African cuisine reflects indigenous traditions, in addition to influences from Europeans and Asians.
The continent of Africa is the 2nd biggest landmass on our planet and is home to many tribes, ethnic and social groups. This variety is also reflected in African cookery, in the usage of basic ingredients as well as in the style of preparation and cooking techniques.
Traditionally, as in virtually all cultures, the food of Africa utilizes a combination of locally available fruits, cereal grains and vegetables, milk and meat products. In some parts of Africa, the traditional African diet includes a predominance of milk, curd and whey. In much of tropical Africa however, cow's milk is rare and can't be produced locally (owing to numerous diseases that affect livestock). Yet, differences, sometimes substantial, are noticeable in the eating and drinking habits across the continent of Africa - African food differs in numerous areas of Africa and East Africa, North Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa each have their own distinctive foods. They are very well known for their distinctive cooking styles.
Some of Africa's favorite dishes
Pap en vleis/Shisa nyama, South Africa - Barbecued meat and maize porridge is a combination dearly beloved across many cultures in Southern Africa, and particularly in South Africa, where the braaivleis is a treasured institution and practically a national sport."Pap en vleis" (literally, "maize porridge and meat") is a colorful umbrella of a term that encompasses virtually any combination of starch and braaied or stewed meat, with an obligatory side-serving of spicy gravy, relish or chakalaka. Shisa nyama, meaning "burn the meat" in Zulu, has come to refer to a festive "bring-and-braai" gathering; Shisa nyama restaurants are often located next to butchers’ shops so patrons can select their own meats and have them cooked to order over fiercely hot wood fires. Chops, steak, chicken, kebabs and boerewors -- a spicy farmer’s sausage -- are accompanied by maize porridges in many different forms including phuthu and stywe pap, krummelpap (crumbly porridge), and suurpap (soured pap). Add a local beer, and there you have South Africa on a plate.
Piri piri chicken, Mozambique - Mozambique’s cuisine is a heady blend of African, Portuguese, oriental and Arab flavors -- think fragrant spices, hot piri piri and creamy coconut sauces, with hints of cashews and peanuts. Sizzling, spicy prawns and seafood are often a first choice for visitors to Maputo, but don’t miss the iconic Mozambican dish Galinha à Zambeziana, a succulent feast of chicken cooked with lime, pepper, garlic, coconut milk and piri piri sauce. It’s generally known simply as grilled chicken piri piri by tourists, and is traditionally served with matapa, a dish of cassava leaves cooked in a peanut sauce.
Jollof rice and egusi soup, Nigeria - A simple, spicy one-pot dish comprising, at its most basic, rice, tomatoes, onions and pepper, it’s often served at parties and other festive gatherings, along with other Nigerian favorites such as egusi soup (made with ground melon seeds and bitter leaf), fried plantains and pounded yam (iyan or fufu). Other dishes to try in Nigeria include thick, spicy broths made with okra and flavored with chicken or meat, and suya, which are spicy Nigerian shish kebabs (similar to Ghana’s chichinga) cooked over braziers by street vendors.
Bunny chow, South Africa - No one’s quite sure how bunny chow came to be named, but what is certain is that this hollowed-out half- or quarter-loaf of white bread filled with a blistering-hot curry is one of South Africa’s most treasured street foods. The meat and vegetable curries that fill bunny chows were bought to South Africa by Indian indentured laborers who came to South Africa in the 19th century to work on the sugar-cane fields. Available as takeaways in all major cities, but the best bunnies come from Durban.
Kapenta with sadza, Zimbabwe - Kapenta, comprising two species of small freshwater fish native to Lake Tanganyika, were introduced to Lake Kariba and now are a much-loved source of protein for lakeside populations of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Like many African dishes, kapenta is often accompanied by a mountain of delicious maize porridge, known in Zimbabwe as sadza. Kapenta is available both dried and fresh, and is also stewed with tomatoes, onions and groundnut powder, and served with fresh greens. Don’t pick up a knife and fork to devour your kapenta: the traditional way to eat this dish is to scoop up the sadza with your hand and to dip it or roll it in the accompanying fish and relishes. Another must-try dish when visiting Zimbabwe is fresh bream or tilapia from Lake Kariba, grilled or fried with plenty of lemon butter.
