It seems some Kenyans have only realized that omena is food after the export of 52 tons of the same to China. For those who know omena and have eaten it for centuries, it is fantastic food that is rich in just about everything anyone needs in their bodies.
It is very high in proteins, low in carbohydrates, and has low-fat content and there are a hundred ways of cooking it, but since it has never been a commercial food in Kenya, we have never explored the so many ways omena is used in countries like Spain, Thailand and Japan where they have very many ways of cooking omena. Now it is in China straight from Kenya. That is a good thing.
Known as silver cyprinid or Lake Victoria sardines to countries in Europe where it is used, Omena is actually a great fish food that we need to look at and improve its consumption in our country where we have it.
Start with Omena Pizza.
This dish called La Cusina Ataliana is made with raw omena which has not been dried. In Kenya, we don’t even know what to do with raw omena except for our parents who had mastered the science of making great food from omena at every stage.
As of today, fishing folks have a nightmare about what to do with raw omena. For the most part a lot of undried omena ends up thrown out as waste. Imagine we could have all that raw Omena in refrigerated trucks heading to Nairobi and Mombasa to make those gorgeous-looking Pizzas for Kenyans to feast on. That would be something for our dietary regimes and economy for those who harvest omena from Lake Victoria.
One of the biggest problems that omena fishing has is that it is harvested from the lake mostly during the rainy season. Omena is one type of fish that you just don’t harvest from the lake anytime you want. There is a time when they are reproducing so fishing people are not allowed to touch them and the smart fishing folks know that they need to let them breed so that they have a lot of omena later.
It just happens that the harvesting time in Kenya coincides with the heavy rains which means drying the fish becomes very difficult. As a result, a lot of the fish goes to waste. Now if we could be making pizzas and burgers with that it would be a game changer for the farmers and for those who like the food.
Then we would go to Omena Burger as well (OBAGA): I think that is what Kenyans will call it. Here it is. Hot tomato sauce is all you need.
I have always wondered why nobody in Kenya has tried to make some Omena burgers and let Kenyans try them. Here we have the fish added to a meat burger to bring a different taste and other food ingredients. These are like specialized dishes but in Kenya, we could start with much simpler and maybe cheaper varieties of the burgers.
Kenyans know how to make their food so let us pull off Omena burger with vege tops and cheese. My vege tops will have Mtoo added on top of the regular tomatoes, greens, mayonnaise, and hot pepper. Let’s go.
One thing we should notice is that we really don’t have fish pizzas or burgers in the world because most fish have bones. How are you going to make tilapia pizza? But omena is one of the rare types of fish where you eat the whole thing with the bones which is just part of the food and the nutrition.
You eat the whole omena and that is the beauty of it. It is all food from head to toe. The dietary and digestive value is very significant there. That is what we have in our country and hardly anywhere else in the world.
- 200 g omena
- 2 tomatoes
- Half onion
- Some salt
- Green pepper
- Cooking oil
- Step 1Wash omena with hot water. And dry aside.
- Step 2Heat enough oil then add omena to fry till golden brown and crunchy
- Step 3Add onions and green pepper then mix
- Step 4Add tomatoes and salt. Cook to mix well
- Step 5Remove from heat and serve with Ugali
That is the regular omena dish you find in Kenya and even that is not that much known in Kenya but it looks great. It seems you can eat it with ugali or rice and you can have vegetables on the side and that is as rich a meal as you can have in any five star hotel. If I had a restaurant in Kenya I would open a fish restaurant with all sorts of omena dishes there among other fish foods.
The real challenge here is for the Omena fishing and trading people to also get into getting us different dishes of the fish so that they can expand the market. Let us expand the reach of this great fish we have and remember omena is only in freshwater lakes. It is not found in the seas and oceans which are always salty. So this is a very rare food in the world.
When you have something like that you have to maximize its value and availability. We have not done that even in Kenya. Start there.
The other issue the fishing folks at Lake Victoria will have to deal with is the fact that now that Omena is for export all sorts of mercenary businesses get rich quickly type are coming there. You are going to need protection from your local MPs and from the county government in Siaya.
The one thing those raiding Lake Victoria for omena to export will do is they will try fishing it out during the season when regular fishing folks are not allowed to catch omena. James Orengo has to have a plan to ensure that the export of Omena does not bring the usual thieves to raid the lake and probably destroy the Omena breeding system completely.
And remember omena is not like other fish like tilapia which you can grow in fish farms. In Kenya, they are only in Lake Victoria and never will be anywhere else in the country. You have to protect that kind of species if you are lucky to have them and that makes the breeding period for the omena fish a big issue that has to be addressed and no mistakes made. None whatsoever.
The last thing I would suggest to Governor James Orengo is that with the export of dried omena now in place, please find a way to bring electric omena drying centers for the traders to dry the fish instead of depending on the sun. If we can have solar-powered fish drying centers for omena and other fish it will be a big step forward for the economy of the region.
First, the county needs to provide safe drying facilities even before they go electric. The time of drying omena on the sand which attracts dust and dirt has come and gone. Try with simple stuff like this one above in South Africa. It is a simple stone drying base but it is safe and in a protected place then go to the next level.
Here is the solar fish drying system developed by the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI). Kenya needs to bring this to Lake Victoria. And remember one thing always when dealing with this issue: Omena has now joined the big leagues in terms of Kenya’s food exports around the world. It could expand beyond anybody’s imagination.
Let the county and our national government be ready for that and make it happen quicker and in a very organized way.
For omena fish catchers and traders, this is now like those people producing flowers for export in Naivasha. Everything is taken care of. That is the game now and I would like to see the governor visiting all Omena-producing and drying areas and figuring out how to dry the fish in a healthy, safe, and secure environment. This is a challenge that has been thrown into our governor’s lap and he has to run with it and deliver.
Me and Omena go a long way back. My mother to me has been the best omena chef in the whole world. I mean that woman is a lot of things but one thing I know is that she can cook some omena for you and you may ask: Is there more?