Zanzibari Grilled Fish in Coconut Sauce (Samaki Wa Kupaka)

Zanzibari Grilled Fish in Coconut Sauce (Samaki Wa Kupaka)


The food markets in Zanzibar are quite spectacular, bustling with life and produce. And the fish on display in the fish section is always fresh, caught locally by fishermen going out to sea in the most beautiful sailboats. Here is a Zanzibari way to make grilled fish more exciting by serving it with a creamy, spicy sauce. You can use one big fish as is done traditionally, or you can use small individual ones. If you opt for the smaller fish, adjust the cooking time to 5 minutes or so on each side. And if you don’t have a charcoal grill, which is what Zanzibaris would use, or access to a broiler, you can cook the fish on a stovetop grill pan.


  • 1 large white snapper (4½ pounds / 2 kg), with head and tail on, scaled, gutted, and rinsed
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced to a fine paste
  • 8 mild green chilies, seeded and minced to a fine paste
  • Sea salt
  • 6â…“ cups (1.5 liters) coconut cream
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) fresh ginger, peeled and minced to a fine paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Finely ground black pepper
  • 3 limes—2 cut in wedges and 1 sliced into very thin wheels
  • Indian Flatbread (see book) or Zanzibari Coconut Rice (see book), for serving


  1. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Take a long skewer and thread it through the fish, along the vertebrae—this will keep the fish straight during grilling.
  2. Mix the garlic and chili pastes in a small bowl, adding a little salt. Rub the fish with half the mixture both inside and out. Let the fish marinate in a large platter while you cook the coconut sauce.
  3. Prepare a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill (which is what they would do in Zanzibar) or preheat the broiler to high.
  4. Put the coconut cream in a large saucepan. Add the remaining garlic/chili paste, the ginger paste, cardamom, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let it bubble gently, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes. Keep hot.
  5. Grill or broil the fish for 15 minutes or so on each side until just done. You don’t want to overcook it or else it will turn rubbery.
  6. Transfer the grilled fish to a large serving platter. Spoon the hot coconut sauce all over it. Arrange the lime wedges around the fish, and lay the thinly sliced lime in a line down the middle of the fish. Serve hot with flatbread or coconut rice.

Reprinted from Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou. Published by Ecco.

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