Vegan Pickled ‘Fish’ for Easter

A traditional spicy, sweet-and-sour Cape Malay pickled fish recipe, made fish-less

A South African Easter tradition

As a born-and-bred South African, upon hearing the words ‘Easter foods’ what are some of the first thoughts that pop into your mind?

For me, it has to be, #1 hot cross buns! Here is my hot cross bun recipe that I am so excited to share with you – click here for the hot cross bun recipe. These are the best home made hot cross buns I’ve had. Actually, they are even better than store-bought! Give them a try if you prefer the sweeter side of Easter.

#2 without a doubt is the South African tradition of Cape Malay pickled fish.

Imagine the scenario back in history …

People of various ethnicities arrive at the Cape of Good Hope on ships, in order to work as slaves for the settlers here.

Due to their countries of origin being predominantly India, Indonesia, South East Asia etc, they brought with them, amongst other things I’m sure, a plethora of spices from their homelands.

Settling in a town along the shoreline, fish was naturally a staple in the diet.

Add to this combination the fact that refrigeration did not exist at the time, and voila! Today’s recipe – traditional Cape Malay pickled fish (minus the fish).

A tradition like this points out the clear extent of the diversity of our culture here in South Africa.

As a European-descended Christian South African I eat a traditionally Cape Malay dish at Easter time, which originates from the predominantly Muslim Cape Malay community.

Then , of course, there is the Roman Catholic custom of eating fish on Good Friday, which just adds to the mishmash of cultures that has created my sentiment that Easter is best remembered and celebrated with at least one dish of pickled fish on the family table!

Never heard of it?

For anyone not familiar with this unique tradition from the most Southern tip of Africa, think of a sweet-and-sour style, curried and spiced pickling sauce, full of soft onions, covering and infusing chunks of local fish. With the exception that in the recipe I have created, no fish were harmed.

I used the Fry’s Family Foods Prawn-style pieces and used them as though they were battered fish pieces for this fish-less pickled fish. How convenient to have products like this available to us. Even cooler is that since I first created this recipe, Fry’s have introduced a new product to our South African shores which may work even better in this recipe – the fish-style fillets!

I have tried these on their own and they are delicious, so I will keep you posted as soon as I try them in this recipe. Or you could give it a try and let me know how it goes in the comments.

Pickled vegan ‘fish’ on the beautiful Muizenberg Beach

Vegan Pickled ‘Fish’ for Easter

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Catherine Stevenson Course: Starters, Light meals, SidesCuisine: Cape MalayDifficulty: Easy


Prep time


Cooking time



The vegan version of the traditional Cape Malay Easter dish


  • 2 large white onions

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cup white vinegar

  • 0,5 cup sugar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 Tbsp corn flour

  • 3 Tbsp pickled fish masala (see notes)

  • 2 x 250g boxes Fry’s tempura battered prawn-style pieces

  • 2 Tbs oil, for frying

  • 1 handful fresh coriander, to serve

  • Fresh bread, to serve


  • Chop the onions into half rings.
  • Place water and vinegar into a medium-sized pot/saucepan on a medium-high heat and add the masala spice, sugar and salt stirring as it heats to dissolve the sugar.
  • Add the onions and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid ajar.
  • Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to form a paste, then add to the sauce mixture, stirring immediately, and allow it to thicken while stirring. Cook for an additional minute or two, and then take it off the heat.
  • Once the sauce has reached room temperature, place it in the fridge to cool. While the sauce is cooling, fry the prawn-style pieces.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and once hot, add the prawn-style pieces from frozen.
  • Fry for 6-8 minutes, turning frequently, until they are golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper towel.
  • Once the sauce is cooled, add the prawn-style pieces and mix to coat.
    This is best mixed together just before serving so as to maintain the crispness of the ‘fish’.
  • Serve with loads of fresh coriander, and fresh bread to mop up the sauce.


  • I bought the pickled fish masala as a ready-mixed spice blend from Atlas Trading in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. I utilise this shop a lot as they are so well priced, and stock a lot of vegan necessities. I buy my soya mince granules from there as well, which I use for my meat-free spaghetti bolognese recipe.

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