Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Chobe bream swim down south

Years ago, the entire fish menu was all foreign but lately Chobe bream has been fighting tooth and fin to claim its place alongside its kith and kin from South Africa, Namibia and Australia. It has claimed and continues to claim some important victories.

Last Thursday, when O’hagan’s Pub and Grill in Game City mall launched its new wine menu, Chobe bream was given pride of place alongside the wines being launched. An Irish-themed gastropub franchise, O’hagan’s was founded in the 1990s by Basil O’Hagan, an Irishman who lives in South Africa.

Leonard Kambasha, the general manager, says that they chose Chobe bream because it is a local product that has not had to undergo shipping over long distances and has not had to be refrigerated over a long period of time as happens with fish from overseas.

“We are also trying to popularise it,” he says.

In a sense at once figurative and literal, Chobe bream has also come very far. Literally, it has travelled hundreds of kilometres from the northern part of Botswana. Figuratively, it has taken a long time for it to feature on the menu – O’hagan’s and everywhere else.

It has been a long time coming but it is finally in many home and restaurant kitchens and the methods of cooking it vary. Up in Shakawe, where most of the bream in Gaborone restaurants comes from, the generally preferred cooking method – at least according to Ndunda Ushuka – is a quite basic one. The fish is boiled in water to produce the broth that lubricates the hard porridge that normally goes with the bream.

“Out in the bush, the fish is roasted over hot coals of an open-air fire in the same way that you do with beef,” says Ushuka, who works as a guide for one of Shakawe’s premier tour operators.

The O’hagan’s method is to make a few cuts in the sides of the fish with a knife to aid the assimilation of condiments and as the fish cooks, it is drizzled with lemon juice. When done, it is served hot with fresh chips on a bed of lettuce with lemon butter sauce. In other kitchens, it would be stuffed with vegetables.

At a time that people are becoming more and more health-conscious, Chobe Bream is – literally – what the doctor ordered. Kambasha himself makes the point that their choice of Chobe bream is partly meant to promote healthy eating.

The nutritional science is that with the omega-3 acid it contains, fish is vital for one’s coronary health. One Canadian study suggests that eating 0.5 to 1 gram of fish oil daily reduces the heart disease in middle-aged men by 40 percent. Fish also boosts the immune system; its minerals, namely phosphorus, sulphur and vanadium, encourage growth and enables tissues to recover; it assists in the formation of healthy teeth and gums; improves complexion; makes hair look healthier; and, provides protection against bacterial infection. Killing and eating another living organism to stay alive must be the ultimate cruel irony and the most gruesome method of self-preservation. However, that comes standard with a carnivorous lifestyle.

McJon Mosenene, a chef with special inclination to traditional African cooking, contends that Chobe bream is becoming popular largely because of “vigorous marketing” by sellers in the northern part of the country. As regards whether bream cooking skill has been developed to the right level, his sense is that there is still a lot of work to be done. Citing a personal experience, he says that he often gets calls from friends who just recently received large orders of bream from up north but don’t know how to cook it and request his assistance.

“Others rely on people from Ngamiland to cook it for them,” he says.

In the long run, there may be need to export Chobe bream because that is what countries do with their popular products. Mosenene’s suggestion is that a local chef’s association would be immensely helpful in that regard. According to him, the latter association could participate in annual congresses of the World Association of Cooks Societies (the FIFA of the cooking world) where it would impart varied knowledge about traditional foods like seswaa, mokoto and Chobe bream.

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