Now is the time of year when Gozo’s food lovers and fishermen get highly excited, as mid-August onwards brings the highly sought after Lampuki fish to our warm waters. The feast of Santa Marija on August 15th signifies the beginning of Lampuki season and from hereon in you’ll hear the ‘L’ word lovingly spoken throughout the island.
Lampuki fish provide essential income to Gozo’s fishermen, who spend months preparing their lines and boats. Once their vessels are blessed with a traditional religious ceremony, they are good to go – heading out to the open seas. Early risers will be familiar with the early-morning cries of hawkers in small vans travelling our streets, selling this freshly landed fish to local housewives and announcing their arrival with cries of “lampuki ħajjin” (which roughly translates as ‘lampuki alive’). Make no mistake, Gozitan people adore Lampuki and quite rightly so.
After they spawn in Cyprus, the migratory Lampuki fish arrive in Gozo’s waters from late August through to December as they continue on their journey across the Atlantic and into to the Americas, where the fish are known by another name, mahi-mahi. Elsewhere in the world, Lampuki are called Dorado and Dolphinfish, dolphins love eating them too!
Lampuki are an eye-catching species and a delicious delicacy. The fish have a golden, metallic blue and green colouring and it’s easy to identify the males and females, because the female Lampuka has a sleek round head and the males have a high steeped forehead. But it’s their forked tail which deserves merit, propelling them through our waters at speeds of up to 65 kilometres per hour. At that rate it’s a wonder how they are caught at all, but more on that later.
The delicate flavour of the white, meaty fish, its low cost and versatility for use in so many different dishes are what underlines its popular appeal in Gozo and throughout the Maltese islands. Lampuki are also a great source of Vitamin B12, B6 and B3, so as well as being incredibly tasty they are highly nutritional too.
Not surprisingly, the fish is a staple ingredient to many traditional Gozitan Autumnal dishes served in homes and restaurants. ‘Lampuki il-Forn’ is a wholesome dish, where the fish is baked with potatoes, olives, capers and seasoned with garlic & fennel, whereas ‘Aljotta’ is a rich zesty fish soup usually soaked up with some tasty ħobza (Maltese bread). Torta tal-Lampuki, meaning Lampuki Pie involves baking the fish in puff pastry along with tomatoes, spinach, olives and onions….mmm!
The technique fishermen use to catch the fish involving rafts, is called ‘kannizzati’. It is believed to be unique to the Maltese islands, dating way back to the Roman times. The leaves, or rather the fronds from Palm trees are cut and woven into flat rafts and secured to floats, which are then taken out to sea by the fishermen aboard their brightly coloured blue and yellow traditional ‘luzzu’ fishing boats.
Lampuki fish are known to swim close to the surface and generally collect around floating objects in the open sea, seeking shade. This could be because one of their main natural predators are Dolphins, who typically avoid shaded areas and so seeking shade is a learnt survival tactic by the fish. Our fishermen place their floating rafts into position on the sea, leaving them for a short while until the sun warms the waters – these frond rafts create a cooler shaded area and the algae that collects around the fronds provide an irresistible combination to Lampuki. As the fish shelter under these fronds in their large shoals, they are quickly caught by our fishermen using large nets.
Lampuki is enjoyed by locals throughout Gozo, Malta and beyond and some of this local catch is even exported abroad. Be sure to taste this delicious fish for yourself, why not try Lampuki Pie during your stay in Gozo. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
With thanks to Chris Galea and Stanley Farrugia Randon