Caldo is a sautéed fish and rice dish in a spicy sauce that originates from the West African country of Gambia, which is a small country situated almost entirely within Senegal except for a small strip of Atlantic coastline. The country itself was created geographically around the Gambia river, which plays a major role in food, agriculture, and tourism for the small African nation.
Caldo is a typical dish from Gambia consisting of white fish served with white rice and spicy sauce made from lemons, onion, garlic, mustard, and spicy peppers. The dish is a take on the widely known yassa, which is a similar dish with rice and spicy sauce but features chicken as a main protein source. Caldo is a typical peasant’s dish as it features staples such as onions and rice, as well as the staple food of seafood in Gambia.
The cuisine from Gambia is very similar to other West African countries in the area. Gambian cuisine has a strong focus on ham and other cured meats, rice, cassava, groundnuts, and root vegetables. Seafood plays a major role in the food in Gambia, as a portion of its border lies on the Atlantic coast, however meats like pork and chicken are common. Other major foods eaten in Gambia include freshwater oysters from the Gambian river, peanuts, and cereals like millet or couscous.
Gambian Food & Culture
Even though Gambia is the smallest country in Africa, it has a mighty history and its food and culture draw from many areas from around the world. The West African region now known as Gambia today has a long and fraught history of passing ownership from one invader to another – first Arab traders in the ninth and tenth centuries, Portuguese in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and then British and French rule until independence in 1962. Gambia was also a region of intense slave trading by Europeans through many centuries, with millions of native Africans sold into slavery in the West Indies and North and South America.
Gambia’s history may be full of bloodshed and loss, however its current culture is vibrant and energetic. Because of its rule by many different cultures over the last 1000 years, its food is a reflection of the changing rule and features many different foods from each era. Its staple ingredients and seasonings were leftovers from each colony’s rule and today, Gambia’s cuisine is a mixture of Arab, French, British, and Portuguese flavors with staple crops like tropical fruit and seafood based on its geographic location. All in all, Gambian cuisine is the perfect fusion of African, European, and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Caldo: Gambian Spicy Fish
Caldo is a very typical dish from Gambia and is similar to yassa, a popular chicken and rice dish with spicy sauce. Caldo is the seafood variation of yassa and typically features the flat white fish of jorto or sompat, but any white flaky fish variety will do. The fish is marinated in a sauce with lemon juice, mustard, hot peppers, garlic, salt and pepper and is then cooked whole in a saucepan until cooked throughout. When the fish is almost done, it is removed on the onions that are sautéed, and the fish is cooked once again until onions are soft and fish is completely cooked through. The dish is served over rice with drizzled spicy mustard marinade, which makes for a heat-intensive, but flavory meal.
- 2 lb tilapia (or other white fish), whole
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 onion , sliced
- 3 cloves garlic , crushed
- ½ cup oil
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 1 Scotch Bonnet pepper , finely chopped
- 1 cube chicken stock (e.g. Maggie), crumbled
- 2 bay leaves
- Rinse, and pat dry the fish with a cloth or paper towel and season with salt.
- Prepare the marinade with the lemon juice, onions, pepper, minced garlic, and stock cube.
- Douse the fish with the marinade and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the fish, then cook on each side for about 5 minutes or until cooked through and crispy. Remove fish and set aside. Drain oil and leave about 2 tablespoons.
- Fry the onions with the bay leaves and marinade for 5 minutes.
- Add ½ cup of water, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then discard the bay leaves.
- Add the fish back to the pan on top of the sauce. Simmer for another 8 to 10 minutes.
- Place the fish on a plate, top with the lemon and mustard sauce over it. Garnish a lemon wedge and serve with white rice.