Every evening at sunset in the town of Gisenyi, a resort at the northern end of Lake Kivu in Rwanda, fishermen set out in wooden boats in search of the small, sardine-like sambaza that populate the deep waters.
From the bar at hotel Paradis Malahide, on the lakeshore a few miles south of town, the fishermen can be heard singing songs for courage in Kinyarwanda (Rwanda’s first language) as they paddle their canoes from the shore in groups of three, armed with torches to attract their catch.
Sambaza are thought to have been introduced to Kivu (the 2,700 sq km lake on Rwanda’s eastern border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the 1950s from Lake Tanganyika further south, and, despite their reputation as a delicacy, stocks have remained mostly consistent ever since.
Listed as a starter on the menus at most restaurants around the lake and in the capital, Kigali, 150km away, sambaza are deep-fried and served in big platefuls, with some kind of sauce – mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon, peanut or hot pili pili.
In Gisenyi, a resort town at the lake’s northern end, one of the best places to sample the salty fish is at the beachfront Bikini Tam-Tam bar and restaurant, a buzzing weekend hangout where sambaza are the snack of choice, alongside a cold beer, after a dip in the lake.
In Kigali’s Kimihurura neighbourhood, head to the rooftop terrace at family-owned Repub Lounge for a dinner that comprises several local dishes, including sambaza, placed in the middle of the table for sharing.