One of the things people often ask me is what foods I miss from home. I have to say that the list has shrunk over the years. At first, we smuggled biltong furtively through Heathrow customs and I clearly remember my mom bringing me boxes of Rooibos when she visited me. And of course, there was the constant traffic in Aromat, my poison of choice Over the years, slowly but surely, more and more South African stuff has become available over here, either in specialist shops or (in the case of Nando’s sauces, Mrs Ball’s Chutney, Rooibos and Aromat) in British supermarkets. But despite the wide availability of South African goods, there are still a few that I miss and would willingly sacrifice my precious 20kg luggage allowance for. One of these is Peck’s Anchovette.
I challenge you to find any restaurant serving breakfast in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s that did not feature anchovy toast on its menu. It is one of those things that is so ubiquitous that you can’t imagine any other country lives without it, until you land in London and a few months down the line you realise you haven’t seen anchovy toast on the menu for a while. I found this really strange, because in food halls like Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, you can buy stuff called “Gentleman’s Relish” – which is largely made up of anchovy paste. But no sign of Peck’s Anchovette. As it turns out, this is because it does not comply with some arcane EU regulation and the company did not think the size of the UK or European market justified the expense of complying with said regulation. However these guysindicated towards the end of last year that they had some in stock, so maybe it’s been allowed in? All info welcome!
The Peck’s brand was started in London in 1891 by one Harry Peck who produced a variety of processed meat products, including meat and fish pastes. After his death, production was continued by Harry Peck & Co. Ltd and the brand was manufactured in South Africa for the first time in 1962 (which is, I swear, when my father bought his first jar!). The brand and rights to the original recipe later passed to Southern Sea Fishing and now vest in Premier Fishing.
So – what’s in the jar? I have sometimes seen Anchovette described as the South African equivalent of British Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. It’s a paste of anchovies, mackerel and pilchards with the saltiness of tinned anchovies and the unrelenting fishiness of a product whose label boasts that it contains 91% fish! It’s best spread on hot buttered wholewheat toast and I usually top this with thinly sliced cucumber to take the edge off the saltiness – heavenly!
Love it or hate it, Anchovette will be a loved or loathed part of your childhood memories if you grew up in South Africa.
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