When you start living in the West, you quickly realize the African Cuisine you were accustomed to all your life is totally unknown to your occidental counterparts. Your dishes, spices’ aromas, cooking styles, way of eating, astound as weird novelties. If you listen closely, you might even hear some of them yak about how spicy food make their stomach ache. And there you are, scared as a sinner on Judgement Day, to bring your homemade lunch with you and cause your coworkers sudden nausea attacks! Immigrants from Asia and Latin America, whose foods are also known for their robust flavours, have it much easier than us because they have been able to popularize most of their dishes, while African cuisine looks more and more like the hidden treasure of World Cooking. Hence the necessity to introduce it here.
So what is African food?
Nothing weird, yo. We eat what the world eats.
Everyone is always wondering what Africans eat. Well, because of centuries of globalization, most of our ingredients
To kill the unbearable suspense, here is a non-exhaustive list of African ingredients you already know: Peanut, Palm trees, Rice, Cassava, Mango, Yam, Tomato, Fish, Garlic, Basil, Crustaceans, Ginger, Sweet Potato, Onion, Anise, Chilli Pepper, Corn, Teas,
Meats, Lime, Okra, Plantains, and Shea.
And then add to them a few names you never heard of (courtesy of my mother tongue): Fonio (grain), Soumbara (néré seeds) and
sagba (fruit, goes by the scientific name of Saba senegalensis). And that sums up pretty well the mysterious things those Africans eat.
Sure you could tell me the names of hundreds of thousands of plants and animals exclusively cooked in Africa, and I would agree. But that’s not the point. I am not trying to downplay the specificity of African food elements but it should be noted that most of our well-known dishes are composed of the same things yours are. Just cooked differently.
If it ain’t spicy, it ain’t food.
I hear a lot westerners converse on so called spicy food, which they see as a sort of food category among others. Some regularly indulge in it, some only like it once in a while and some can’t stand it. Well, us Africans don’t view it as an indulgence. It is OUR food. What our palates find enjoyable. And a main course that doesn’t have strong flavours will be deemed bland, distasteful and uninspired. So while a chicken seasoned with only salt and black pepper is totally fine in the West, in Africa it will be laughed at … LOUD and LONG.
In fact, most of the time when I hear westerners call a food “spicy”, I don’t even find it spicy myself thanks to my high spicy food tolerance. So your spicy, my mild!
Eating is sharing. So come and join us !
In Africa, eating is sharing. In my hometown of Kankan (in Upper Guinea, Guinea Conakry), in every home you could easily find five people or more eating from the same plate with their hands. But you would rarely see someone buy a meal for his own self without inviting those around him. It would be seen as impolite and he would probably be ridiculed for it.
So next time you see one of your African friends eat something exotic next to you, instead of staring at his plate like it’s some weird science experiment, just ask to take a bite and feel the love come inside you. You will never go back.