Tiny fried fish snack on Lake Kariba cruise, Zimbabwe (2012-04)

How much is the fish? (Food and drink in Africa, pt. 3)


I remember the first meal I cooked for the truck group. For some reason, we had decided to have fish. So I went to the market in Rabat, Morocco, speaking neither Arabic nor French, having never cooked for a large group or over an open fire. At home, my only experience with cooking fish was baking fish sticks or frying salmon. The choice at the market was overwhelming. But all the fish looked fresh. There was no smell. After half an hour of going up and down the aisles I settled for the one fish that was within my 10-USD-for-dinner-and-breakfast-for-the-whole-group budget. Fried in a pan with a bit of salt it was delicious but turned out to be too full of bones for eating it in the almost dark.

One of the easiest ways to get fresh fish in Africa, however, is to stop by a river, a lake or ocean. You don’t even have to catch it yourself. When we took the boat down the Niger to Timbuktu fishers just approached the boat, we haggled a little for the price, and – voilà! – lunch or dinner.

Or you go to the market.

Like most coastal towns, Elmina in Ghana has a big fish market. Surprising to me: there is a lady at the entrance selling tickets (for 5 cents apiece). Once inside you will find fish of all sizes. Unfortunately more and more frozen fish is sold here: big Asian trawlers empty the rich fishing grounds off the West African coast; the fish they can’t sell to their customers at home they’ll freeze into large blocks and sell to local fisher mongers.

When you get to Cape Agulhas, the Southernmost tip of Africa, make sure to stop by the fish store and have some delicious fish and chips.

In Zimbabwe, you snack on small fried fish like they were crisps. If you’re fancy, you dip them into mayonnaise.

Of course, there has to be brilliant sea food on Zanzibar. If you check your Stone Town guidebook, it will most likely tell you to head to the night market in Forodhani Gardens. Without a doubt a treat. But spare yourself the tourists and get a truly local experience by visiting the night market on the other side of (Stone) town. It’s crowded, at times chaotic but the sea food is even better (and cheaper). Buy a whole fried squid feeding two, some chapati and miwa juci (sugar cane juice) for far less than ten bucks.

At the Kabusu roundabout in Kampala, Uganda, there is a little market. Every night, three guys set up a brilliant food stand: they get two or three fresh Lake Victoria perches and sell them by the kilo.  A kilo is about 5 USD and easily feeds two to three people. If you want to spare yourself the cooking: just have it fried right there. While waiting, walk around the market and get yourself some tomato-avocado salad and chapati. Or take your fried fish and go to the next restaurant/bar. Buy some steamed rice from one of the ladies, a beer from the shop next door. And enjoy!

Next time, we go veg and talk about snacks.

Do you have anything to add? Thoughts? Opinions? Let me know!

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