking pan. Line pan with foil, and set a rack- like a cooling rack you use for baked goods- on top. This helps air circulate on all sides of the shrimp and helps the coconut crust get…well, crustier.
  5. Dip an individual shrimp into the egg, flip to coat, and then press into the coconut mixture, flipping to coat in the coconut as well. Make sure the shrimp is nice and covered as much as possible. There will be some that will fall off, but that’s okay. As you dress each shrimp, carefully place on the baking rack.
  6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and coconut flakes begin to brown.
  7. Take out of the oven. Serve with lime, and lots of veggies!

Note: This recipe is Paleo, hence the lack of flour or breadcrumbs. If you’re a “normal” eater, add a couple tablespoons of breadcrumbs into the coconut, and coat each shrimp with a dusting of flour before dipping into the egg wash. You might want to crank up the heat 15-20°, too!

Msasani Fish Market
off Kimweri Avenue: Driving South from the Peninsula towards Bagamoyo, make your third right (there is a sign for Imaging Consultants). Go down the dirt path and the market will be tucked away behind a metal gate on your right hand side, immediately before a huge baobab tree.

On Markets, and Understanding a City

“It is an indirect path, of course, strewn with trivial information and accidental, insignificant discoveries. How does this French stove work? Which days is the butcher open and what is the word for tenderloin? Is there a good bakery within walking distance? Where in the world do you park on the day of the farmers’ market, when there is no parking to be had? All of these questions and many more will be answered in time, as the days go by, as total immersion in a place takes on a pleasurable rhythm, knowledge is accrued, and you become, in some small but not insignificant way, at least for a little while, a local.”




“…There was no pleasure greater than the dawning sense of routine, the glimmer of expertise, however narrow, the smallest nod of recognition at the boulangerie.”



These pictures, along with the one from last Saturday, are from my new market discovery. I’ve recently realized that some of the markets in town are tagged in Google maps, so I’m going to try to visit them all during my time here (there are only six or seven that I’ve found so far).

The text above is taken from an article I read recently, called A Kitchen in Provence by Luke Barr, published in the November 2013 issue of Travel + Leisure. I read that first passage and it immediately struck a chord in me, it describes so well how I feel food and travel define experiences in and understanding a city.

Luke Barr’s book, Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, is lined up next on my reading list. (I’m currently reading A House in the Sky, which is a memoir about a world traveler turned young aspiring journalist who gets kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for 15 months. I read an excerpt awhile ago somewhere, and it was incredible.)

Saturday Series / No. 17


11’02’13 >> Kijitonyama Market, Dar es Salaam

Finally found a local market that I love- not too big, not too crowded, with a decent selection of cheap fruits and veggies. It’s a bit further of a drive than an everyday market, but definitely one that I’ll be returning to.

Saturday Series / No. 15


10’19’13 >> Selling rice and other pantry goods at the market in town

It’s been a quiet week on the blog- I’ll chalk it up to the fact that Monday and Wednesday were public holidays and people were in a festive mood.

In other news, I’ve been getting off the peninsula and to the local market in town to buy vegetables. I pass by these guys, selling their rice out of huge baskets and other dried goods. My favorite part of this picture? That poor little packet of beans that fell and scattered on the concrete. Pole Sana! 

China Red, China City: A Chinese Market in Dar

I’ve written about China several times since I’ve left the country, first out of awe that I got out alive, second because I keep going back to photos, like the ones below, of everyday life on the streets, and now, third, because I’ve just realized- I miss the place.


I left China last summer pretty darn happy to be done with the place, to spend a year in the states, to move onto Africa and content never to look back again. And I was fine (eating lots of tacos while back home helped) until I got to Africa, when suddenly everything seemed so foreign. And then, I started to miss the foreign things in China that, in retrospect, were so much more familiar than unknown: How to properly flag down a cab like a local. Ordering chicken feet during dim sum. Navigating crowds at 5pm at the Tiyu Xilu metro station (the horrors). Screaming “waiter” at the top of your lungs in a restaurant. Finding the best wet markets in all corners of town. Buying face brightening cleansers, because that’s the only thing there was. Observing the local fashion trends, oh! The fashion! It’s amazing how quickly the unfamiliar becomes familiar, no? I think of these things, and I can’t help by smile. Two years might seem short, but it is certainly enough to forever call a place home in one’s heart.


