Sawasdee Thai restaurant – Dar es Salaam

It’s our first night in Dar es Salaam, after an eventful first day.

Cooling down from the outside humidity, we’re enjoying a Tusker lager in the New Africa Hotel bar. The lager is so cold in contrast with the heat we’ve just stepped out of, it almost hurts to drink. Almost.

We haven’t eaten all day so we go and eye up the hotel’s Bandari Grill restaurant and menu: lots of grilled kebabs and appealing curries. The Thai restaurant will have to be really special for us not to come and eat here in the Indian.

Sawasdee (meaning welcome) on the ninth floor has two windowed walls with a view over Kivukoni Front harbour and Lutheran Church. It is really special so we ask to be seated.

While admiring the view, the smiling chef comes and introduces herself, asking if we’ve eaten Thai food before and where, when our answer is yes (UK, Thailand). She’s incredibly enthusiastic and hospitable. We couldn’t be made to feel any more welcome. The restaurant already lives up to its name.

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Views from Sawasdee 9th floor restaurant:
Harbour night lights

Bavarian style Lutheran Church – a reminder of Tanzania’s German past

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For starters we share:
~ Khanom Jeap Gaa – Marinated lamb wonton pastry filled with bamboo shoot and mushroom, steamed with chilly soy sauce, a Chef’s speciality dish (truly special – light on the pastry and heavy on the lamb and mushroom flavours, well balanced)
~ Yam Ta Lee – Marinated shrimp and squid mixed with lemon grass, lime juice, red onions, tomato and hot chilli paste on bed of greens

And K has to benchmark with his usual, of course:
~ Tom Yam Gai – Thai spicy soup with chicken, lemon grass, lemon juice and herbs (it passes K’s Tom Yum taste test with flying colours)

For main course I order Crab Pad Pong Ka Ree, fresh ocean crabs cooked in Thai yellow curry, a speciality dish at Tsh 21,000 (about £9). It arrives as a huge bowl overloaded with crab claws and other pieces in a Thai curry sauce, with a pair of crackers and a long scraper. As I’m a novice at using crackers I ask the waitress to show me how to use them (secretly hoping she might serve up all the crab meat for me!).

But she doesn’t seem to know either.

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Crab before…

Crab after…

On cracking the crab claws and other parts of its body, water squirts everywhere, much of it on me. Shattered pieces of shell fall into my dinner, meaning I’m grinding sand in each mouthful. I’m struggling, this is torment – such good food but it feels like I have to work for it and I can’t get the knack of the shellfish crackers. And I’m really not enjoying the gritty sand.

K sees I’m struggling and (to prevent any potential tantrums!) quickly takes charge. He hasn’t used crackers before either but somehow masters it. Legend. Amazing when you can watch how (I think that’s the expression…).

For mains, K has Gaeng Phed Gai, chicken in red curry sauce cooked with white eggplant (aubergine) and sweet basil.


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This is great tasting food with a pleasing blend of spices, made from good quality, fresh ingredients – something, I hate to admit, I hadn’t expected but am delighted to be surprised by. It’s authentic Thai, benefitting from fresh shellfish and spices (for which Zanzibar, in the nearby Indian Ocean, has a worldwide reputation). My first meal in mainland Tanzania, it surpasses – by far – anything I had imagined.

Including two bottles of South African Chardonnay and a roughly 15% tip (the menu says service is included but this deserves tipping) the total bill comes to 160,000 Tanzanian Shillings (£66.89).

At the end of the evening we ask a hotel receptionist to call us a cab and also how to get back to Tanzanite Executive Suites (to help us negotiate the police cordons and road blocks while the rescue operation continues at the collapsed building by our hotel). She kindly phones TES and gets the best route for the taxi driver who charges us £6 – well over the odds – and it’s worth it.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Thai (in Africa)
~ Address: Sawasdee, New Africa Hotel & Casino, P.O.Box 9314, Azikiwe Street/Sokoine Drive, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
~ Sawasdee at New Africa Hotel: Sawasdee Thai restaurant website
~ Sawasdee Menu: Sawasdee menu
~ Bandari Grill Menu: Bandari Grill menu

~ New Africa Hotel (Sawasdee + Bandari Grill) location:

