West African Food

Bordered on the Atlantic Ocean on the west and south and the Sahara Desert to the north, 16 countries make up the region of West Africa. Among these are Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana. Early trading with the Arab world introduced many spices to West African cuisine. The region also was influenced to a limited extent by the Portuguese, French and British.

West African cuisine is typically light on meat and heavy on starch and fat with many dishes prepared as stews. More seafood is eaten in this region than in the other areas of Africa, and rice is a common staple due to the abundance of rain. Black-eyed peas also are a staple of this region as are tomatoes, millet, rice, sorghum and root vegetables such as yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes and cassava. Mutton and beef are the preferred meats in some areas with goat meat being the most popular. West Africans traded with the Arab world, and cinnamon, cloves and mint have since brought an abundance of flavor to West African dishes. European explorers are credited with introducing chilis to the region. Cooking techniques in Western Africa are plentiful and include roasting, baking, frying and boiling.

Jollof rice is the most popular staple dish in West Africa, and while there are many variations, it traditionally includes parboiled rice in a heavily seasoned tomato sauce. The dish is often served with meat or chicken. A popular snack sold by roadside vendors and restaurants in the region is suya – a shish kebab that originated in Nigeria and Niger. Made with skewered beef, chicken or fish and rubbed with a dry spice mix, the kebabs are then barbequed and are often served as a late-night snack.

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