My little village is known for being a fishing village. Apparently back when the Harembo was being vetted to see if it was appropriate for Peace Corps volunteer placement, one of the questions that came up was would the volunteer know how to fish. I know how to fish with a rod and reel, but the other day Harembo decided I needed an education in how to fish, Comorian style.
Fish are important to the local economy here, and to many people’s dinner table. With unreliable electricity and no way to store meat, fish is often the only source of protein readily available. I showed up at a friend’s house for dinner the other night to find them cooking an absurd amount of chicken wings. The electricity had been out for too long and there was little hope of it coming back that day so the only option was to cook all the chicken and eat as much of it as possible before it went bad.
With fish there aren’t such worries. You catch it fresh every day and eat it right away. No refrigerator necessary. Most of the time the villagers will simply buy fish from the fishermen who go out everyday to catch and sell. Not uncommon to see a man walking through the village with a scale and a string of fish selling them off by the kilo.
But once in a while schools of little fish come in past the reef, and this brings Comorian’s down to the water in droves, armed with mosquito nets, rocks, and long sticks. Everyone from little children to elderly men make their way down the cliff to the seaside to help wrangle little blue fish. These fishing marathons are very social.
In order to catch enough to feed a single Comorian family, one needs to catch these bite-sized fish by the hundreds. Thousands, if you know what you are doing. The fish are tiny, and Comorian families know how to put away a lot of food.
To catch the fish, you wait until the tide is going out. Hundreds of thousands of little blue striped fish flock to the low water and dart around the reef, feeding on whatever they can find. You need a team of people for the operation to work. Two people stand on either side of a large mosquito net holding it up of either side. The lip of the net and the tail end are weighted down with rocks, creating a wide opening for the fish to swim into.
Five or six people walk in a wide circle, using long sticks to herd the fish toward the net. You pace back and forth making the circle tighter and tighter until you are standing shoulder to shoulder around the mouth of the net. Then everyone throws their sticks aside and puts their hands in the water, ushering the fish into the net while making a “Sssshhhhhh” sound. I don’t think the shushing actually helps, but you still must do it every time.
There is etiquette to this sport. First, you NEVER walk through the middle of the fish field, especially someone else’s fish field. The circle where are the fish are being ushered is sacred, to walk through it is to scare the fish in the wrong direction. Second, you don’t pick out the pretty yellow butterfly fish and toss them back, as I learned the hard way. According to Comorians they are in fact NOT too beautiful to eat. You do however, pick out the baby blow fish and throw them back.
Once the morning is over, the tide has receded all the way out, and you have 50 or 60 kilos of fish, you climb back up the cliff and find someone to cook them up.
Slice out the front part of the stomach. Place fish in a bucket of water to deter flies.
Fill frying pan with oil, about an inch or two deep. Place over wood or gas fire and heat.
Drain fish and coat with salt. Other spices optional.
Throw fish in very hot oil. Fry until the underside is browned and crispy. Flip and repeat. Remove from oil and eat whole.
Best served with rice or bread fruit.