A stretch of shimmering light reflecting off countless fresh water fish ponds now fills our distant view in place of untended lifeless land. For me, who since arriving in Livingstone, has been in search of fresh fish to cook and eat, it was a welcome silencing of some serious foodie lamentations. I’d been shocked to find out that the 70-kilometer stretch of the Zambezi River between Victoria Falls and Kazengula had been more or less fished out a long time ago; and it irked me to purchase fish, in our local grocery store, from Brazil or even worse China. It wasn’t fresh and it wasn’t tasty. I gave up in the end.
That all changed when Doug Reynolds and Danny Walker bought the neighboring farm to ours, and built a state-of-the-art fish farm in less than two years. While Chris and I have marveled at the speedy progress next door, I’ve been badgering poor Doug — a former professional safari guide — to sell me fish as soon as they were ready to harvest. Doug promised he would and kept to his word when, a couple of months ago, we were invited to the ponds to watch the very first netting of fish for me to take away and sample.
There’s something so Old Testament about fish. By chance, I read on Wikipedia that tilapia were one of the three main types of fish caught in biblical times from the Sea of Galilee. Then it turns out that the aquaculture of Nile tilapia goes back to Ancient Egypt, where it even had its own specific hieroglyph. The fish, it said, was “a symbol of rebirth in Egyptian art.” Tilapia happens to be a symbol of rebirth here in the Zambezi Valley, too: where once there was unkempt fallow land, now there are fresh water ponds teeming with millions of healthy fish.
Tonnes of tilapia are being produced to primarily feed Zambians, but a tiny percentage has been promised to the likes of me, who appreciate pond-to-plate fish. And it is exactly that: out of the pond, into the freezer, and on to the plate. It couldn’t be more fresh, or tasty.
Tilapia, or bream as we call it, is a delicate soft white fish, which I have loved eating since I was a young girl handed a fishing rod and reel, and a box of worms, on family trips to Lake Kariba. In my opinion, there is little that surpasses a freshly-caught bream fillet, flash-fried in butter and served with a wedge of lemon. It’s something I intend to serve at The Elephant Café when the fish in Doug’s ponds have grown large enough. For now, however, I’m using them in a Thai-inspired ceviche. I marinade the tilapia in fresh lime juice, lemongrass, ginger, chili and shallots. To date, it’s been one of our most popular dishes.