When I first landed in Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) at Amílcar Cabral Airport on Sal Island I was famished. I had lots of time to kill before making my way to the capital city Praia on Santiago Island, but being on a strict travel budget I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on airport food. So I left the building and walked over to some nearby businesses. There, I came upon a little outdoor cafe.
On the menu I saw the price first– 200 escudos (about US$2.10). The right price for me! Then I saw the name: Cachupa. Granted I had never ever heard of cachupa and did not have any idea it was considered the country’s national dish. But I checked out the description–corn/hominy, beans, tuna. The recipe was familiar. Maybe it was like hominy grits, I thought. But it wasn’t. It was something totally different. When served it looked more than hearty — it also had an overeasy egg and some little sausages on it that I later learned were called linguiça. It was more than yummy!
Once I got settled in Praia, I went on a cachupa tasting test, trying the dish all around town. That’s when I discovered that everyone makes cachupa differently — and you can get it everywhere. Almost every restaurant serves it. On Saturdays you can find people cooking it in large kettle pots outside of their homes for hours and serving it up to everyone in the neighborhood — sometimes for money, sometimes for free. Men and women alike cook cachupa. And some of the best I have had were actually cooked up by men.
The dish can be served dry (cachupa refogada/fried cachupa), which is my favorite, or soupy (guisada). It can be made with fish or meat (sausage, beef, pork, goat, or chicken). For special occasions such as weddings and funerals and holidays like New Year’s Eve, a version of cachupa is made with extra sausage, marinated meats, and vegetables. This is called cachupa sabe (savory). There’s also cachupa rica (cachupa rich), which contains even more ingredients.
Cachupa can be eaten all hours. The soup version is typically for lunch or dinner. Meanwhile leftover cachupa is dished up for breakfast. Cachupa guisada is fried up a with onions until it is dried out and then served with eggs. One very lovely tradition centered around cachupa is many families meet over the weekend for a cachupa day, during which the entire family unites for basically the whole day to dine on cachupa and socialize. I know one woman whose family does sort of cachupa go-round–each week a different member of the family hosts a Cachupa Saturday.
Cape Verde’s nine inhabited islands all have their own versions. (On Brava Island, for example, cachupa is called munchupa.) After six years in Cabo Verde, I remain a fan of the Santiago Island version. My least favorite cachupa dishes I have had were on the island of Sal, ironically the first place I ever tasted cachupa. Although at first impressed with the dish there, after my informal and unscientific taste test, it became my least favorite. While cachupa for the most part is a mild dish (you can add hot sauce on your own), Sal’s in retrospect seemed too mild.
If you are visiting Praia, you can get fried cachupa for breakfast at nearly every eatery–from hotel restaurants to sidewalk cafes. On Saturdays (and sometimes Fridays), you can go to an array of restaurants for the soupy version, even at more upscale restaurants such as Restaurant & Bar O Poeta and Tia Irene. For a more homey version try such small eateries as Pastelaria Vilu in the main business district of Plateau, or for the real downhome deal head to Elly’s, which actually a home turned into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant during the day. Located also in Plateau, Elly’s may be hard to find, but if you ask around someone will direct you. Expected to wait outside for a seat to open up–it gets crowded. Authentic cachupa can also be found at the Mercado de Sucupira at most any one of the outdoor food nooks. Prices range from about 200 escudos to 350 escudos, so it is a very cheap but filling dish. If you’re lucky, someone may invite you over for a homecooked meal of cachupa. And considering Cabo Verde is known for its “morabeza” (“welcoming spirit”) this might be possible.
Although a simple dish, cachupa is not easy to make. The best ones are a slow–very slow–boiled stew. It can take hours, and prep is usually started the night before.
I asked around for a typical cachupa recipe, and of course, I got more than a few versions, but here are the basics. To make an easy version of cachupa rica, you will need:
- 3-4 cups dry corn/hominy (soaked in water overnight)
- 1 cup dry red beans (soaked in water overnight)
- olive oil as needed
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-6 cups of water
- 1 chicken bouillon cube (or 2 cups chicken stock)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 chorizo (sliced)
- 1 blood sausage (optional)
- salted pork, chopped into big chunks
- tuna and/or meat
- 1 small cabbage, roughly chopped
- 1 pound sweet potatoes, chunks
- 1-2 cups of hard winter squash
- 1 pound tomatoes
- diced fresh cilantro
- salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: Saute the onions in olive oil, then add the garlic. After sauteeing for a little bit, add 4-6 cups of water, bay leaves, and the soaked hominy and beans. Simmer until nearly tender.
Separately, saute all of your meat/fish along with any veggies you are using such as cabbage. Add tomatoes, and let simmer until tender.
Now add the vegetables and meat to your stock pot. Cook on low heat about two-three hours. Turn off heat keep covered pot for around 30 minutes before serving.
While I have fried up leftover cachupa at home, I have yet to try to cook cachupa rica myself–my homemade version will be next on my taste test.