It has been awhile since I last had Kapenta. In fact, nearly five years ago to be precise. I had finished work commitments in Lusaka and stayed a few days longer to get a feel for the place. I really like Lusaka and had a ball eating and drinking with newly acquired friends. Food across most of Southern Africa is fairly similar and to be honest could be rather bland.
Maize porridge is the stable just about everywhere and other than the name it goes by (pap, sadza, nsima etc.) it is cooked much the same way everywhere. However, the sauces that are made to go with the pap can be quite different depending very much on the local ingredients that are available and off-course peoples budgets.
During good times, meat or poultry would be added to the sauce, other times vegetables would be dominant. Nearly always tomatoes and onions would be used. Ground nuts too, are popular. But in Lusaka, people told me Kapenta is king.
Kapenta is the name given to the Tanganyika sardine in Southern Africa. Elsewhere it is called Daaga or Ndgaa. Consisting of two species, Limnothrissa miodon and Stolothrissa tanganicae, the Tanganyika sardine is a small planktivorous, pelagic, freshwater clupeid originating from Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. It is thus related to the herring, sardine and shad.
Some years ago it was introduced into Lake Kariba and Cahora Bassa and soon became a major source of protein for the lake side populations of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Kapenta is usually caught at night using a fine dip net and a light to attract the fish. Thereafter it is salted and dried in the sun for a day after which it is sold and transported further inland.
For a little fish, it packs a mean protein punch, especially when dried. Dried Kapenta have nearly three times as much calories as fresh Kapenta, and nearly four times more protein. It also has a higher iron content. One or two cups of dried Kapenta could thus easily serve the daily protein requirements of a small family.
The Kapenta dish I had all those years ago consisted of a tomato-based to which onions were and Kapenta was added. It was served with a big communal bowl of “pap”. Each eater would take a small amount of “pap”, dip it in the Kapenta sauce and eat it. It is custom to use your hands, no utensils are allowed. Each individual eater has his or her own way of preparing the “pap” for the dunking. Some would roll it into a small ball, other would kneed it between the fingers into a stiff, elongated column.
In my opinion the traditional Kapenta sauce could do with a facelift. Take one small onion and 400 grams of fresh tomatoes. Skin the tomatoes by scoring their ends and putting them in boiling water for a few minutes. Strip off the skins. Cut them into small chuncks. Finely mince two cloves of garlic. Fry the onions, garlic and tomato in some good quality olive oil until the tomatoes have broken down. Add about half a cup of good fish stock and let the sauce cook down. In the meantime, take two cups of dried Kapenta and give them a quick wash under cold fresh water. When the tomato sauce starts to thicken, add the Kapenta. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add a handful of finely chopped fresh, flat leave parsley and one chopped dried red chili. Season with black pepper and salt if needed.
Serve with a few cold beers and a large bowl of “pap”. Invite some friends and get your hands dirty.
By the way, I found a shop in town that caters for poor Namibians and rich Angolans, and they sell Kapenta. And they just got fresh stock.