My friend and I found the fish market, located on the Avenida Marginal (the main coast road), we’d walked past the new marina Ponto D’Agua and the new Banco Interatlantico Africano (BAI) on our right hand side until the pavement stopped so we crossed the busy road to the other side where we found a long parade of a variety of shops; a supermarket on the corner, a Chinese Loja, Khym Negoce Decorami, a Cafeteria, tiny little shops not much bigger than a cupboard, selling amongst other things; dried beans from sacks; vegetables, toiletries.
The pavement outside the shops is full with street vendors, their enticing wares of fish, fruit, herbs, eggs and vegetables, also potential customers and passers by. There are so many groups that in places, it is not possible to pass by them on the pavement, so we step off to walk around the parked vehicles into the oncoming traffic, quite hair raising, I can tell you!
Further down we cross a side street, filled with yet more vendors, walk on a short way to a painted crossing, where we cross the road on to a skinny pavement between a wall and a barrier, there is only just enough room for two people to pass, not comfortably and if someone has a bag of fish or one of the men who drag washing basket sized plastic containers full of fish to distribute to the street vendors needs to get past, we have to press ourselves up against the wall!
The whole area around the fish market is buzzing with people and conversation; shouting; selling; negotiating; smiling; frowning; transactions. The street vendors are in the main dressed poorly but are clean – well as clean as it is possible to be if you spend your day cutting up fish! Some of the women have scarves to protect their exposed skin from the sun rays that reach round some corners and between the roofs of the buildings, this side of the street the buildings mostly provide shade for the items being sold as well as the people. Most street vendors have flip flops, unlike some of the beggars, who are barefoot. If they’ve had a fruitful day with the tourists, will make straight for one of the eight foot by eight foot (estimated) spit and dust (not sawdust, just dust that the wind blows in) bars that sell the cheapest grogue to obliterate their problems and blacken their lungs with individual cigarettes for a few shcuds. We watched, fascinated (and yet at the same time disgusted) from outside, not brave or curious enough to venture in.
At last we enter the fish market, you’d have to have lost your sense of smell to not know you were somewhere near from about twenty meters away. On entering, I wished I had lost my sense of smell. This is one occasion I am delighted that I hadn’t had breakfast, as if I had it would have quickly been mingling with the blood, water, dirt and stray animals on the floor. The flies were really happy swarming all over the fish, the chopping boards, people, animals, not a surface untouched. Walking down the middle aisle with counters either side, there are fish of all shapes and sizes and I don’t recognise any of them, well maybe one, possibly a red snapper. There was no ice in sight and the stench was unbelievable. The mongers were vying for sales, thrusting whole fish or sections of what looked like tuna at us as we walked past, overcome with incredulity.
Turning left at the bottom of the aisle, I can see a small jetty at the back of the hall, where the fresh fish are being brought on to land, whole huge tuna, what looks as though it could be a sword fish, I’m no expert but it had a very long pointy snout that looked remarkably like a sword to me! Turning left again away from this cornucopia of activity We found there was another side to the fish market that had other fish and lo and behold eggs on two dozen trays – some were broken, others had holes in and there were a few that were OK but we decided to leave them, deciding that we couldn’t actually carry them back with us.
So having failed quite miserably to purchase anything on our first visit, least of all fish, we decide to try again a few weeks later.
On the second visit to the fish market, having entered by the first entrance as before, we make our way down the main aisle and position ourselves at a stall in an attempt to observe some fish buying transactions, to see how much the fish is but it’s not very clear at all. The customer pays the monger, the monger then gives her fish to another man who disappears off with it. We get cold feet about the whole thing, not knowing which fish to buy and deciding (irrationally I was later to find out) that it was too expensive. So we go round to the other side and buy some veg and a tray of eggs that appear to all be intact.
We leave the fish market, my friend has gone haring off down the street, Avenida Amilcar Cabral carefully balancing the two dozen eggs in their tray and I am faffing around on the steps outside, as I am prone to doing, when the lady who had the stall with the eggs appeared looking very worried, it would seem we hadn’t paid for them! In the Municipal veg market our experience of the stall holders was that one would take payment for all the items regardless of how many stalls you bought from, apparently not here. The woman didn’t want to take my €10 so I tried to call my friend back as he had some Escudos, he didn’t hear me and I thought he’d never look around for me. Eventually he did and I waved for him to come back.
We apologised to the best of our ability and paid the stall holder 490 CVE (€1 = 110$25 CVE fixed) and went on our way. Our second visit and still no fish!
On our third time lucky trip to the fish market we are taken by a lovely man called Mark, he is a Cape Verdean who lives in America now, near New York, he has offered most kindly to take us around the fish market and show us the ropes.
Once again the stench hits me and I nearly gag, a man passes by smoking a cigarette, I didn’t think I’d ever welcome the smell of cigarette smoke but on this occasion I certainly did!
Mark leads us down one of the aisles and asks in Creole how much the tuna is per kilo, 250$00 CVE, now if I remember correctly, you get two small tuna steaks, maybe 300g for about £4 in the UK. Wow! Fresh fish, caught this morning could possibly be the cheapest item we’ve found so far in Mindelo. The red fish I had thought might be red snapper, Mark said were actually grouper. We bought a kilo of swordfish, a kilo and a half of a plump silvery gold fish, we have no idea what it is called and a kilo of sardines, already gutted, all of these were 250$00 CVE per kilo. The two plump silvery gold fish were taken away by one of the many men who de-scale and gut the fish for 50$00 CVE each, we followed him to the area past the jetty where lots of men are lined up behind a counter, with backs turned, scraping the scales from fish with specially adapted metal Castillo butter or tuna tins and gutting them before handing them back to the customers. We waited for him to finish our plump fishes and then with great satisfaction and a real sense of achievement decided to call it a day.
I thanked Mark and said to him that we had no idea of how the process worked before he enlightened us. What a kind man to take us. Finally we know how to buy super fresh fish, how much to expect to pay and what happens to the fish when the monger gives it to a man and not the customer!
Oh, take your own carrier bags, if you remember!