Growing up in South Africa means being exposed to a few unique delights; pickled fish being just one of them. You might have grown up with it or experienced it a few times – either way, pickled fish is a part of South African life. Pickled fish, or ‘ingelegde vis’ in Afrikaans, has a more interesting background and history than one would think. And while the delicacy is known as a traditional South African dish, it actually heralds from further afar. So, what exactly is the history of this unusual dish?
Well, pickled fish in South Africa is originally a concept that was brought over to our shores by slaves transported from the Dutch territories in the East Indies. Not many people know this. The pickled technique was a traditional preservation pickling method used for fish in those areas and it soon became a firm favourite in South Africa. Fishermen and slaves would pickle fish to preserve their catch, making sure that nothing went to unnecessary waste.
Pickled Fish Tradition in South Africa & How it Ties in with History
In South Africa, and more specifically in Cape Town, eating pickled fish is a much-loved Easter tradition. It is typically eaten on Good Friday with hot cross buns. Munching pickled fish on Good Friday is a custom that dates back many centuries in the cape. It is a tradition that has been passed on from one generation to the next and for many who live in the country or have roots here, it is a piece of who they are. It is their heritage. It is not all about Easter though. Many South Africans have enjoyed a cold side serving of pickled fish when having a cold lunch of salads – it is a versatile dish…and any occasion is perfect for it.
That being said, why is pickled fish traditionally a Good Friday treat in South Africa? It is believed that Jesus died on Good Friday at 3pm. Around about the time of his death, Christians in the Cape (the ones who follow a traditional path) sit down to a feast of pickled fish and hot cross buns. It was a meal of the poor and soon became a standard tradition for all.
Many people across South Africa have learned to make their own pickled fish. Perhaps they found a great recipe in a cookbook or they use old grandma’s recipe that has been passed through the generations. Of course, buying tinned pickled fish in the stores is easy work, but where is the fun in that?!
If you have never tried your hand at making pickled fish before, now is your chance to learn.
South African Pickled Fish Recipe
Below is a quick and easy recipe for making traditional South African pickled fish that will wow your taste buds. Make it for yourself, make it for your family, or make it for all the new friends you have met along the way in your new home country!
- Time to make: 30 minutes
- Number of people to serve: 8
What you will need to make pickled fish:
- 1kg Yellowtail (already cleaned and filleted) – you can also use hake or snoek.
- 2 large sliced onions
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 cup of vinegar (grape)
- ½ cup of water
- ½ cup of sugar
- 10ml ginger paste
- Coarse salt
- Oil (for frying)
- 20ml of mustard seeds
- 4 cloves
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon of masala
- 1 teaspoon of turmeric
- 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 allspice berries
How to make pickled fish:
Now all you need to do is get to work on pickling your fish! Follow the simple instructions below.
- Sprinkle coarse salt on both sides of your fish fillets and let them stand in a container/bowl for around 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, rinse the fish off and dry gently with a paper towel.
- Leaving the skin in place, cut the fish into portions and then pan fry in a little oil, making sure that the fish is cooked through.
- Sauté the sliced onions in a pan and add the mustard seeds, garlic and ginger paste. This should take around 5 minutes or so.
- Add to a pot all of the rest of the ingredients and simmer gently for around 7 minutes. You want the onions to be well cooked but still have a bit of a crisp texture when bitten.
- Using a glass serving dish, layer the pieces of fish, covering each layer with sauce and onion slices. The last layer must be well covered in sauce – do not skimp on this layer.
- Allow the dish to cool and then refrigerate it.
- Serve with hot cross buns or as a side dish at a braai or cold lunch.
This will last in your fridge for weeks and outside your fridge in a cool spot for around 1 week.
Making pickled fish is far easier than you thought, isn’t it?!
Enjoy Your Pickled Fish & Hot Cross Buns this Easter
As a South African expat, you are probably not exposed to pickled fish anymore, but that does not mean that you do not get to enjoy it anymore. No matter where you are in the world, there is no reason for you to forget your roots and miss out on the treats you have always known and loved. Enjoy a taste of home by serving pickled fish and hot cross bun this Easter.
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