When we visited Mombasa, Kenya this past summer, one of the excursions we went on was a dinner cruise on a traditional Arab boat known as a dhow. It was one magical evening cruise.
First, let me tell you a little bit about a dhow. A dhow also called a dow, are ancient two-masted sailing boats that were used by Arab merchants for cargo trading along the Kenyan coast and the Middle East regions. The dhow is known for two distinctive features, it’s triangular sail, and secondly for it’s stitched construction. When constructing dhows the wooden planks are arranged and then sewn together with fibers and cords, while the masts for sails are made of teak and coconut wood. Most dhows have two pairs of sails – one for night and rough weather conditions, and another for use during daytime.
Though dhows are known as Arab trading boats, they might as well be called Indian boats. This is because most of the wood for their construction came from the forests of India. The Yemeni Hadhrami people as well as Omanis for centuries would go to Beypore in Kerala in Southern India for their dhows. Here they could get good quality timber from the forests of Kerala, quality coir rope, and skilled carpenters who specialized in shipbuilding.
Dhow ships are used even today to make commercial journeys between the Persian Gulf and East Africa using sails as their only means of propulsion. Their cargo is mostly dates and fish to East Africa, and they head back to the Persian Gulf with mangrove timber. Dhows often sail south in winter and early spring with the Monsoon season, and sail again to the Persian Gulf in late spring and early summer.
The Tamarind Hotel and Restaurant in Mombasa has two dhows, the Nawalilkher and Babulkher that were used for cargo trading along the Kenyan Coast. These dhows are now docked at the Mombasa Tamarind jetty and have been completely refurbished as floating restaurants while keeping all the characteristics of the original dhow intact. Guests can sail on these dhows on a sunset dinner cruise every evening. Our whole family along with my brother-in-law Amar, his wife Deepa and daughter Riya, all went on this sunset dinner cruise and what an enchanting evening we had.
We made reservations for this dinner cruise as a weekday excusion. On a Wednesday evening in early August, we arrived at the Tamarind hotel a little before 6pm for our 6:30pm cruise. From the lobby of the Tamarind restaurant we looked out at a gorgeous view of the island of Mombasa and relaxed with a drink before setting sail.
At 6:30pm right around sunset we boarded the dhow for our sunset dinner cruise. The walkway that lead to the dhow with it’s worn out rustic planks set the scene for the ancient dhow that we were going to sail on.
The stage was set for an exotic and whimsical dinner cruise. Arabic style lanterns dangled from poles overheard, tables were set with wine glasses, and candles shimmering in the evening light, all welcomed us to what turned out to be a very romantic evening.
Each table was assigned their own waiter and once we were at our table our drink orders were taken. The house favorite is the Dawa cocktail. Available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, this is a refreshing drink that was perfect on a balmy evening. I will post the recipe for the Dawa cocktail. Cassava chips in local baskets kept us munching and satisfied as we sipped our cocktails, while we waited for all the guests to settle in.
Once all the guests are on board we set sail for our three-hour dinner cruise. The setting couldn’t be any more picturesque or any more beautiful. With the city lights of the island of Mombasa twinkling in the background, and the hazy glow of the end of sunset, it was an enchanting scene. There was very little wind and the air was cool and sultry.
We were entertained on board to festive and live jazz music. The band was outstanding and set the mood for a relaxing and cheerful time on the dhow.
This dinner cruise was a special evening for many guests. We had a honeymooning couple celebrating their nuptials this evening, a birthday celebration, and a couple with their young daughter celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. It was obvious that this was a special occasion dinner cruise for many, and the Tamarind dhow did not disappoint.
Dinner was cooked on the dhow right in front of us. Tomato soup was bubbling in two large pots, while seafood and chicken were cooking over a barbeque grill. Swahili seafood stew and vegetarian stew with coconut milk and tomato sauce were all simmering on a gas stove.
Once dinner was ready we anchored while our waiters readied our dinner. Tomato soup, salad, and the main course were all plated and served. For those guests having seafood, the seafood stew arrived beautifully presented on huge oyster shells and looked positively delectable.
After a relaxing and scrumptious dinner we were ready for dessert. We were given a choice of chocolate cake or fresh tropical fruit. After our dessert course we had one more course on the menu, a traditional local favorite sweet called Malindi halva. Malindi halva is a very sweet gelatinous sweet that is made in the small seaside village of Malindi an hour away from Mombasa. This was served with Arabic style coffee. By the time we finished our coffee we realized that it was time to head back to shore 😞. None of us were ready to go back! The three hours on this cruise went by too fast.
The slow sailing of the dhow lulled us all into such a happy and serene sleepy mood, that we were all bummed to be heading back to reality 😞.
This was one magical sunset dinner cruise. With local flavors, local staff, on a traditional Arab dhow; it was a great way to appreciate the laid back and friendly atmosphere of this charming coastal city of Mombasa, Kenya.
For more information on the sunset dinner cruise on the Tamarind Dhow take a look at their web site Tamarind Dhow. To get a great historical narration of a dhow, take a look at this site Marine Engineering.