Africa is a continent of more than 600 million people residing in more than 50 countries. Each of these countries is at a different level of development, using a wide variety of cooking styles and ingredients. The various climates, terrains and influences produce a range of locally available ingredients, and most can be found in U.S. supermarkets and specialty markets. For dishes with hard-to-find ingredients, recipes can be easily adapted to use what it readily available.
African recipes are passed down from generation to generation, and many modern recipes are based on classic dishes that are centuries old. Since there was no refrigeration when some of the recipes were created, many of the ingredients were dried so that they could be preserved for long periods. This is evident in some of the recipes today that call for dried meats and fish as well as dried fruits and spices.
African Cuisine by Region
Situated along the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt all call North Africa home.
Over the centuries, North Africa’s diverse cuisine was influenced by the outside world. These outsiders were immigrants, migrants, invaders and traders to name a few, and each added to the culinary diversity of the region.
Lamb tagine is a popular Moroccan dish that consists of lamb slow cooked in spices and lemon juice.
Couscous, chickpeas, merguez sausages (spicy, red sausages) and rice
Cinnamon, cumin, coriander, sumac and turmeric
South Africa is best described as a melting pot or as having a “rainbow” of influences. These are primarily Dutch and Malaysian.
Dishes that combine both sweet and savory flavors are popular with Bobotie being one of the most popular dishes. Bobotie is similar to meatloaf or shepherd’s pie. It is made with lamb, apple and raisins and topped with a custard-like topping.
The South African coast borders the Atlantic and Indian oceans; therefore, seafood is abundant in this region. Meat pies, introduced by the British are popular as are a variety of locally grown fruits (mangos, grapes and apricots) and vegetables (tomatoes, green beans and cabbage).
Spicy curries from Indian and Asian influences
Some 1000 years ago, Arabs settled the coastal areas of East Africa followed centuries later by the Portuguese, British and Indians who all brought their food products, spices and cooking techniques that are now common in the region.
Ugali (cornmeal mash) is the most popular dish in East Africa and is made from ground corn flour or maize. This staple also is popular in other regions and goes by various names including nshima or nsima in Zimbabwe and Malawi, pap in South Africa and fufu in West Africa.
Corn, peppers, tomatoes, bananas, pineapple and pork are common ingredients introduced by the Portuguese. In some areas of East Africa, meat products are absent from the diet as cattle is viewed as a form of currency or wealth.
Saffron, cloves and cinnamon (Arabs); curries (Indians)
Early trading with the Arab world introduced many spices to West African cuisine. The region was also influenced to a limited extent by the Portuguese, French and British.
Jollof rice is the most popular staple dish in Africa. It is parboiled rice in a heavily seasoned tomato sauce that is often served with meat or chicken.
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.
Peppers and other hot spices such as chilies
Africa is clearly a diverse continent offering an unexplored world of flavors. To learn more about African cuisine and culture, visit AfroFoodtv.com. Launched in September 2006 by Yetunde “Yeti” Ezeanii , AfroFoodtv.com is an online resource for everything epicuriously African. Having been raised in the West African country of Nigeria, Yeti aims to share her love of African food and culture and to educate a population she has found knows very little about Africa and its cuisine. The Web site provides dozens of recipes and video cooking demonstrations of the most popular African recipes from each region of the continent. Also on the site is “AfroFood bytes,” a quarterly, electronic newsletter. Each issue provides a “culinary journey through Africa and beyond” with spotlights on African chefs and their restaurants, cooking tips, information and history of African staples as well as featured recipes.