Since the first human came from Africa, it stands to reason to conclude that cooking was invented in Africa. Images of meat being cooked directly on fire during Stone Age, popular in Africa even today, gives further evidence to this. If you are an adventurous meat eater, then you already know that there is no better place than the dark continent. From bush meat in West Africa, camel meat in North Africa, zebra and impala meat in East Africa, crocodile meat in Central Africa and Ostrich meat in Southern Africa, the range does not get more exotic and more complete elsewhere. Even Entomophagy or insect eating can be found among some tribes of South Africa. Popular ones: Locust and Grasshoppers with Mopane worms and Termite eggs – all offering cheap source of protein.
This is just the kind of talk that sends shudders down the spine of a pure vegetarian Indian and enforces bias of a person who dare not even have onion and garlic in his food. Actual truth being that there are a large variety of vegetarian African cuisine created out of local fruits, vegetables, and grains that are largely unknown to most Indians. Cooking itself is less complicated in Africa and so makes them perfectly amenable to fusion with Indian cooking for the fussy vegetarian. Since the essential skill of Indian cooking lies in subtle blending of spices to enhance rather than overwhelm basic flavor of the dish, we may end up creating a true winner. After “indianizing” Chinese and Italian food, it may be the turn of African food next.
I have listed below a few vegetarian and non-vegetarian traditional African cuisines from all over Africa. This is by no means the best or most popular dishes but just a random selection to give you an idea of the variety that exists, essentially to prompt you to explore further on your own.
East Africa is the home of the people who raise cattle. In early days, sheep, goats, and cattle were seen as forms of currency and were often not eaten. Instead, the animal might be given to the father of a bride or the widow of a warrior. Hence food that are commonly eaten in East Africa include corn, rice, curries, lentils, pickles, and other exotic flavors. When meat is cooked, it is often roasted or cooked into a nourishing stew.
TANZANIA: Zanzibari biryani:
You will find all sorts of variations on biryani, ranging from vegetable assemblages to more complex ones incorporating meat and seafood; Pilau tends to be a one-pot dish generously spiced with cardamom, cumin and pepper. Both are delicious accompanied by kachumbari, a fresh onion and tomato salad popular across East Africa. Another quintessential dish of Zanzibar is urojo, a yellowish broth bought from street vendors and made with many different ingredients including pieces of meat, chili, mango, ginger, tamarind and lime.
KENYA: Kenya’s favorite comfort food is Irio. This well-loved dish is made of mashed-up potatoes, peas, beans, corn and onion and frequently served with spiced roasted meat to make for a delicious dish. Kenya is famous for its long-distance runners, and many a Kenyan will attribute their stamina to the health-giving effects of another treasured staple, sukuma wiki. This means “push for the week” in Swahili, indicating that this dish can be used to feed the family for a week. Sukuma wiki is made with collard greens and/or kale cooked with onions and spices to make a piquant relish for ugali (maize porridge).
North African cuisine is rich with spices that came from the Arabs. Things like nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and saffron are found in a number of dishes that are made in North Africa. Couscous main staple diet of North Africa is popular in India as well today.
EGYPT: Koshari is what ordinary Egyptians eat at home. A nourishing vegetarian dish of rice, lentils, macaroni, garlic and chickpeas, bought together by a spicy tomato sauce and topped off with fried onion. Another beloved classic of home cooking is mahshi, or vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and vine leaves stuffed with spiced rice.
Ful Medames can be said to be the country’s national dishes, and comprises of fava beans simmered with spices and olive oil. The dried beans are often cooked overnight and served in the morning with eggs and pita bread. It’s ideal for a filling breakfast when you need to sustain all through the day.
MOROCCO: Moroccan tagines and couscous dishes are world famous. In addition there is pastilla au pigeou (also known as b’stilla) that is sweet and savory. It’s a pie comprising shredded cooked squab (or often chicken, when pigeon is hard to find) thickened with egg sauce and interspersed with paper-thin pastry and layers of nutty, spicy filling.
