It's lampuki season! Take a look at this local tradition associated with Malta's small-scale fishing sector
The lampuka, the Maltese name for the popular dolphin fish, (also known as dorado or mahi-mahi), has been a staple on local tables for generations at this time of year.
The fishing season for lampuki is from 15th August through to the end of December, but the peak of its popularity is in August and September, fitting beautifully, as it does, within local summer and autumn cuisine.
For the fishermen, the season kicks off a few days before 15th August, when the c130 vessels which are licensed to fish for lampuki set off together at midnight, mostly from the fishing village of Marsaxlokk in Malta and Mġarr in Gozo, to cast their kannizzati (more on this soon).
Marsaxlokk Harbour - Gregory Iron, viewingmalta.com WEB
In a wonderful tradition that belies Malta’s religious roots, the whole operation is preceded by a Holy Mass on the waterfront by the local parish priest, who then boards a small kajjik and sails out to bless the luzzijiet (the traditional, colourful fishing vessels) and their crew.
The technique used for fishing for lampuki is a unique one that’s also steeped in tradition, having remained practically unchanged for centuries. The fishermen start by casting Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), known as kannizzati in Maltese, which are made up of a polystyrene float anchored by a heavy piece of limestone. Palm fronds are then attached to the float to attract the fish.
The fish tend to seek shelter, which is where the palm fronds come in, luring whole shoals towards the kannizzati. The fishermen cast their nets once enough fish have gathered, and there you go – lampuki for dinner!
viewingmalta.com - Clive Vella 2 WEB
Having spent the entire year working on their FADs, the fishermen cut the palm fronds and tie them to the kannizzati one week before the launch of the season. It is then that the waiting game begins. Rough seas tend to disturb the shoals, so the fishermen need calm weather to catch lampuki. And while the season officially lasts till the end of the year depending on weather conditions, it can be extended by a special derogation for one month, in case of bad weather.
Of all the fish that finds its way into our cuisine on the Maltese islands, lampuki have undeniably remained an enduring favourite over the years, and local consumers look forward to the season just as much, if not more, than the fishermen themselves. Maltese lampuki, in fact, are not exported due to the high demand locally, and can be prepared in a variety of ways to showcase their delicious flavour.
The traditional, and often preferred, method of cooking for most locals is fried simply and served with a caper and tomato sauce. Another local way of preparing the popular fish is in a hearty pie encased in a flaky, buttery shortcrust pastry. While various recipes exist for the much-revered lampuki pie, each local you meet will likely claim their family recipe to be best, but regardless of whether their preferred filling favours spinach or raisins as the secret ingredient, the outcome is generally very similar: a delicious dish showcasing the best of the lampuka.
Elaine Stocks - Instagram WEB
Still, the fish remains incredibly versatile, and apart from these methods, you’re equally likely to find it on local menus used in a variety of typical and atypical ways. Think pizza topping, in canapés, as an appetiser or simply baked, grilled, barbecued, cured and of course, within a hearty aljotta – a traditional mixed fish soup – the definition of late Maltese summer on a plate.
If you’re visiting at this time of year, you will certainly spot fresh lampuki on the majority of local restaurant menus, but some of the best to be had will undoubtedly be within the eateries dotted along the coast of the fishing village of Marsaxlokk. And it’s hardly surprising, with the fish going directly from the fishermen’s boats to the kitchens across the road before landing on your plate.
It can’t get fresher than that, can it?