About Cape Verdean Food

The magic of Cape Verdean food lies in its history. This cluster of ten tiny islands and 5 islets dotted off the west coast of Africa has only been inhabited since the 15th century, when Portuguese sailors stumbled upon them. Since that time, the inhabitants have developed a cuisine steeped in both African and Portuguese traditions.

On any given day, fishermen can be found amidst theΒ sea spray, casting their nets and lines in the shadow of volcanoes. They bring home prawn, shrimp, albacore, wahoo, grouper, and dorado. A brave few travel further from the coasts in hopes of bringing back a tiger shark, known to attack humans almost as often as Great White sharks. We made a wonderful spicy prawn recipe for our Angolan Global Table that is also eaten by Cape Verdeans. For a light lunch, this prawn dish could be served over a traditional Cape Verdean avocado and date salad (or dip).

Photo Courtesy of FH Mira

Cape Verde’s national dish is called Cachupa (recipe), a hodge-podge stew that includes whatever vegetables and beans the cook has on hand. Hominy, pumpkin, squash, white potato, and sweet potatoes are often included. In some communities, neighbors even cook with a common pot, sharing what little produce they have with each other. While some cooks include fish or meat, this is a luxury afforded mainly to the rich (“rica”) or reserved for special occasions. When meat is added, it is usually smoked and dried sausage, after the Portuguese tradition.

Praia, the capital. Photo Courtesy of Dave Trainer

Incredibly, over half the 476,000 people live on one island, named Santiago. While agriculture is difficult due to water shortages, the people still produce bananas, corn, beans, and sweet potatoes.

Coconut is beloved by many and is found in desserts and drinks throughout Cape Verde. Coconut candies, made with caramelized sugar and fruit – like mango, papaya, and pineapple – are addictive and popular. Milk from the coconut makes a delightful beverage – children particularly love drinking it mixed with some regular milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon (recipe). I also think it makes a lovely milkshake (recipe).

6 Comments

  1. I have found Cape Verdean acquaintances here in America to be both handsome and fiesty – never got to know their cuisine, however.

  2. Mette says

    I’ve been waiting for this one to come up! I stayed in Cape Verde for seven months in 1995 and have been looking forward to refreshing my memories.

    Cachupa or catchupa (not capucha) is definitely THE typical dish. It was always based on pounded corn (hominy); I used to help with the pounding in a huge mortar to the best of my capacity, but I could never keep pace with the local women – it really takes a lot of strength. The bean stew which is another staple food was called feijoada. I also ate a lot of rice and yams. Meat (which was rare in the poor rural community where I spent most of my time) was usually goat or chicken; fish was more easily available from the fishermen’s wives who walked along the roads selling the day’s catch. And I actually had so much lobster that I got rather tired of it in the end!

    My little house was surrounded on all sides by banana plants and papaya trees, so those are the fruits I associate with Cape Verde, but I also had mangos in the season and the occasional coconut. Children (and many adults) were often chewing sugar cane, unfortunately leading to severe tooth decay in many of these otherwise incredibly beautiful people. The sugar cane is grown mainly for “grog”, a strong rum-type liquor. If you can lay your hands on a bottle (no idea if it’s sold in the US) it would round off your Cape Verdean meal just perfectly!

    • globaltable says

      Mette, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. How wonderful! Sounds like a great seven months :) I saw something about Grog in my research – it looks outrageously strong! Was it sweet at all?

      • Mette says

        No, but it was often sweetened with sugar-cane molasses (it is then called “pontche”).

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