Different national cuisines are celebrated around the world in the modern age. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Indian, Mexican and French restaurants can be found across the globe, sometimes in very unlikely places. For foodies, it is fantastic that varied tastes and techniques have transcended continents and can be sampled by very different groups of people to whom it was made for in the first place. However, in this era of choice and cosmopolitan tastes, one continent continues to be a little under-represented on the menu. African food is delicious and very varied, yet many might not be aware of the delights that can be found on the African menu. This article will try to serve up a little flavour of what is on offer.
First of all it should be stated that it is rather simplistic labelling an entire continent’s produce as ‘African’ cooking. The countries within the continent serve up dishes of very different taste and style. For example, countries in the North, such as Morocco, use an abundance of spices and herbs to flavour their cooking. In a Sub-Saharan African country such as Kenya, Tagine and Couscous is as alien to the population as sushi or sausages. Kenya’s staple revolves around carbohydrates such as rice or ugali, a maize dish similar to polenta or semolina in its consistency. Thus perhaps it is apt to split the continent in four and try to give an impression of the types of dishes popular in each region.
North African cuisine is influenced by a mixture of Arabic, Berber and European cultures. Popular ingredients include meat, lamb, seafood, dates, almonds, olives, olive oil and spices including cumin, ginger, paprika, cinnamon and saffron. Fresh peppermint will be used, certainly in the very sweet tea that is so popular in this part of the world. Expect couscous with spiced meat stews, or sweeter sauces made with dates and almonds.
West African cuisine uses ingredients such as chilli peppers, tomatoes, peanuts, corn and plantains. Rice dishes and groundnut stews are popular as well as the use of avocados in soups and salads.
East African cooking revolves around stews and ugali. Plantain will often be used with various beans and perhaps meat to make delicious and hearty meals. Chapatis (pancakes) are popular and delicious at breakfast time. The maize meal or ugali that is the Kenyan national dish can take some getting used to for European tastes but is hearty and nutritious.
Southern African cooking is a real blend of many cultures and influences: African, Asian and European. Meat products including wild game are popular here as well as grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. There is an abundance of seafood on offer in coastal areas. Mozambique has a real Portuguese influence to many of its dishes whilst South Africa is famous for its love of meat.
It is well worth delving a little deeper in to the cuisines of Africa and hopefully food from countries around the continent will begin to gain a higher profile as people realise how delicious and hearty African meals are.