It is said that Africa is the richest in every aspect of life; culture, tourism, fashion, entertainment, cuisine and the rest. However, whether this is true or not, to some persons it remains an undisputable fact. Cutting across the regions or sub-regions of Africa, lays different styles or methods of doing things including cooking. A typical African cuisine uses a combination of locally available fruits, cereal grains and vegetables as well as milk and meat products and the continent’s diverse demographic makeup is reflected in its many different eating and drinking habits, dishes and preparation techniques of its manifold population. It is said that to develop a great cuisine, a nation must have four attributes – an abundance of fine ingredients, a variety of cultural influences, a great civilization and the existence of a refined royal life. And to Africa, they possess all these.
Looking at the West and Central regions of Africa, fufu is their stable food. This fufu however, is a thick paste made by boiling starchy root crops like cassava and sometimes cocoyam and plantain in water and pounding the mixture with a mortar and pestle. Exploring Cameroon as one of the nine countries in Central Africa, Ndole’ a Cameroonian dish, consist of stewed nuts, ndoleh (bitter leave indigenous to West Africa) and fish or beef. The dish may also contain shrimps or prawns. It is however eaten with plantain bobolo (a Cameroonian dish made of fermented ground cassava and wrapped with leaves). Stable foods in Cameroon include cassava, cocoyam, yam, rice, plantain, potato, maize, beans, millet, ndole and achu (fufu). The main source of protein is fish and bush meat such as the pangolin, the porcupine and the giant rat. Among Cameroonian specialties are brochettes known locally as soya (made from beef, chicken or goat), sangah (a mixture of maize, cassava leaf and palm nut juice), koki (primarily consisting of black eyed peas andred palm oil) and many more. As mentioned earlier, most African foods consists of dishes made from grains, including sorghum, millet, rice, maize, yam, beans, and cowpeas, flour for bread and stews cooked with vegetable and meat. Fresh milk and butter are also an inclusion, so is coconut milk, curry and a variety of spices. In East Africa, for example Somalia the meat eaten is mainly halal, meaning it must be slaughtered alive and the blood poured to the ground. Already dead animals are not eaten. A typical East African food breakfast would consists of specially baked bread called Lahooh, or Canjeera in Somalia, chapatti in Kenya and Uganda, eaten with vegetable stew, sour porridge like the Kenyan uji. Amongst the Kikiyu speaking people of Kenya, Githeri, made from corn and beans or Irio made from mashed potatoes and maize is common for breakfast.
In the Northern region, morocco has a wealth of raw ingredients, including the mint, olive and quinces of meknes, the oranges and lemons of fez and Agadir etc. all of these used in preparing delicious dishes. There are however four morrocan dishes that are world-class – bisteeya, mechoui, djej emsmel and couscous. Bisteeya is the most sophisticated and elaborated Morrocan dish, a combination of incredibly tasty flavours. It is a huge pie of the thinnest, flakiest pastry filled with three layers – spicy pieces of pigeon or chicken, lemony eggs cooked in a savory onion sauce and toasted, sweetened almonds. I bet you would love to taste this. The Northern mainly uses olive oils, and vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, pumpkin and edible wild greens.
Coming to the West African region, its common ingredients include; chili pepper, egusi seed, corn, cassava, plantain, onions, klouikloui. The most prevalent cooking oil is palmnut oil, traditionally associated with the coastal regions while Shea butter is more commonly used in the Sahel. Moreover, there are certain ingredients that go with certain countries as well. In Ghana, the most commonly used ingredients are hot pepper, ginger and maize.
Ghanaians use hot pepper because they believe it will cool the body and cleanse/purify it. In Senegal, the main ingredient are among others; gumbo, hot pepper, rice, millet, peanut, ginger, tamarind leaves and baobab fruit and cooking oil. African potash (potassium carbonate) is a native salt use for flavoring and expedites the cooking. It is made from wood fire ashes. Although West Africans ate far more vegetables and much less meat in the past, today their diet is heavier in meat, salt and fats. Meats such as chicken, guinea fowl, eggs also being popular, beef, pork and mutton. While goat meat remains dominant. The West African types of meal are; fufu, which is usually made from cassava as well as from cocoyam or unripe plantain and served with any kind of soup. It is eaten by pinching a small ball of fufu and making with the thumb, fills the reservoir with soup and swallows. In Nigeria and Ghana, the ball is often not chewed but swallowed. While in fact chewing fufu is considered faux pas. Therefore fufu is not only served as food but as utensil. One of the low points of fufu was the smell which lingers on long after the meal, however, new and improved species of cassava and improved cassava processing has eliminated the smell of fufu making it more accepted as a meal. Jollof rice also called Benachin is a popular dish all over West Africa. It is however an interesting fact to know that It originated in Senegal but has been spread to the whole of West Africa especially Nigeria and Ghanaamongst members of the Wolof ethnic group from whom the word “Jollof” originated. The most common ingredient includes; rice, tomato, onion, salt and red pepper. Beyond that, nearly any kind of meat, vegetable or spice can be added. The Senegalese version of Jollof rice is a bit different and is called Ceebiyen. It is the national dish of Senegal. Amongst other meal are Egusi, with its major ingredients such as; melon, vegetable leaves, palm oil, salt, pepper, and fish or meat, fried plantain or dodo, a popular version made in Ghana is called Kelewele or hot plantain chips, kenkey usually made from ground corn or cassava wrapped in banana leaves, Ngome, Ogbono soup etc.
A typical dish in South African family household that is Bantu-speaking is a stiff, fluffy porridge of maize meal called ‘’pap’’ and very similar to American grits, with a flavored stewed meat. Traditional rural families often ferment their pap for a few days especially if it is sorghum instead of maize which gives it a stangy flavor. Their vegetable is often mainly pumpkin. Their different varieties of ingredients include; Rice and beans. They are however very popular even though they are not indigenous. Another common vegetable dish which arrived South Africa with its many Irish immigrants, but which has been adopted by South Africa is shredded cabbage and white potatoes cooked with butter. For many South Africans, meat is the Centre of any meal. They enjoy not only beef, but mutton, goat, chicken, and other meats as a centerpiece of any meal. Eating meat even has a ritual significance in both traditional and modern South African culture.
To add to that, a very distinctive regional style of cooking of South African is often referred to as ‘’Cape Dutch’’ this cuisine is characterized by the use of spices such as nutmeg, allspice and chili peppers. Bobotie is a South African dish that has Cape Malay origins. it consists of spiced minced meat baked with an egg. Bobotie is perhaps closest to being the national dish, because it isn’t commonly found in any country. The recipe originated from the Dutch East India companies’ colonies in Batavia. It is often served with sambal (a hot sauce typically made from a mixture of variety of chili pepper with secondary ingredients such as shrimps, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, shallot, palm sugar, lime juice and rice vinegar).
Lastly, it is worthy of note that Africa has a wide range of cuisine. It is in fact normal to realize some persons from other countries do not find some dishes from another country desirable. It is the matter of taste. But there are national dishes such as rice and a couple of recipes. And so, in official gatherings, these national dishes could be made available in case the attendees do happen to find the particular dish of that country not desirable. But while, how amazing it would be if one could go on and taste something new. It won’t hurt.