Teach a man to fish
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
The tropical Atlantic between latitudes 14 and 18 degrees North provides the larder for a typical Cabo Verdean diet. Coastal waters teem with schools of ‘bica’, ‘sargo’, ‘dorada’, ‘garoupa’ and a host of other unpronounceable breams and bass which would attract a princely sum on any western menu. A healthy lobster population thrives across the shallow reefs, while numerous species of eel take shelter in underwater caves - morena (moray) is particularly delicious when deep fried and served with an ice cold cerveja. The curious goose barnacle or ‘percebes’ clings precariously to rocky outcrops desperate to escape battering Atlantic rollers and the clutches of nimble fishermen who scale cliffs at low tide in a breath-taking bid for the prized delicacy. Just a few yards offshore the depths plunge dramatically to several thousands of metres.
The Cape Verde Basin has an average depth of more than 23,600 feet (7,200 m)
Here, the warm southern flowing Canary Current collides with the cooler saltier waters being ejected by the Sierra Leone Basin creating acute temperature changes which attract bigger game fish, shark and whales feasting on the bounty provided by the up currents - and the top predator - the Cabo Verdean Pescador.
Each morning as the sun rises the domestic boat fleet head out from Sal Rei’s tiny harbour in search of their prey. Colourful hand crafted wooden boats often bearing family names and emblems are open to the elements and powered by small outboard motors and a 25-litre tank of gasoline. The Pescador is an intrepid species heading miles offshore with no phone coverage, radio or survival equipment - oftentimes with nothing more than a bag of ‘bolacha’ and some long-life milk. Returning several hours later having hand-lined yellow fin tuna, wahoo or dorada in a feat of daily endurance which would impress the scouts of any elite sporting team.
Some of our happiest moments are spent whiling hours away on the town’s jetty. Dangling legs over the edge as the boys fish for polombeta, ducking locals using the pier as a Olympic diving platform, 'turtle-watching' for the occasional loggerhead and helping the pescadors land their catch.
The routine is rhythmic, almost mesmerizing as the boats edge their way to the pier. Buckets of gleaming fish are carted off, balanced on heads of women who clean them with an expertise and ferocity that is not to be messed with. Shouts of ‘peixe, peixe’ ring out as wheelbarrows full of catch weave their way through cobbled streets stopping at open doorways and negotiating the best price - usually somewhere between 200 (£1.60) and 350 escudos per kilo. Deliveroo as it should be - fresh, healthy and value for money.
In 2018, Cabo Verde landed over 26,500 tonnes of fish - more than 75% of which was tuna
With tourism at a standstill, hotels and restaurants closed, demand has plummeted. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen yellow fin carcasses bigger than Zeb and Oz which would fetch many thousands of pounds in Japan, languishing in a deserted fish market, the only attention coming from swarms of flies and the odd hopeful cat. A very real and sad reflection of the impact a virus born many thousands of miles away from these remote islands has had.
The ability to stock our larder daily with such fresh treats by walking just a few yards from our home is a true gift. Witnessing the boys fascination with where food originates from and sharing in their delight of being involved in every part of the process is joyous. Almost as satisfying as serving up a kilo (£2) of the finest tuna sashimi with a drizzle of fresh lime, soy, and a squeeze of wasabi all the way from Brockley Co-op. Life couldn’t taste better.