Octopus Soup

School by the sea extended to the starfish gardens between the shore and the reef, courtesy of Saidi and his dugout. Saidi has been fishing this stretch of coast since he was a boy, his entrepreneurial spirit has grown over the years to include the short tour such as the one Hat and I went on.

Saidi punted us out to the starfish where we piled out into the shallow water. Starfish of myriad colours abounded: lime green with yellow spots, midnight blue with orange, almost black and red. The starfish feast on the spiny black sole-of-foot puncturing sea urchins. They feast well here and lie fatly upon the sand.

Suddenly our sea life reverie is disturbed with a squeal from Saidi; we turn to find him wrestling an octopus clinging stickily with its Velcro-strip tentacles to his arms. Hat, intrigued, moves to touch its super-glue suckers and have Saidi point out its eyes and mouth and ink sack.

Why didn’t it release its ink, I want to know.

Because I am too quick, said Saidi, who had unearthed the octopus from under the coral it was trying to wriggle beneath.

Hat and I returned to our starfish; it’d be impossible to reproduce their colours faithfully on canvas: Mother Earth has patented her work skillfully; so many of the hues found in nature cannot be copied truthfully.

As we clamber aboard the dugout ready to return I enquire as to the fate of the octopus.

‘He is here’, says Saidi, proudly pointing to the creature, lying almost inert now in the bottom of the dugout. ‘He is for soup; he will make very good soup’.

How do you make octopus soup I want to know (for what else is there to say when your marine biology lesson has morphed into one on cuisine?)

‘First’, says Saidi delighted that I should ask, ‘you hit the octopus very hard ten times on the beach (and he demonstrates: as if slapping a wet towel several times against the sand). If you do not hit the octopus’, he explains, ‘his flesh will be very tough. Then I will clean out the ink sack and take him home and chop him up. I will put him in a pan and boil him, with no water’. The octopus, he elaborates, contains enough water of its own. No salt either, he warns, enough of that too. Courtesy of its saline habitat no doubt.  When the octopus has emitted its liquid, the flesh must be drawn out, and fried with onion, tomato and pepper and then the stock can be returned to the pan and your soup is ready.

‘It is delicious’, announces Saidi, ‘you can eat it with ugali’.

With thoughts of my own imminent lunch (distinctly less adventurous fish and chips) we set sail for home, Hat takes the tiller.  

And I watch the octopus dying at my feet.


  A math lesson is disrupted by a ruckus emanating from the beach.

Voices and cries and shouting.

Recent history in mind I fear a tribal clash taking shape at my feet.

It’s nothing so sinister.

Shoals of sardine have swum close to shore and excited fishermen are noisily organising themselves into teams to net them.

As the tide ebbs so does the hullabaloo. Hat and I go down to the sand to inspect the catch. We are not alone; the fishermen’s families have joined them and women and children are merrily dividing the spoils and cleaning the fish at the water’s edge.

Later, at sundown, I walk on the beach. It is quiet now but for the distant crash of surf and the rasping whisper of palms. All that remains of the morning’s activity lies in the sand which has been churned by the tread of dozens of pairs of scampering feet, and which is sifted with the silver of scales.


12 Responses to “Octopus Soup”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    That was wonderful I felt like I was there at the beach for a few wonderful moments instead of sitting in a cubicle at work! Have a great vacation.

  2. roberta Says:

    I can’t help feeling a little bit sorry for the octopus.

    Another wonderful installment. I’m with Kathleen, I feel like I’ve had a nice little trip to the ocean!

  3. daisyfae Says:

    what a glorious education for Hat – and vicariously for the rest of us through your elegant words… the gentle sadness when we see the cycle of life in the raw form. so much easier to avoid thinking about it when all food is processed in sterile factories.

  4. Potty Mummy Says:

    Lovely RM. What a gift to be able to give a child, this type of education. All our kids should be so lucky…

  5. Iota Says:

    How marvellous to be in a position to write a blog post entitled “Octopus Soup”. Not many can lay claim to that.

  6. Irene Says:

    You are in a position to be there where people are first hand consumers of what they catch and not what they buy processed and packaged in the store. We may all be sightly feeling sorry for the octopus, but we don’t feel sorry for the cows and pigs that are killed to make our sausages and luncheon meats.

    The description of the starfish is beautiful and I am sure you will say that they can’t be described, but you come close. What an education your daughter is getting!

  7. foxhollowjewelry Says:

    I love the descriptions! And I bet the soup is delicious…what a great way to teach Hat so many important lessons…ones that sadly are not being taught in regular school…bravo!

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you. I ought to have asked Saidi if i could try a cupful of his soup myself. He delightedly reported the next day that it had – indeed – been as delicious as anticipated.

  9. R. Sherman Says:

    I had octopus in Mexico once. I found it to be tough — I guess they didn’t whack it hard enough on the beach.


  10. ann Says:

    What a great education for Hat. Last summer I bumped into one of my neighbours in Switzerland. She said she was taking her 8 year old son out of school for a few months and was going travelling with him. “Eduction is more than learning in a school. I am going to teach him about the world and prepare him for when the oil runs out!”

  11. maggie may Says:

    Another wonderful description of the beauty of your surroundings, but I felt a bit sorry for the unfortunate octopus!

  12. Pretending to be English « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] (if he’s not careful I shall call Saidi and enquire as to whether he has a good recipe for Rooster Soup […]

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