At the wet market in China

I recently took a visit to a local Chinese Market here in Dar es Salaam, and it brought back a wave of nostalgia. I had been on the lookout for some goods- tofu and hot sauce, to be precise, and was excited when a Korean friend told me about this little market not too far from home.

I’ve come to realize that no matter where you are in this world, there will be a Chinese population that will create a demand for a Chinese market. And with their savvy import and export dealings, they’ll find a way to get things like doban jiang (savory bean paste) or xia mi (little dried shrimp) or wei jing (MSG powder) to almost anywhere in the world. These are the important life lessons I’m learning by living abroad. I don’t know, maybe if you’re living in the middle of the Congo and find this to be absurd, let me know, I’d love to hear it.

sign for the market, here in dar

Big Red sign for the market here in Dar

Surprisingly, it only took me driving up one wrong driveway before I found the market. Tucked away behind a blue gate erected with sheet metal, the market looked more like a construction zone than anything else. The building was a little single-story, u-shaped complex that housed a mini wet market to the left: One meat counter, one vegetable counter (right next to each other, in typical Chinese fashion, of course). And right across the way on the right: a small but well-stocked dry goods market. With a HUGE red banner across the roof that read (in Chinese): “China Red, China City”

The outside (minus the sign) blatantly screamed Africa, but there was no mistaking its identity from the inside. Shelves piled from floor to ceiling of cooking wine, pickled mustard greens, dried plums, instant noodles, plastic bath accessories, spiral bound stationery, and more.


But most striking was that smell. As soon as I stepped foot in the store, I caught that signature Chinese market smell, of soy and sesame and dried fish and plastic wrap and damp packaging, and who-knows-what-else-makes-up the smells of China, which instantly transported me back to Guangzhou.



You know, a lot of people complain about China quite a bit, and I find myself pretty defensive about it these days. You can’t talk smack about a home of mine, after all, and expect to get away with it. They complain about everything- The smells, the pollution, the hygiene, the food, the people, the crowds, the pushing, the yelling, the fighting, the language.

But there’s funky smells, bad pollution, oily food, smelly people, massive crowds, pushy elders, couples who argue, waiters who will fight you, and communication barriers all around the world. Maybe no other place has the perfect convergence of all these things in the way that China does (I’m betting India is close!), but in one form or another, they exist everywhere.


All I’m saying here is that at the end of the day, appreciate where you are, because it’s home to someone, and before you know it, it’ll be home to you, too. The things I miss in China don’t necessarily make me want to go back and spend the rest of my days, but they are certainly enough to make me consider living again in that crazy country one day in the future.

Do you think I’m crazy that the smell of dried fish and dirty packaging makes me nostalgic? I’m curious: What smells make you pine for a previous home?

China Red, China City

Chinese goods market in Dar es Salaam
Ursino Street, just North of Bagamoyo Road (down the street from Addis in Dar)
Complex is fenced off by a blue gate with some Chinese lettering on the front. Guards man the front entrance. Drive through and park anywhere in the back lot.

Zanzibar Day 4 >> Another Zanzibar market trip

Another trip to the Zanzibar market. This time, to practice my newly refined Kiswahili. After all, there’s no better way to practice a new language than to barter with shop keepers at a local market.

Zanzibar Market 1

Zanzibar Market / Local Oranges

Zanzibar Market / Narrow Alleys

Zanzibar Market / Butcher

Zanzibar Ladies

Zanzibar Market / Selling Fish

Zanzibar Market / A Giant Marlin

I’m the proud owner of several new kintenge (local batik-printed fabrics) and a few more spices to add to my shelves. Also, a bunch of bananas, but those were a little more short-lived.