… In the Belly of the Great Fish (Farm)

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.

ZFF - Doug & Danny
Doug Reynolds and Danny Walker, the partners who have built our neighboring fish farm.

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.

Our visit to the fish ponds coincided with a spectacular midwinter late afternoon.
I was lucky enough to be in receipt of some of the first fish netted from the ponds.
It took Anthony a few attempts in different ponds to net our catch.

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.

Our first haul of Nile tilapia.
The tilapia are transferred live from the pond to a bucket straight to a freezer. Not only in this way do the fish remain super-fresh, it is also humane.
The tilapia are caught live and move from pond to bucket to freezer. Not only do they remain super-fresh, it’s also a humane way of harvesting.

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.

ZFF - Tilapia ceviche at TEC
The Elephant Cafe’s very popular ceviche, made from Doug and Danny’s tilapia.   Photo credit: Margie Murgatroyd.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • How exciting! I look forward to one day soon sampling the ceviche and other fishy delights 🙂 xx

    • And I look forward to feeding you fishy delights, dear Bridgey! xo

      • mit gutes helfe kommenden Jahres es ist möglich,, ich sah das und bekam ich heim weh nach Kairo ,,,vielen dank

  • That’s v good news dear girl … Can’t wait to sample it all … River life just gets better and better … Xx

    • Isn’t it, Barbara? River life is indeed getting better all the time, and we’re looking forward to your return soon! xo

  • Mouth watering stuff, Annabel. One day I shall visit….

    • Thanks so much, Mike … and we’re looking forward to that visit one day!

  • Gosh that all looks brilliant. Is the Elephant Cafe open now. Some of our family threaten to come!

    • Hi Jen and Al! So lovely to hear from you, especially with the exciting news that some of our family are threatening to visit. At last! Thank you for your kind comment … and for your interest in all I get up to out here. Lots of love to you both … xo

  • Great blog, Annabel, and so interesting! Delighted you’ve now at last got fresh fish on your menu – sounds absolutely delicious! xx

    • Much gratitude for your kind comment, Kate … and yes, it’s such a treat to have fresh fish right next door. Lucky us!

  • You shall have a fishy in a little dishy ??? Wonderful! X

    • We will indeed, Sally. 🙂 And for that I am very, very happy! Thanks so much for your interest in my blog. Have a lovely day!

  • Sounds ‘moosh’ Annabel! Really great to see development of food industry! Please wish them well!

    • I will be delighted to wish our neighbors well, Simon. Thank you for stopping by my blog, and for taking the time to comment on this post. All the best to you, Annabel

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