Cape Verde Food - A Guide to Island Cuisine

Expect diversity when visiting Cape Verde and this certainly includes the food. You’ve got to sample as much of the food as you can, for there’s such a variety of flavours and dishes as the cuisine has many influences, including African, Creole and Portuguese.

Thanks to the islands’ position off the west coast of Africa there’s a strong African flavour. But, as Cape Verde was a Portuguese colony right up until 1975, you’ll also discover lots of Portuguese cooking.

The national stew

Quite a lot of Cape Verdean food is a form of ‘one-pot cooking’. Due to the slow-cooking process, the end result is a delicious melding of flavours.

The most popular stew on the islands, and the national dish, is Cachupa rice. It’s made from several different types of seasoned and spicy meat, beans and hominy – dried corn-on-the-cob kernels that have been softened and doubled in size.

Plantains, yams, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and garlic may also be included. The ingredients do vary from island to island and sometimes fish replaces the meat, but this dish is well worth tasting in whatever form you come across it.

For a wonderful, thick fish stew, Buzon – made from shellfish and soy sauce – is an excellent choice. Canja – a rich chicken and rice soup made from a whole chicken and mainly produced for special occasions – is found throughout the islands.

Pulses and grains

Beans and pulses form the basis of many stews and these are flavoured with garlic, spices or additional vegetables. When mopped up with some gufon – the local bread made from cornmeal – these can be very filling dishes. Fava beans, mandioca root and squash all feature prominently in these stews.

Don’t be surprised to encounter the islands’ own variety of couscous, known as kuskus here. This staple is often flavoured with exotic herbs and spices, and the islanders are very fond of adding garlic to most dishes. The kuskus is usually prepared in a traditional pot, known as a binde.

Wonderful seafood

Fish is plentiful in Cape Verde, and you won’t have to go very far to enjoy a meal of fresh tuna as a steak, or in carpaccio style, marinated in oil, lime and salt.

You’ll also be able to find grilled octopus and sea-urchin dishes as well as Lagosta suada – whole lobster, onions and tomatoes cooked in a rich sauce of wine, brandy and water.

The hectically busy fish market at Mindelo on Sao Vincente is fascinating. Tuna, barracuda and giant Moray eels, all fresh from the sea, are on sale here. Rascasse – scorpion fish – can also be found on the menus of many Cape Verde seafood restaurants.

Desserts are not neglected

If you’ve a sweet tooth, you’re catered for too. The Cape Verde islands have a huge variety of fruits, some of which you probably won’t recognise. Some more familiar ones very much in evidence are coconut, mangoes, papaya, quince and bananas.

Queijo de Cabra com Doce de Popoia – local cheese served with a papaya relish – is delicious, as are rolled bananas – bananas wrapped in dough and fried.

You’ll find papaya or banana candy everywhere. This is made by adding sugar to the fruit, placing the mixture in a small amount of water and heating it. Lemon juice is added for additional flavour and, once cooled, the mixture crystallises and is cut into shapes for eating.

Pudim de Queijo – a baked cheese dish – is spectacular. Made from goats’ cheese with added sugar and eggs, it’s baked in an oven and topped with granulated sugar when cool.

Don't forget the drink

Cape Verde grows its own coffee. Called Fogo, it has quite an acid taste to start with, but leaves a smooth aftertaste.

The Mosteiros area on Fogo is also known for its local wine. Passito is the local dessert wine made from Moscatel but the vineyards also produce white, red and rose wines. Manecome is another local wine.

The national drink, Grogue, is distilled from sugar-cane and can be extremely strong. Variations of it are found throughout the islands – including pontche, a mixture of grogue and molasses with added cloves and citrus fruits.

Cocktail-lovers should enjoy Caipirinha, a combination of sugar, lime and the local liqueur.