If you’re coming to South Africa and you don’t visit the coast you’re a damn fool. The wild animals are mostly inland, this is true, but the coast has a lot to offer. Some like the windblown desolation of the West Coast, some prefer the ruggedness of the Wild Coast. The downright tropical waters of the South Coast are always a big drawcard; here at Howzzzt we have a particular fondness for the Garden Route and its always-perfect weather.
Each of these areas – as well as any even nearly habitable inland city – comes with a selection of fish you’ve never heard of. Sometimes that’s just because we use different names for species you’ll find elsewhere in the world, but we also have a couple of fairly exotic ones that you need to try out. Thus we present: the Howzzzt Guide to the Fishes of South Africa.
If that doesn’t work for you, this is our list of what you absolutely must know, in order of importance.
Kingklip: Sought-after and considered a luxury fish (and priced accordingly), Kingklip is appreciated for its firm texture and rich taste. It’s more common than Snoek on the menus of upmarket restaurants, possibly because there is no polite way to eat Snoek with a knife and fork. Rated orange on the WWF sustainability scale because stocks have been somewhat over-fished. Known as Ling or Pink Ling in the waters of South America and New Zealand.
Sole: Very common on menus and typically prepared very simply so as to not spoil the delicate flavour. This is a bony fish you can actually eat with a knife and fork (you’ll catch on to the method right away) and worth the relatively high price you’ll probably have to pay. These are plentiful and breed like rabbits, but conservationists are worried about the impact on Kabeljou (see below), which is caught by the same trawling method. Similar-looking (and named) fishes are found in many parts of the world; ours are more tasty. Really.
Butterfish: A handful of what fishermen know as oilfishes are sold as Butterfish in South Africa. After preparation they are very soft and flaky, and if the job is done right they can all taste quite pleasant. Another plus is that they are rated highly sustainable, because all these fishes are by-catches. On the negative side is the fact that they can rapidly cause sudden and violent diarrhoea in some people. Don’t risk it. Also don’t confuse it with the very different species that go by the same name across the globe.
Some types of seafood are frowned upon in polite South African society. Even when it is easier to catch than game fishes.
Kabeljou: AKA Silver Kob, Dusky Kob, or just Cob on occasion. These turn out to be three closely related species, all of which are delicious enough to be specifically targeted by recreational fishermen. Somewhat tricky to prepare, so look for a specialist seafood chef or other trustworthy cook. Rated orange because of depleted stocks but not considered in danger of extinction.
Galjoen: Sports fishermen love this beast, spear-fishers especially, because of its speed, strength and perceived wiliness. Doesn’t taste bad either. But be aware that it is only allowed to be caught recreationally, and not at all during the summer months. If it is offered in a restaurant it’s almost certainly illegal.
Dorado: Sometimes also called Dolphinfish (though rarely on menus, presumably because it wouldn’t sell well if it were). Another game fish that requires pretty hard work to land. This one, though, is legal – and worth the price if you find it.