Pickled fish fever sets in, in Cape Town

  • Cape Town residents are looking forward to indulging in the iconic pickled fish over the Easter weekend. 
  • There has been little to no fresh snoek available for purchase by residents. 
  • Traditionally, the fish needs to soak in onions and vinegar for about two to three days and is indulged with hot cross buns.

Nadeema Jacobs of the Cape Town Fish Ladies in Hout Bay cackles when asked on Thursday if it was too late to make pickled fish for the Easter weekend.

“No, this is the right time,” she says, taking a few minutes out of one of the busiest days of the year for the famous fishmongers.

Her own pickled fish was already marinating nicely in its tangy sweet and sour curry sauce, ready to be shared with friends and family, in a tradition as Capetonian as the minstrels.

For her and the other fish sellers it’s one of the busiest times of the year, but also exciting.

Customers come and pick out a nice fish for themselves, with loud advice on what is best for children who have left the nest and are bringing it into their own homes for the first time.

She recommends a nice yellowtail, or kabeljou, red snapper, snoek, or hake to be covered in spices and onions.


The few fishes still available for the Easter Weekend.


The flavours will be pulled into the fish as it “lies in” nicely until served.

She pauses as the tries to describe the measurements for the recipe she has followed so many times by instinct and love for her own family.

“Bay leaves, fish masala curry powder…” she says warmly, stopping suddenly.

“But, you must be careful with the vinegar. It can be a bietjie sour. You must remember to put some sugar in so that the vinegar is not so sour,” she chuckles.

Asked if the pickled fish was only for Catholics who will be ending Lent, she laughs at the absurdity of the question in a city where cultures complement one another just like the spices in the fish.

READ | ‘Let us take care of each other’ – President Cyril Ramaphosa says in Easter message

“No! It’s not just for Catholics. Most of the Muslims and Christians buy here.”

Supermarkets have already set out their punnets of pickled fish for those who have to rush off to family functions, swopping the punnet for an old ice cream tub in the car to avoid the judgment of those who made their own.

And if there is a lull in conversation with aunties, the inevitable debate starts: do you have your pickled fish warmed up, or cold?

“I prefer mine hot,” says News24 journalist Lisalee Solomons.

Patronella Du Toit, prefers hers cold.

“You have got to let the fish lay in the juices for about four to five days. My fish has been soaked already since last Sunday evening.

Pickled fish

Pickled fish is the order of the day for the long weekend.

“Hy’s al deur getrek (it’s already pulled through),” she says of the delicate aromas and flavours.

Du Toit says she’s not a fan of hot cross buns and raisins as Easter fare, but makes sure she has prepared at least three big bowls of different kinds of pickled fish.

“My favourite is the snoek one, but the snoek was so expensive I could only afford to buy one. I paid nearly R300 for it,” she exclaims.

“But it was a lekker big dik (fat) one, so I don’t mind. My hands are already yellow the way I worked the fish into the bowl with the onions.”

The tradition evokes memories of family, togetherness, and in the case of one person who did not want to be named: “[It has] lekker onions that make you poep (fart) all day.”

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