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The Illegal Bone Fish

How unfortunate that today nobody has the privilege of enjoying a delicious fish soup called “Torta de Macabi”! It used to be awesome, an island favorite. I would venture to say that anybody who has not tasted and enjoyed this torta de macabi does not really know what good eating is all about. In short you smoke the macabi (pronounced macabee) in your barbecue grill for about forty minutes, twenty on each side. You peel the skin open and start to remove the flesh from the 1,001 bones that it has. Then you hash the flesh or break it into fine particles. Add salt and black pepper to taste, some fine chopped onions and sweet pepper and you make some patties and fry. Then you proceed to make the soup dish. I’ll stop here because if ever I get the permit to open a restaurant (just kidding) and sell tortas de macabi, I think I can become rich with this recipe. I know, all Sanpedranos know this recipe too because they have been eating it since time immortal.

Twenty five years ago when there was no tourism, it was not illegal to catch and consume the macabi. When a school of bone fish was spotted, fishermen would surround them with the long seine (net) and catch anything from two to three hundred. A huge bed, called a barbecue or a spit, was built with green sticks and a huge fire built under it. When you had a good charcoal, the catch was smoked for some 50 minutes. Because of its huge size (10 feet by 10 feet) you could not turn the macabi over so you smoked them a little extra time. Now the macabi was ready to go.

Children sold macabi house to house at ten cents apiece. Usually when people found out that they were being sold, they went to the fisherman’s house before they ran out. When there was a surplus, they were taken to Belize City or Corozal Town and sold at the markets at 25 cents a piece. Macabi have always been a prized fish and we ate them by the thousands. I bet there must be millions in the sea, in the lagoon behind San Pedro. Today it is a prized fish for the anglers, the tourists, and the guides. Twenty five years ago, it was a prized fish for the entire village.

– by Angel Nuñez, Columnist

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