African Food Essentials – Travel Documentary
Traditionally, the various cuisines of Africa use a combination of locally available fruits, cereal grains and vegetables, as well as milk and meat products, and do not usually get food imported. In some parts of the continent, the traditional diet features a lot of milk, curd and whey products.
Depending on the region, there are also sometimes quite significant differences in the eating and drinking habits and proclivities throughout the continent’s vast populations: Central Africa, East Africa, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, Southern Africa and West Africa each have their own distinctive dishes, preparation techniques, and consumption mores.
Central Africa stretches from the Tibesti Mountains in the north to the vast rainforest basin of the Congo River, and remained largely free from culinary influences of the outside world until the late 19th century, with the exception of the widespread adaptation of cassava, peanut, and chili-pepper plants, which arrived along with the slave trade during the early 16th century. These foodstuffs have had a large influence on the local cuisine, if perhaps less on the preparation methods. Central African cooking has remained mostly traditional. Nevertheless, as in other parts of Africa, Central African cuisine presents a variety of dishes.
The basic ingredients are plantains and cassava. Fufu-like starchy foods (usually made from fermented cassava roots) are served with grilled meat and sauces. A variety of local ingredients are used while preparing other dishes like spinach stew cooked with tomato, peppers, chillis, onions, and peanut butter.
Cassava plants are also consumed as cooked greens. Groundnut (peanut) stew is also prepared, containing chicken, okra, ginger, and other spices. Another favorite is bambara, a porridge of rice, peanut butter and sugar. Beef and chicken are favorite meat dishes, but game meat preparations containing crocodile, monkey, antelope and warthog are also served occasionally.
North Africa lies along the Mediterranean Sea and encompasses within its fold several nations, including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Egypt. This is a region marked by geographic, political, social, economic and cultural diversity, and the cuisine and the culinary style and art of North Africa are also as diverse as the land, its people and its history. The roots to North African cuisine can be traced back to the ancient empires of North Africa; particularly in Egypt, where many of the country’s dishes and culinary traditions date back to antiquity.
Over several centuries traders, travelers, invaders, migrants and immigrants all have influenced the cuisine of North Africa. The Phoenicians of the 1st century brought sausages, while the Carthaginians introduced wheat and its by-product, semolina. The Berbers adapted semolina into couscous, one of the main staple foods. Olives and olive oil were introduced before the arrival of the Romans.
From the 7th century onwards, the Arabs introduced a variety of spices, like saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, which contributed and influenced the culinary culture of North Africa. The Ottoman Turks brought sweet pastries and other bakery products, and from the New World, North Africa got potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini and chili peppers.
Most of the North African countries have several similar dishes, sometimes almost the same dish with a different name (the Moroccan tangia and the Tunisian coucha are both essentially the same dish, a meat stew prepared in an urn and cooked overnight in a public oven), sometimes with a slight change in ingredients and cooking style. To add to the confusion, two completely different dishes may also share the same name (for example, a “tajine” dish is a slow-cooked stew in Morocco, whereas the Tunisian “tajine” is a baked omelette/quiche-like dish). There are noticeable differences between the cooking styles of different nations, from the sophisticated, full-bodied flavours of Moroccan palace cookery to the fiery dishes of Tunisian cuisine and the humbler, simpler cuisines of Egypt and Algeria.
The cooking of Southern Africa is sometimes called “rainbow cuisine”, as the food in this region is a blend of many cultures: indigenous African tribal societies, European, and Asian. To understand indigenous cuisine, it is important to understand the various native peoples of southern Africa.
The largest group consisted of the Bantu-speakers, whose descendants today may identify themselves by various subgroup names such as Ndebele, Shona, Venda, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Shangaan and Tsonga. They arrived in the region around 2,000 years ago, bringing crop cultivation, animal husbandry, and iron toolmaking with them. Hence the Bantu-speakers grew grain crops extensively and raised cattle, sheep and goats. They also grew and continue to grow pumpkins, beans and leafy greens as vegetables.