Gastronomic Profiles: West Africa


African cooking is growing slowly in popularity in the US. When one talks about African cooking, they may have a specific region in  mind, but we’re talking about a whole continent. Of course, the continent of Africa is made up of regions that have different styles of cooking such as the East African cuisines of Ethiopian food, and North African using the spices and tagines of Morocco. For its intents and purposes, West African cooking is the spotlight.  Cuisines from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, and Ivory Coast, to name a few, make up the food culture.  There are differences in local cuisines, but there are commonalities in the ingredients. Most use suya pepper, groundnut (peanuts), dried fish, cassava, cocoyam, palm oil, and even shea oils as staple ingredients. West Africans take pride in national dishes such as Jollof rice, Thiebou Chin, Chin Chin, and Puff puff.

Here in the US, a number of restaurants are popping up all over featuring African cuisines, mainly from the western region. I have had the pleasure of sampling and eating foods from Peju’s Restaurant and Lounge in Catonsville MD, and purchasing items from local grocery stores that cater to the region. To my surprise, this cuisine is not only the most flavorful, but is also underrated. One wouldn’t necessarily think of 5 star cuisines when it comes to African cooking. In fact, many stereotypes still play out in peoples psyche of starving children, barren lands, famine, and poverty when it comes to Africa in general. However, the region has made an impact on other cuisines from around the world and at the same time, has taken and borrowed from others such as Vietnamese, Portugese, and French to name a few. There have been debates over which country has the best Jollof Rice. Jollof Rice is a savory side dish made from rice, tomatoes, onion, and some spices. It is usually served at parties and other festivities and celebrations. Each area and culture uses some of the same ingredients but may have additional ingredients such as ground crawfish, curry powder or cumin. In Senegal, people eat family style around a large bowl of food where the eater eats the food that’s closest to them. In Nigeria, suya is made using ground hot peppers, peanuts, and  spices rubbed on meats and served, usually kebab style. In Ghana, fufu is often eaten as an accompaniment to soups such as Groundnut Soup. It is made with either cassava, plaintain, or corn that’s been boiled and pounded into a dough-like paste. One can purchase the flour form instead using boiling water to form the thick paste. Fufu to me taste like thick mashed potatoes that sat out too long. It’s not bad in flavor though and I really it alongside main dishes.

So in conclusion, I really do hope to travel to the area one day and experience the culture and gastronomy. West African culture, from those who consider themselves Naija, to the fufu, and the African print fashions, are more than just a trend. They have influenced us so much that they are here to stay.

Check out Buzzfeed 21 Deliciously Warming West African Dishes here.

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