by Victoria Swander
CACHUPA: NATIONAL DISH OF THE REPUBLIC OF CAPE VERDE
Cachupa is a type of stew and the national dish of Cape Verde consisting primarily of corn, beans, and meat or fish. It may serve as an everyday common meal, to a special occasion with friends (called cachupada), or play a role in significant celebrations such as weddings. It is a distinctive element of the culture in Cape Verdean communities within the country and beyond it, functioning within emigrated populations around the world.
Cape Verde is an African country consisting of ten main islands and several islets (very small islands) located off the coast of West Africa. The islands each fall into one of two geographical regions. Those found in the north are called the Barlavento islands (a Portuguese term meaning “windward”, or upwind), while the southern set are known as the Sotavento (“leeward”; downwind) islands (Leary). The capital, Praia, can be found on the southern island of Santiago. The climate and terrain of the islands varies from flat, dry, and rocky to mountainous. Even within a single landmass, the environment may be diverse due to differences in altitude. Pico do Fogo (“Peak of Fire”) is an active volcano over 9,200 ft high found on Fogo. Rainfall is seldom, and historically many of the islands have been subject to long periods of drought (CIA).
Although the previously unpopulated islands are speculated to have been visited by explorers earlier, the first official record of discovery was in the 1400s by Portuguese explorers. The Portuguese colonized the islands and imported enslaved Africans as labor for plantations (Jones), experimenting with crops like corn, peppers, sugar, and bananas. Despite poor harvests due to unsuitable environmental conditions, maize imported from the Americas was being widely cultivated on the islands by the 17th century. A key component in cachupa is corn in the form of hominy or samp (hominy is dry, whole corn kernels that have had their skin removed; samp is the same except it has been cracked into pieces). The corn would be pounded smooth with African mortar & pestles or ground in Portuguese mills and boiled. Beans would be added, followed by spices, vegetables, and meat (if available). While the specific recipe may vary from island to island, the availability of ingredients reflects socioeconomic conditions as cachupa can range from lean in times of scarcity, to hearty in times of prosperity.
4 c. samp (hominy)
1 c. kidney beans
1 c. large lima beans
1/2 c. shell beans
2 lbs. spareribs (pork or beef)
1 chourico (garlic spicy sausage), sliced
l blood sausage, when avallable, sliced
1/4 lb. lean bacon, diced
2 lbs. cabbage, chopped coarsely
2 lbs. tomatoes, quartered
2 lbs. green bananas, peeled and sliced
2 lbs. fresh yams, peeled and chunked
2 lbs. fresh sweet potatoes, peeled and chunked
2 lbs. hard winter squash, peeled and chunked (e.g. buttercup, butternut, hubbard etc.)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
Flat leaf coriander
Soak the samp and beans overnight. In a stock pot, heat six cups of water. Add two tablespoons of olive oil, onion, garlic and bay leaf to water for seasoning. Bring to boil and add samp and beans. In a separate kettle, cook the vegetables except the tomatoes with the spareribs, chourico or linguica, blood sausage, and bacon. Next, cut up and season the chicken. Saute chicken in olive oil. Add tomatoes, and let simmer until samp and beans are almost folk tender but not quite done. Add cooked vegetables and meats into stock pot. Cook on low heat for approximately one hour. About 20 minutes before the cachupa is done you may mix in well sauted onion, garlic and tomato paste mixture (sofrito) to adjust and enhance the flavor. Turn off heat and let sit in the covered pot for at least one half hour before serving. Arrange meats and vegetables on a large serving platter and serve the corn and beans in a bowl.
“If you go to Cape Verde, you can find katxupa in all the restaurants. It’s a dish that everyone eats, but in the past, it was traditionally something that only poor people made. We have poor katxupa and rich katxupa. Poor katxupa is the real katxupa – no meat, just the corn and beans. You can find both kinds everywhere now, but this is not the way it used to be. Before, we would never think of serving something like katxupa to guests and you’d never find it in restaurants. You’d only see European – especially Portuguese – food.” – Ines Brito
The intermingling of European and African peoples, language, and culture over time resulted in a blended nation. Much of the population is of mixed African and Portuguese descent. And while Portuguese is the official language used in schools and businesses, the mother tongue of most citizens is Cape Verdean Creole (Kriolu; a blend of Portuguese and West African languages). The country gained independence on July 5th 1975 following a rebellion with Guinea against Portugal, and a significant portion of the population began to emigrate. In fact, more Cape Verdeans live abroad than in the country itself. Even so cachupa remains a well-known aspect of Cape Verdean culture around the world.