The African continent is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, as well as the Red Sea and the Mediterreanean Sea. That is an impressive variety of different marine ecosystems and near shore environments, and the near miraculous biodiversity of the waters finds its way to our kitchens and plates, rewarding us for living in these lands.
African fish is a beloved part of our diet. It’s almost impossible to imagine many national cuisines without it. Just one ingredient, smoked fish, finds its way into almost every food tradition sooner or later, even if it just shows up once as a poor relation. Richer people often prefer fresh fish, chicken or meat, but smoked fish is the humble domain of everyman, and delicious at that.
The diversity of African fish species that can be caught off the coasts is too numerous to name here. Many African cooks, over generations, have been inspired to make dishes from ocean fish that have become famous traditions, like Senegal’s thiebu djen. It is not only ocean fish that make it to African plates. Around the Great Lakes, dried fish are a major export and a key source of protein in local dishes.
Like fish, African seafood is bountiful. Fresh oysters of many varieties grow around the continent in salty tide pools, and there are also calamari, shrimp, lobster and crabs. Seafood is harvested, dried, powdered to flavor stews and sauces with a complex umami flavor that store-bought stock cubes can never take the place of.
We are at a crucial time for our oceans at this moment. Please eat fish and seafood responsibly, as many ocean species are under threat and close to collapse. We need to protect our oceans as a source of great common wealth and heritage.