~ My photos: Sawasdee tagged photos on flickr

Dar es Salaam – an eventful day

One Dar Day – from dawn til dusk

This first experience of Sub-Saharan Africa quite literally has its ups and downs, from 5,895 metre high Mount Kilimanjaro to the devastation of a collapsed multi-storey building in the Kariakoo district of Dar es Salaam, a city where 70% of occupants don’t have electricity, running water or basic sanitation in stark contrast with the extreme wealth of those living in palacial residences along Ocean Road; an eclectic city where the sight of robed Maasai warriors in the street is the norm

It’s the early hours of Good Friday and the Captain of flight BA 47 (momentously, the last direct flight from Heathrow to Dar es Salaam) says “just coming up on the right you’ll see Mount Kilimanjaro.”

A quick slide of the window blind and the spectacular, snow-capped mountain is there beneath us; an awesome start to the day.

Waking up to a bird’s eye view of Mount Kilimanjaro

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Approaching 7am local time (4am on our body clocks) we’re descending over the suburbs of Dar es Salaam – widely spread out houses with blue and green tin roofs interspersed with palm trees; much greener than I’d imagined.

In the first floor hotel reception and lobby (Tanzanite Executive Suites off Morogoro Road), about 9am, I’m browsing tourist information: excursions to Zanzibar, safaris and a GAVI Alliance booklet when the whole building shakes violently for a moment. The receptionist thinks it’s an earthquake. Screaming follows and a huge dark grey cloud fills the sky. Staff rush to slide the large windows closed to block out the burning, dusty acrid smell.

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“Come and sit down,” K says to me, uncomfortably.

There’s a mild state of panic as people arrive at reception with bags packed, not knowing what to do.

Within minutes, a staff member tries to reassure everyone saying, “is ok – building fell down. Is accident, is ok, no problem.”

“Was it a scheduled demolition?” someone asks.

“Is accident, no problem. No problem,” he replies, patting his hands in a downward motion, and laughing.

The hotel fire alarm stops ringing after a few minutes to reveal sirens blaring outside. The black cloud lifts after a few minutes and the sky is blue again.

Waiting for an early check-in – Tanzanite Executive Suites reception

By 9.30am we’ve been allocated our room and can check-in early. Check-in isn’t normally until mid-day but we’re tired from the overnight flight (we talked through most of it, we were so excited) and from skipping forward three hours. We sleep from 10am – 2pm.

Our sixth floor room (#605) has an interesting view over Dar es Salaam’s Kariakoo district, so we experiment with K’s new camera and lenses, zooming in on the many armed military (police/ army) walking the part-muddy streets (it clearly rained while we slept) and locals gathered on rooftops. They’re watching, for hours it seems, transfixed on what’s going on in the road below, just off Morogoro Road and the mosque.

It’s only then that the enormity of the earlier ‘accident’ is apparent.

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Dar from our room – mosque on Morogoro Road to right where rubble’s being cleared

Rubble clearing by emergency services and masses of army / police

Rubble clearing continues through Easter Saturday

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We leave – or rather we try to leave – the hotel some time after 5pm to go for a short walk, to explore, before it gets dark (our Rough Guide advises against wandering the streets after dusk). There’s a police line to the right of the hotel entrance and another to the left. A security officer from our building escorts us through several police cordons (and past our first Maasai man standing on the corner of Mali street in red robes and pieces of tyre strapped together for what look like really sturdy sandals).

Large crowds of people have gathered behind the lines, watching up the street, waiting for news.

I ask our security escort if anyone was in the building that collapsed. I suspect he does understand me but he feigns ignorance and reassurance: “is soldier,” he says, “just soldier.” Smile.

It’s only later, when we see BBC world news in the New Africa Hotel, that we find out that about a dozen people have been pulled out of the rubble of the collapsed building so far. And many more are trapped and even more are missing.

Until this point, K had convinced himself it was a planned demolition, that such an ‘accident’ couldn’t possibly just occur in the middle of a busy city filled with people. We pass the remains of the building, a massive pile of rubble, where several storeys have collapsed. He sees and now believes. It’s devastating.

