Samaki wa Pwani (Kenya’s Coastal Ocean Fish)

Evidently, the ocean provides so many kinds of fish that the coastal people of Kenya enjoy. Ocean fish are famously referred to as “samaki wa maji ya chumvi”.

Most of the times when you walk around the coastal environs, you are likely to spot women adorned in colourful  kanga’s or lesos, frying fish and displaying them for sale to pedestrians and passersby.

So, fish is one variety of protein which is commonly consumed and is much loved by many at the coast.

Apart from hand-cart fish vendors, there are also butchers and fish markets located around Mombasa town, where you can get all sorts of fish. 

The most renowned kind of fish that is connected to the ‘coastal ’culture is “papa” (shark). Papa is usually dried up and salted for a few days, to preserve it well. Preserving it does away with the need for deep freezing. For this reason, it is a common delicacy among rural coastal communities. It is also cheap and is sold for Ksh.10 – 15 per piece.

Consequently, papa has a very strong, pungent smell that may repel or put off first time buyers, but a coastal housewife, with years of experience, is able to conceal the strong smell of papa! Papa can be cooked using coconut milk and various spices thus transforming it into a mouth-watering dish!

‘Taffi‘ (rabbit fish in English) is another common fish at the coast, though somewhat expensive compared to papa, because of its scarcity. Fishermen sell it at a high rate to fish vendors because it cannot be found easily in the ocean. 

The price however, does not deter coastal communities from enjoying taffi. Taffi is a small fish that has only one bone at the centre. It is not so fleshy, but its meat is soft, juicy and tasty, and it sells for about Ksh.450 a kilo.

There are so many ways you can prepare it, either cook it in coconut milk, fry or boil, but coastals prefer marinating it in a mixture of ginger, garlic, paprika and lemon juice, them later on fry or boil. It is a delicious sauce to complement a dish of coconut rice.

The red snapper (changu nyekundu) is also one of the desirable species of fish that is not only loved at the coast but the whole of Kenya!

Red snapper has a steady texture and a sweet nutty flavor that makes it mix well with everything from hot chillies to refined herbs. It is also moist and delicate with a mild, slightly sweet taste that combines well with all kinds of additional flavors. It is a nifty fish and can be cooked in a variety of ways.

When purchasing  red snapper, make sure it has clear red eyes and bright skin that fades towards the belly.

Red snapper can be boiled, grilled, pan-fried, steamed, baked or deep fried. In fillet form, it is good when pan-fried.

Jodari (tuna fish) is full of flesh (meaty) and appears shiny silver in colour. It is one fish that can grow quite large and is a favourite of muslims during the Islamic iftar season as it is transformed into the sumptuous mouth-watering “samaki wa kupaka”! It sells for about Ksh.650 per kilogram depending on the fish market.

“Samaki wa kupaka” is the cooked dish and is often served during events catering for numerous people. It is marinated in red chili, garlic, lemon and black pepper then grilled and dipped into a hot sauce mixture of coconut milk, tamarind, capsicum, tomatoes, onions, garlic and hot chillies.

This combination gives the tuna a sublime twist and taste!

If you are ever at the coast do look out for these fish and have a blast! They taste divine…all of them!