West African Cuisine Facts and History
In West Africa, most people chose to grow their food, each family member having a particular task in this process, some taking care of the garden, while others manage the livestock. A typical meal in this part of Africa consists in starchy foods, accompanied by meat, fish, or vegetables and spices.
The different people that came to settle here from all over the world also had their imprint on the development of the local cuisine. Chili peppers and tomatoes were brought to West Africa by the Europeans, which together with corn, peanuts, plantains and cassavas, became a very important part of the West African cuisine.
The French, British and Portuguese colonies also influenced the West African cuisine, but not in such a significant degree. In spite of the cultural mix and the presence of colonies in West Africa for so long, the cuisine here remained very much in the same way it was since its beginnings.
West African Cuisine Menu
In West Africa, breakfast is rather simple, bread and pastry products being mostly consumed. Beignets are eaten in the morning, dipped in “bouilli”, which is a sticky and sweet liquid that is derived from corn. Eggs are also consumed rather often, although an omelet here may not be as you are accustomed with, as it may contain beans and sardines. Puff puffs can also be served, being a donut like dessert, with a cup of tea. This dish is also considered to be a sweet treat, as the dough from which they are made is sweet, shaped in small balls, and deep fried, powdered sugar being added optionally.
During noon, West Africans like serving something more consistent. The dishes prepared for lunch can contain cassavas, sweet potatoes, rice, yams, and various greens. Stews are also served, with starchy dishes, made out of groundnuts, chicken or various other meats, and vegetables. Soups are appreciated as well, a few examples being the thick groundnut soup, boiled yam palm soup served with steamed vegetables, or a soup made out of peppers, cocoyam and boiled yam.
You will be surprised to see that most snacks here are deep fried. Puff puffs, mentioned earlier, can also be mentioned as a snack, as these bite-sized donuts are sold on the street, for hurried and hungry passersby. Plantain chips are another type of snacks, made from unripe plantains, cut in thin striped and fried in oil. These are not sweet, being more a salty and crispy snack. Banana fritters will be seen everywhere, being consumed a lot throughout the entire West Africa. You may also find the cassava fritters, as another variety of this deep-fried snack. Chin chin is another sweet and crispy snack, made out of dough in which milk, butter, sugar, eggs, flour and nutmeg as used as ingredients.
Dinner is very similar to lunch, similar dishes being served in the evening as well. Dishes with rice, potatoes, greens, and meats are served. The starchy foods are not absent, because they accompany stews or very thick soups. Yam porridges, made with tomatoes, peppers, and oil are also served. Fish is also used and served for diner, in soup dishes, stews, or simply fried.
Puff puffs will have to be on this list as well, as it is an incredibly appreciated sweet treat. Candied coconut balls are also a type of dessert you will find in West Africa. They are made from coconut pieces that are shaped in balls after being mixed with a thick caramel sauce. The lime cake is also popular in West Africa, being made with sugar, butter, eggs, flour, baking flour, lime juice, and chopped peanuts, but only optional, if you like something crunchy in it.
Chakery is another lovely West African dessert, made out of couscous, with a creamy consistence, much like a pudding. Milk, vanilla, and cream is used for preparing this dish, besides couscous, together with nutmeg and pineapple, in some occasions, for a sweet and exotic touch. Fresh fruits salads are often eaten as dessert as well, because fruits are highly available in West Africa.
The ginger drink is quite popular in West Africa, as a non-alcoholic beverage. It contains, besides ginger, lime, peppercorns, and a bit of sugar. It can be served hot or cold, according to preferences. Pineapple, lemongrass, or other ingredients may be added to this drink made from ginger, as variations of the recipe. Beet made from millet is consumed, as an alcoholic beverage, together with palm wine, which is served sweet and less fermented, or sour.
For Christmas, West Africans take the time to prepared delicious dishes with meat, buying chickens, goats and cows from the market, in preparation of this event. Jollof rice will be served, with stews made from meats, boiled beans and fried plantains. A rice pudding can be also served, with meat stews, according to area. Soups are also prepared, being made from meat, or fish, and served with fufu. Palm wines or imported wines are drunk as alcoholic beverages among men, while women and children have soft drinks.
Easter is another moment of the year when special dishes are prepared, like a dessert made from rice formed in balls and sweetened with baobab juice, or a dish made from bean puree and fish stew, both served during the Good Friday. Frejon is also served during this period, being a puree-type dish made from mashed beans, with coconut milk and sugar. It is served with a fish stew made from tilapia filets, although other fish may also be used, tomatoes, red peppers, onion, garlic, minced ginger, jalapeno pepper, and palm oil.
Most Popular Dishes
• Fufu – it is a starchy dish, in the form of a thick paste very similar to dough, made out of cassava, or yams, which can also be combined with cocoyams, plantains, or even cornmeal. It is used instead of bread, with a variety of foods.
• Jollof rice – the basic ingredients are rice, tomatoes and tomato paste, red pepper, onions and salt. This dish can be served in a variety of ways, according to preferences, meats and vegetables being often added.
• Groundnut stew – it is probably one of the most popular types of stews, since the colonial period. Besides the sauce made from groundnuts, this stew also contains tomatoes, chili and peppers, considered the West African trinity, chicken, beef or mutton being added as well.
Most Used Ingredients
• Meat / Fish: chicken, beef, fish;
• Veggies: tomatoes, peppers, chili, onions, spinach, cassava, yams, plantain;
• Fruits: pineapple, bananas, limes;
• Other: beans, millet, corn, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg;
Street Food – What to eat when traveling to West Africa
If you are traveling through West Africa, you will be delighted to try one-pot beans and plantains, stuffed in bread, a delicious street food served here. Suya is another type of street food, consisting in spicy skewered beef, served on a stick, hot, and with fresh onions and tomatoes. And do not forget about trying out freshly fried puff puffs.
Are you from West Africa? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on West African ethnic food.