We pass emergency services vehicles and aid workers and go through police lines at each inter-section of Morogoro Road until our guard leaves us. We continue alone along pot-holed Morogoro Road towards Zanzibar Gate, greeted with jambo from locals sitting at the roadside along the way.

A skinny smiling boy comes up behind us, launching into conversation with “if someone says jambo, say si jambo back… I’m Kit… where are you going?”

He says he’s an art student, sponsored by the British Council. He paints with a spatula not a brush. He’s very grateful to the British. He likes the British very much. He tells us to “…say nzuri – means fine” if someone says Hibari? (meaning how are you?) to us. And to say asante (thankyou).

He’s latched on to us now as we walk past Zanzibar Gate, the busy ferry terminal and along Kivukoni Front and that’s kind of ok – he’s full of useful information and has taught us some Swahili words. He says he’s not going anywhere, he just wants to sell his art and continues ‘to take us’ to the fish market (there’s obviously going to be some charge for this ‘kindness’ at some point).

The sun’s starting to go down and the sky across Kurasini Creek towards the islands is a few shades of pink. We pass water-side cafes where locals are gathered, chilling out at the water’s edge – eating, drinking, talking, smiling, laughing.

There are stands selling street food like corn on the cob cooked on coals and grilled fish, and fish stands selling whole fresh fish and octopus. The vendors all want our attention and it’s Bedlam.

On the opposite side of Kivukoni Road (to our left) we pass the cathedral and Azania Front Lutheran Church (a reminder of the nation’s German past), the New Africa Hotel & Casino, and the Customs House, as we head towards the Kivukoni Daladala Stand. The bus station is mental – a sea of battered old mini-buses (some painted, some with God stickers) and so many people. How you’d figure out which bus to catch I’ve no idea.

Kivukoni Front

Looking back at the dala dala station as we head towards Mzizma Fish Market

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The stench of dead fish from Mzizmi Fish Market beyond blends with smoky aromas of fish being barbequed – it’s an intense circus of smells, noises and activity and sights and it’s no easy task taking it all in; especially not without pausing but then having several sellers of something or nothing immediately in your face desperate for your money.

Looping around the smelly fish market on Ocean Road, there’s another small market opposite where people are cooking fresh fish and vegetables they’ve just bought. Peacocks are screeching from the grounds of State House (the Prime Minister’s house with extensive gardens full of animals) around the corner, on Magogoni Street.

Once the sun starts to go down it gets dark quickly. As it’s my birthday and our first day in Africa (we’re going to adjust our stomachs from our usual diet carefully) we’re planning on going to the New Africa Hotel for dinner, as it’s reputed to have good Indian and Thai restaurants. Oh, ‘usual diet’ means spicy curries for us.

Our plan to go to the New Africa Hotel needs repeating a few times until – parting at the hotel entrance – Kit shows us his art and does the hard sell. His spatula painted art is good, particularly one of Mount Kilimanjaro in blue and white above three red Maasai with spears (representing three types of Maasai warrior apparently) but it’s nothing we want to buy. We wish him well, giving him US $5 (he’d like another five) and head from the humidity of the street into the coolness of this comparatively swank hotel.

We cool down over a Tusker lager in the bar. BBC world news is on, on a large flat-screen TV and the collapsed Dar building is featured – we find out the scale of the accident now and learn that there are many trapped or missing. It’s only fortunate that today was a public holiday and the streets were less busy than usual, as on a regular work day it could have been much worse.

It’s been something of a crazy first day in Sub-Saharan Africa and the eclectic city of Dar.

TIA, as the saying goes. TIA.

We haven’t eaten all day and are looking forward to it. It’s time to go eye up the hotel’s restaurants and prepare for a relaxing evening…

[Read LardButty review of Sawasdee Thai restaurant ]

Useful links / more reading:
~ BA suspends Heathrow to Dar es Salaam route: news story here
~ BBC news article about collapsed building + In pictures – Tanania building collapses
~ Sawasdee at New Africa Hotel: Sawasdee Thai restaurant info
~ LardButty review Sawasdee Thai restaurant – LardButty review
~ My photos of Dar es Salaam: Dar photo-set on flickr

Related reading:
~ Travel feature After dark in Death Valley