In Gisenyi, I spent many wonderful hours watching, and listening to, fisherman that would row their boats out onto the lake at dusk. The boats would go out in threes and the fisherman would sing in tune to keep their rhythm. It was a wonderful sight and a wonderful sound. They would catch tiny fish commonly called sambaza. The fish are fried. Sometimes they are not very appealing, but done well, they are something quite delicious.
Gisenyi is the Rwandan bordertown to the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the northern shores of Lake Kivu. At night, you can see the red glow from Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano across the border. One day, we stopped at a place on the lake and ordered a plate of sambaza for lunch. Heavens, they were wonderful. We were served a plate of perk, crisp fried little fish that had a slightly nutty flavour to their coating, and just the right amount of spice (provided by the popular pili pili, Africa’s own chillies). They were served with a cheek of lime. It was a great accompaniment to beer.
Sambaza are Limnothrissa miodon and were introduced to Lake Kivu from Lake Tanganyika, the lake to the south of Kivu. They are a type of sardine that live in fresh water lakes and can be found in Burundi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Although sambaza are a fresh water fish, they are very similar to Australia’s common whitebait. So I have attempted my version of Gisenyi style sambaza with some fresh whitebait that I picked up at the Sydney Fish Market on the weekend, sprinkled with a little black lava sea salt as a tribute to the volcanic geography of the region. I was very happy with the result. Perhaps you should try it next time you have whitebait.
Serves 4-6 as a beer snack or starter
|2||cups||oil for deep frying|
|1/2||teaspoon||black lava sea salt|
Combine the flour and chilli powder in a plastic bag and shake to mix. Rinse the whitebait under cold running water. I used my fingertips to remove the guts and any loose crunchy bits. If you want, you can remove the heads at this point too. Shake the fish dry a little and drop into the bag of chilli flour. Meanwhile, heat your oil in small saucepan till it reaches 180oC. Shake the bag to coat the fish and fry them in batches. Drain on paper towel and serve on several plates, with a lime cheek, sprinkled with salt.