Bokkoms - Something Fishy

West Coast Delicacy

©Chris Daly
Local fishing boats on the Berg River, Velddrif.
©Ann Gadd
West Coast bokkoms ready for sale in St Helena.

Carrie Hampton takes us in search of something very fishy up the West Coast of South Africa.

It is hard to believe that demand for bokkoms exceeds supply, because this dried salted leathery thing that was once a fish, is one of the most difficult of African delicacies to acquire a taste for.

The people of Velddrif, who live at the mouth of the Berg River on the West Coast of South Africa, admit that it helps to be born within the smell of drying bokkoms to truly appreciate them. They taste similar to salt encrusted old boots that have been continually occupied by a large fisherman with smelly feet for several months, takes a bit of getting used to.

Locals say it is best to commence initiation with a slice of thickly buttered bread topped with shaved slivers of bokkom, washed down with beer. However nothing gets past the fact that this withered mullet gives the impression of having been out of its natural environment for months or even years.

Dried Out for a Couple of Weeks

©Ann Gadd
Mullet hanging to dry to make bokkoms in Laaiplek, West Coast.
©Ann Gadd
Fish sorting in Laaiplek, Velddrif.

The mullet are caught in the river mouth and sometimes in the sea, from little wooden boats whose nets are thrown out and pulled in by hand. The slippery catch is immediately gutted then soaked for two days in clean salt water. Then they are strung from the rafters of the barn like long silver necklaces where they dry out for a couple of weeks.

Their silvery sheen soon fades and becomes wrinkly and dehydrated. The fish are then packed in heavily salted layers and hey presto, an inedible feast awaits you. It is possible that even after all this, some bokkoms might still be a bit clammy, (locals say you cannot mistake a clammy bokkom!) and eating these should be avoided at all cost.

To sample the delights of bokkoms in fish soup, rollmops or rehydrated with an anchovy-style tang, visit the Velddrif Food and Culture Festival every August and you might even learn to love these little fish.

By Carrie Hampton