You’ve Never Heard Of These African Foods, But You Need To Try Them Now
The diverse cuisines of Africa are based around locally available ingredients like fruits, cereal grains, vegetables, milk and meat products. North African food has been heavily influenced by Arab spices likes saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. In the south, they rely on corn, grains, beans and vegetables, with fish serving as a protein staple along the coast. And in the west, the cuisine focuses on heavy, starchy foods as the main energy source with hot spices, chili peppers and peanut sauces.
Eating and drinking habits across the continent vary depending on the region, and each region has its own techniques and distinctive dishes. Here are 14 of them that you’ve never heard of but definitely need to try.
This South African dish literally translates to “small pot food.” Potjiekos is a dish that’s prepared outdoors, cooked with very little liquid and not stirred. Potjiekos typically includes meat, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower or pumpkin and starches like rice or potatoes. The ingredients are slow-cooked with South African spices in a three-legged cast iron pot over a fire.
Injera is a crepe-like, sourdough risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture. The bread is made from teff flour — a light, gluten-free ancient grain flour that’s made from a type of Ethiopian grass. Injera resembles the Indian dosa. The bottom of the flatbread has a smooth texture while the top is porous. The spongy bread is used for scooping up all kinds of sauces and various foods.
3. Jollof Rice
One of the most common dishes in Western Africa is jollof rice. People eat this rice dish throughout the regions of Ghana, Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria and Cameroon. Jollof rice is made with tomatoes, rice, tomato paste, onions, chili peppers, salt and spices like nutmeg, ginger, scotch bonnet and cumin. Some variations add vegetables, meat and fish.
Chermoula is the classic marinade that’s often used for fish and seafood in countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The mixture can be made in all different levels of spiciness by adjusting how much cayenne pepper is used. While there are a bunch of regional variations, other ingredients include cilantro, parsley, garlic, paprika, cumin, hot pepper, saffron, fresh herbs, olive oil and preserved lemon juice.
Referred to as wat, wot or tsebhi, this Ethiopian and Eritrean stew is made with chicken, beef or lamb and a bunch of veggies, spice mixtures and clarified butter. It all starts with chopped onions that are slow-cooked in a dry skillet and then seasoned with clarified butter and sautéed with herbs and aromatics before adding all of the other ingredients. The onions break down and thicken the stew. Wat is scooped up with injera.
Algerian and Moroccan tagine (also spelled tajine) dishes are slow-cooked savory stews. A tajine on its own is a two-part piece of pottery that stews are cooked in. The cone-shaped lid makes the food especially moist. When the food cooks, the steam rises into the cone, condenses and trickles back down into the dish. The stew cooks until everything is tender. Tagine dishes are made with sliced meat, fish or poultry and mixed with vegetables or fruit. Chili, paprika, ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and saffron are all common spices.
In Eastern Africa, Mandazi is a Kenyan food made from a dough that’s deep fried until puffy and light. It’s slightly sweet, sometimes spicy and traditionally eaten as a breakfast food, dessert or daytime snack. The dough often has crushed peanuts or toasted coconut mixed in, and the finished product can be coated in sugar or fruit preserves.
8. Shahan Ful
Shortened to ful, this African dish is served for breakfast. Shahan ful is believed to be imported from Sudan. It’s made by slowly cooking fava beans in water. Once the beans are softened, they’re crushed into a paste and served with chopped green onions, tomatoes and hot green peppers. Sometimes yogurt, feta cheese, olive oil, lemon juice and a bunch of spices are added. Ful is often served with a bread roll.
Kachumbari is a fresh tomato and onion salad that’s popular in the African Great Lakes region. This dish is served uncooked with chili peppers and seasonings.
A popular West African dish, suya is a spicy shish kebab. It’s a common dish for the people of northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Ghana and certain parts of Sudan. Suya can be made with skewered beef, ram or chicken. The thinly sliced meat is marinated in spices and flavorings like peanuts, salt and oil before it’s barbecued. The skewers are eaten with dried pepper, spices and sliced onions.
11. Piri Piri Sauce
Also called African bird’s eye chili, piri piri is a blend of chili pepper that’s grown in most African countries. It’s sour, a little sweet and slightly salty, which makes it a versatile condiment that can be used on pretty much anything. This fragrant and fiery sauce is served with chicken, grilled fish or shrimp dishes made with red hot chili paste, lemon juice, cilantro, parsley, garlic cloves, salt and olive oil.
Maafe, also spelled mafé, is a West African stew made with lamb, beef or chicken. It’s served in a peanut or peanut butter sauce over rice or couscous. Some variations have tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, peppers and spices.
This cornmeal dish is the biggest starch staple in the African Great Lakes region and Southern Africa. Ugali is made of maize flour (cornmeal), millet flour or sorghum flour and then cooked in boiling liquid to create its firm, dough-like consistency. To eat ugali, roll some up into a ball and dip it into a sauce or stew.
14. Bunny Chow
In South Africa, you’ll find this street food referred to as a bunny. Bunny chow is a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry. Don’t worry, there aren’t actually any bunnies involved. You can use the piece of bread on top to scoop up the curry inside, and keep working your way down until you reach the curry-soaked piece of bread at the bottom.