Howard whispered two words to me that got me excited. He said “grilled fish” and I responded with a quick “let’s go!” It doesn’t take much more than the temptation of fresh fish, grilled to tasty perfection, to get me going to the ends of Africa.
And getting to the Abacha Barracks in the Mogadishu Cantonment outside of Abuja did seem like a drive to the ends of Africa – or at least the taxi driver bitched the whole way like it was. Once there, I was a little confused. We pulled up to what looked like a simple Nigerian market. There was nothing to make it look different than any other market. But I was told to walk into the middle.
Inside the Abacha Barracks market is a whole other experience. About 50 fish sellers are arranged in a circle with bars facing the circle of fishmongers. These fishmongers do not sell raw fish for you to take home however, they sell the best croaker and butterfish for direct grilling and eating right there.
As you walk around the circle, there is a fierce rivalry between fish grillers, each one claiming their fish is the freshest, largest, and most succulent. In addition to fish, they offer chicken, chips, and a spicy pepper sauce that will curl your toes.
Here is a short video about the Abacha Barracks fish market:
Talking with the fish vendors is also an experience in volume. Each fishmonger sells about 10 to 20 grilled fish in a night, which is 500, to 1,000 big ass croakers per day. I am amazed that Nigerian rivers can support such a catch. If they sell each fish for 1,000 Naira, with a guesstimate that 50% of revenue goes towards costs, they’re looking at about $25 per day in profit.
Or about the same as taxi drivers in Abuja. But let’s look at demographics. All the fishmongers are women, while all the taxi drivers are men. If you have a couple working both angles, they could be making around $13,000 per year in tax-free income. Not bad in a country where the average income is just $350 per year.
And it was money well spent. The croaker that we bought was so amazingly succulent. Unlike East African tilapia, usually deep fried to hard, chewy crisp, the West African grilled croaker was perfection. Eating with our hands, the meat fell off the fish bones, with every taste a mouthful of aquatic majesty. Add to it the cooked potato chips (fries) and the Star and Harp beer, and I was in heaven.
The reality check came in the form of endless Nigerian hawkers looking to sell us all manner of nicknacks and the like, most useless junk. Other vendors sold music, and several bands circulated, demanding payment to stop playing their music in your face as you tried to eat.
Coming Soon: Listen here to experience the sounds of the Abacha Barracks fish market musicians.
My only complaint was the horrible construction of the bars that encircled the fish BBQ. Each had a raised concrete curb barrier that crushed my toes several times in the darkness. Only the Star beer induced buzz kept me from attacking these toe-breakers with a sledge hammer.