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Many species of Tilapia are native to the lakes and rivers of Africa, where it is often called Ngege. Outside of Africa, Tilapia is called St. Peterís Fish. Tilapia is best known for being easy to raise and harvest in man-made ponds. (They reproduce and grow quickly, are disease-resistant, and omnivorous.) Tilapia aquaculture has become common all over the world in the last few decades, but was first practiced in Egypt and Israel in ancient times. In Africa, both farm-raised and wild tilapia are commonly eaten. Tilapia could be substituted in most of the fish recipes in The Congo Cookbook. Tilapia grilling over a charcoal fire is a common sight in African kitchens and on African streets. For this recipe, use a charcoal grill if possible, if not, resort to the oven broiler.
What you need
What you do
Joseph H. Reading's The Ogowe Band: A Narrative of African Travel (Reading & Company, Publishers, Philadelphia, 1019 Cherry Street, 1890) is a travel diary which describes a tour of the towns, trading posts, and Christian missions on the Atlantic coast of Africa. The title The Ogowe Band refers to a group of Americans on a tour of Africa with the author, who was "Secretary and Treasurer of the Gabon and Corisco Mission, and Acting Commercial Agent for the U.S. of America." This excerpt describes a simple way to roast fish:
The next morning there were fresh fish for breakfast and they were good too; Ntyndorema [the Gabonese cook employed by the mission] cooked them by running a green stick lengthwise through them and then toasting them over the coals; if they fall in the ashes a few times before they are done, as they are quite likely to do, it makes no difference, the ashes are easily brushed off with the hand and the fish taste better when they have the flavor of the wood through them.
Laurens van der Post, in First Catch Your Eland: A taste of Africa, describes this experience with traditional African fish cookery.
West African fish . . . tend to be fleshier and more substantial than those caught in European waters. They therefore lend themselves more readily to grilling or roasting in the open. I have many pleasant recollections of sitting by a fire in the soft West African night, watching my hostess roast a fifteen pound fish on charcoal, my appetite increasing as the smell of the wood smoke, fish and the palm oil used for basting grew denser.
All households had their own way of preparing the oil used in the barbecues. It was usually spiced with crushed herbs, pimentos, onions and garlic, but combinations and additions varied from one home to another. The fish usually had deep incisions which looked like the local tribal pattern in the glow of the fire. From time to time the spiced oil was ladled over the fish while a metal scoop with a long handle was held underneath the grill so that most of the juices released by the basting could be gathered and set aside for making a fine hot natural sauce to serve with the rice or yam purée which went with the fish.
Perhaps the greatest natural experts in cooking fish in this manner were the tribes who inhabit the upper reaches of the Congo River whose main diet it is. The physical stature of both men and women and their vigor and intelligence is in itself, a testimony to such a diet. The skill with which they build their traps, the courage they display in fishing in the most dangerous rapids, where, as all good African fishermen know, the biggest and most succulent of fish gather, is most impressive. I have been with them when they have caught tiger fish and perch than must have weighed anything between fifteen and thirty pounds and eaten them fresh, grilled then and there. Away from the their villages, they cooked their catch on improvised spits made out of green lathes cut from the trees in the surrounding jungle. They latticed them into a grille which they suspended over the charcoal, the ends resting in the forks of upright sticks pressed firmly into the ground at the sides of the fire. The lathes were sappy and green enough not to burn but would emit a smoky vapour that added flavour to the fish.
(At Home in West Africa)
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