Tapioca is widely grown in West Africa and so cuisine in this part of the world has lot of starchy ingredients. There is also a lot of fat included in the dishes. Some of the common ingredients include cinnamon, potatoes, yams, cassava, plantains, citrus fruits and pineapples. Many of the dishes are roasted, boiled or fried, and root vegetables are often mashed. Dried fish is popular as well.
NIGERIA: Jollof rice is a great favourite all over West Africa. A simple, spicy one-pot dish comprising, at its most basic, rice, tomatoes, onions and pepper, it’s often served, along with other Nigerian favourites such as egusi soup (made with ground melon seeds and bitter leaf), fried plantains and pounded yam (iyan or fufu).
Other dishes to try in Nigeria include thick, spicy broths made with okra and flavored with chicken or meat, and suya, which are spicy Nigerian shish kebabs (similar to Ghana’s chichinga) cooked over braziers by street vendors.
Southern African cuisine has changed over time as immigrants came and settled down over centuries. Curries and chutneys are eaten frequently. Seafood is abundantly available and wild game is popular as well. Cape area is home of some great wine and fruit beverages that comes from large citrus farms.
SOUTH AFRICA :Pap and Vleis (pronounced pup and flace) is a perfect diversity meal of South Africa since ingredients used in this dish represent all of the South African cultures. It’s a combination of two things most popular – barbecued meat and maize porridge side served with spicy gravy, relish or chakalaka. Boerwoer’s roll ( meat sausage had with bread roll and sauce) is Afrikaner’s (people of Dutch origin) specialty. Indian indentured laborers created BUNNY CHOW
(bunny, I guess comes from Hindi word Bania or trader and Chow means to eat). This is hollowed-out half- or quarter-loaf of white bread filled with a blistering-hot curry and is a popular street food. Similarly, CAPE MALAY CURRY and CAPE BREYANI are treasured classic that came from Malaysian immigrants settled in Cape area. It is a fragrant dish comprising layers of marinated meat, rice, lentils and spices topped with crisp-fried onions and hard-boiled eggs.
MOZAMBIQUE : Sizzling, spicy prawns and seafood are often a first choice for visitors to Maputo. However not to be missed are the iconic Mozambican dish Galinha à Zambeziana, a succulent feast of chicken cooked with lime, pepper, garlic, coconut milk and piri piri sauce.
Kapenta with sadza is popular in neighboring Zimbabwe, Kapenta being the freshwater fish from Lake Kariba and Saza local for maize porridge. Similarly there is Chambo with nsima, from Malawi – Chambo being the best known fish from Lake Malawi and Nsima the ubiquitous maize porridge. The other neighbor Namibia shows a strong German influence with traditional German delicacies such as sauerkraut and Eisbein. On the other hand, fish stew (Caldeirada de Peixe ) of another neighbor Angola shows strong Portuguese influence.
In contrast to Southern Africa, it is said that the most traditional type of African cuisine can be found in Central Africa, since not many people migrated there until recently. The cuisine in Central Africa is filled with starchy foods, grilled meat and tons of different sauces. Chicken is a popular meat, so is crocodile, antelope, warthog and monkey.
Muama de galinha is a popular local food in Central African countries that is made of chicken , okra and palm oil. Palm butter soup and spinach stew are common as well and is had with Fufu (pounded cassava) and Fontou(pounded plantains) that are eaten along with like bread. Then there is the crispy, chewy Chichnga which is skewered barbecued goat meat.
So far we have barely touch a tip of what this great continent has to offer. The hope is that Indians should come to Africa to explore not just it’s forestry but it’s food as well. And the Indian business mind can create a string of Afro- Indian Restaurants spread over Africa, with hybrid cuisine that stands as a symbol of unique synergy between Africa and India. Something the Chinese will battle to compete!