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Emily in Malta: lampuki season

Emily in Malta: lampuki season

Lampuki season is finally upon us and the locals are celebrating with lampuki pie and fried lampuki served with a number of side dishes. The tourists might be just catching on to this marvellous fish and trying it out and wondering what this light, flaky, mild tasting fish is and what the best ways to prepare it are. If you’re in search of fresh-off-the-boat lampuki, look no further than Malta’s fishing village, Marsaxlokk.

Much like the way lampuki itself is caught is passed down through family traditions and teachings among local fishermen, so too are the recipes that accompany the treasured fish. The classic lampuki pie recipes vary from home to home but all are passed along through the family lines. The fish is also great in the grill, fried up in a pan, covered in flour and pan fried in oil. Any way it goes, this light and delicious fish does not need much to be enjoyed.

What does lampuki mean?

Lampuki is the Maltese name for Dorado. Mahi Mahi would be the name for this fish, in the United States specifically. By the time our young, local lampuki have migrated over to the Atlantic Ocean and are caught by Americans, the fish itself is very large in size.

I have always enjoyed Mahi Mahi though I have to say now that I’ve had the younger version of the same fish, I love Lampuki even more. I don’t actually recognise them as the same fish in its taste and texture. Lampuki tastes fresher, lighter and milder. I think this might have more to do with the fact that in Malta, it is caught right here and put into the shops to buy within hours of catching it. If Malta has taught me anything, it is that local and fresh are my two new favourite words when it comes to food.

Fishing for lampuki

In order to do this fish justice, I knew it would take more than just one visit down to Marsaxlokk, as lampuki season doesn’t begin when the fish migrate into Malta’s waters. I was told by a friend that the preparations for catching lampuki were a crucial part of the process. The months of work beforehand were really incredible. We took a few trips down to Marsaxlokk to learn how the fishermen prepare for the season. Lampuki fishing is a sacred trade, handed down from generation to generation.

With huge patches of palm leaves, to wrap around their JABLO, which is the Maltese term for what Americans refer to as Styrofoam. The JABLO is then covered by material and again, covered in palm leaves. For this part of the preparation, it quite literally takes a village. You might find several helpers wrapping the materials and pulling from the palm leaves.  They pull out the nets that they will use and along with the floats they make, they bring in massive limestone blocks, in order to begin drilling holes through every single one of them, to spread the rope between each block.

Where any boat drops the blocks in to set their space is appointed by the Maltese government and every fisherman is assigned a number where they can park their boat and cast their nets, inside that specific area.

Family tradition

Venanzio (right), Andre (centre) and Natasha (left)

Andre and Emily

I had the honour of meeting Natasha and Venanzio, her father, who is a lifelong fisherman who works with his daughter, his grandson Andre and the rest of his family. He wakes up on the daily at 3:30 every morning during lampuki season and gets out onto his luzzu. He then calls Natasha when he is around an hour from shore, to get them ready to meet him at the dock and start the process of getting the fish to the market. Venanzio catches the fish on a line and instead of massive limestone blocks, he he uses one limestone rock attached to a line and a bucket of hooks, to which mackerel and other kinds of bait are attached, to attract the lampuki. With regards to the floating device, he uses an empty plastic container, just large enough to make the line float.

When we went to visit, Venanzio was close to shore after his catch. Natasha was waiting on shore to help her father pull the boat in. At the same time, Andre was running with a cart with a pre-prepared cooler. Every single fish was immediately pulled from his grandfather’s, straightened out, checked and lined up tightly in rows, to be taken to the fish shop. While Andre is packing them into the boxes, Natasha is pulling up nets and placing them into burlap sacks.

Everyone works with great precision and speed and this is why in traditional fishing of any kind on the island, it tends to remain a family-only business. They have worked together for years and years and know exactly what their jobs entail. Soon after his arrival, Venanzio went to bed, while Natasha and Andre finished up the fish, ready to be taken to be sold.

Find Venanzio’s fish at the market square in Marsaxlokk on Sunday mornings and look for Natasha’s brother, Roman.