Chambo with nsima, Malawi - it's the most popular and best-known fish found in Lake Malawi, and a great national favorite. It’s served grilled along the lake shore, usually with nsima (a stiff porridge very similar to South Africa’s pap and Zimbabwe’s sadza) or with chips. A plate of chambo is not complete without ndiwo, a delicious relish made of pumpkin or cassava leaves, tomatoes and groundnut powder. Both nsima and ndiwo are revered staple foods in neighboring Zambia, along with Ifisashi, a dish of greens in a peanut sauce.
Namibian venison, Namibia - Try your venison with traditional staples oshifima (maize porridge) or mahangu (pearl millet) and, of course, a hearty tankard or two of fine Namibian beer.
Muamba de Galinha, Angola -This dish, like the popular Caldeirada de Peixe (fish stew) reveals the strong influence of Portuguese cuisine on this former colony, and is considered one of Angola’s national food treasures. Also known as chicken muamba, this is a spicy, somewhat oily stew made with with palm oil or palm butter, garlic, chilis and okra. Variations of chicken muamba, such as poulet moambé, are to be found all over the Congo River region, where it’s often served with cassava leaves and white rice. Another variation, nyembwe chicken, is the national dish of Gabon, where it is made with palm or macadamia nuts. Being so rich and spicy, chicken muamba is a good accompaniment to central African starchy porridges considered bland by western palates: funge, fufu and ugali.
Cape breyani, South Africa - This one-pot, slow-cooked dish, a favorite for feeding large crowds at special occasions and celebrations, was bought to the Cape from the East during the earliest days of the slave trade, along with other "Malay" dishes such as bredies, pickled fish, denningvleis and bobotie.
Zanzibari biryanis and pilaus, Zanzibar - You can practically feel the warm breath of the trade winds in your face as you taste these great celebration dishes, both based on rice and the exotic array of spices synonymous with Zanzibar. There are all sorts of variations on biryani, ranging from humble vegetable assemblages to more complex ones incorporating meat and seafood; pilau tends to be a one-pot dish generously spiced with cardamom, cumin and pepper. Both are delicious accompanied by kachumbari, a fresh onion and tomato salad popular across East Africa. Another quintessential dish of Zanzibar is urojo, a yellowish broth bought from street vendors and made with many different ingredients including pieces of meat, chili, mango, ginger, tamarind and lime.
Nyama na irio, Kenya - This well-loved dish, originally a Kikuyu staple that has spread through Kenya, is made of mashed-up potatoes, peas, beans, corn and onion and often served with spiced roasted meat to make a delicious dish called nyama na irio. Kenya is famous for its long-distance runners, and many a Kenyan will attribute their stamina to the health-giving effects of another treasured staple, sukuma wiki. This means "push for the week" in Swahili, indicating that this dish can be used to feed the family for a week. Sukuma wiki is made with collard greens and/or kale cooked with onions and spices to make a piquant relish for ugali (maize porridge).
Potjiekos and stew, South Africa - What constitutes an excellent potjie is a matter of heated debate among fans, who have all the time in the world to argue the merits of their version during the several hours it takes for the food to cook. Potjiekos ("pot food") is an Afrikaans term for food cooked in layers in a traditional three-legged cast-iron pot, but in essence it’s a stew, not much different to the slow-simmered stews of beef, chicken and mutton and that are popular across Southern African countries. If you’re adventurous, try a curry made of a sheep's heads (known as "smileys" for the baleful grins the heads adopt after they shrink in the heat) or a stew of chicken feet (called "runaways" or "walkie-talkies").