Location: Off the east coast of Africa
Geography: An archipelago of three main islands and many smaller islets
Language: Comorian, French, Arabic
Signature flavours: Seafood, rice, coconut, plantain, tropical fruit, beans
If you have ever experienced seafood-induced anxiety, then you will know how I felt as I compiled my Comorian menu. Comoros, sandwiched between the east coast of Africa and western side of Madagascar, is a country with a lot of seafood on the menu. Eric and I live in rural Ontario, and while local lake fish is abundant, seafood beyond the “north of the checkerboard” palate is hard to find. When we lived in Toronto, of course, we had everything at our fingertips, so I wasn’t optimistic when I headed out in search of seafood that would make up the centrepiece of my Comorian feast.
Poisson au Four: A whole fish, marinated in a sauce of onion, garlic, red pepper, dijon mustard, and olive oil, baked with chunks of more garlic, onion, and bell pepper.
Prep and cooking time:
Lihoho: Airy crepes made from a batter of blended cooked rice and coconut milk.
Prep and cooking time: 60 min
Atchar: A melange of tender cooked vegetables — onion, cabbage, leek, bell pepper, and carrot — seasoned with ginger, garlic, saffron, and vinegar.
Prep and cooking time: 75 min
Zikoko: Glazed deep-fried doughballs — the Timbits of Comoros.
Prep and cooking time: 45 min
The Shopping List
I found the whole fish I was seeking at a supermarket about an hour from our home. It was a beautiful cleaned fish (though not scaled — I did that myself), and despite it being a freshwater lake fish, I felt it would do nicely for my purposes. I found everything else I needed at the same store.
Comoros is a tiny place, and I initially struggled to find recipes. Eventually, I happened upon a couple of YouTube channels run by Comorian cooks, and from there, I found enough recipes to do this assignment five times over. The channels were all in French, and I had to rely on what little French I have in order to record the ingredients and instructions. Luckily, much of the French I’ve retained from school revolves around food terms.
The poisson au four was gorgeous. The meat fell off the bones and melted in our mouths. I loved the mustard-y, garlicky marinade and will definitely use it again for future baked fishes. It was the standout dish on the table. We used pieces of lihoho to scoop it up. The lihoho were a bit of a disappointment, because when it came to frying them, they absolutely fell apart. I cheated by adding an egg and about 1/2 cup of flour to the rice and coconut milk batter to thicken it and give it some hold-together-ability. The result was a crepe slightly thicker and less bubbly than lihoho is meant to be, but it tasted really good all the same.
The lihoho also came in handy for eating scoops of atchar, which was a delicious, rather pickle-y (because of the vinegar) dish. The vegetables were all so soft and perfectly seasoned, and the atchar was an excellent side to the baked fish.
Our dessert was zikoko. We loved these little donuts, glazed hard on the outside but still fluffy on the inside. Zikoko are shaped using a piece of cardboard with the corrugation exposed. By pressing and rolling a dough ball down the cardboard, you end up with a peanut-shaped ridged pastry ready for frying. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of making them, and just as thoroughly enjoyed the process of eating them.
Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.