For the most part, food in Africa isn’t as well known as its world-famous safaris. But it doesn’t make it any less delectable. In fact, it is thought that the first “barbecue” took place in Africa and that Africa might well be the birthplace of cooking.
Diversity in African Cuisine
The diversity of the African culture is reflected, amongst others, in its cuisine. The choice of ingredients and cooking technique vary from one ethnic group to another, from far North to out West. Their cuisine are also influenced by the land they inhabit – the crops they grow and the animals they keep – as well as foreigners who have set foot in their region.
In East Africa, which constitutes 20 territories including Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, one will discover that much of their cooking has Arab influences, who introduced rice and spices more than 1,000 years ago. Ground maize is a staple food in east as well as southern Africa, where maize flour is cooked with water to form porridge or dough.
Southern Africa is thought to have the most diversified cuisine thanks to influences from European and Asian settlers. The most well known result of this blend of influence can be seen in the biltong – a famous cured meat dish found in South Africa. The curing techniques used in this dish were introduced decades back by European settlers.
We’ve searched the continent for its best food and have rounded up the best 6 African dishes that you should try on your trip to Africa. Caution ahead, these foods mill make you drool!
Nyama na irio (Kenya)
Image credit: Food.com
Best known for its classic safaris where one has the opportunity to spot the big five, Kenya also serves up great African classics. Nyama na irio is one of them. Nyama means meat in Swahili while irio is mashed potatoes combined with peas, beans, corn and onion. Irio is a popular comfort food in Kenya originating from the Kikuyu people – the most populous ethnic group in Kenya.
Biltong (South Africa)
When in South Africa, one food that you probably won’t have problems finding is biltong. This dried and cured meat originates from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The word biltong actually comes from the Dutch “bil”, meaning rump, and “tong”, referring to strip or tongue. Various types of meats can be cured as biltong, including beef and game meat. The meat is cured primarily with black pepper, coriander, salt and vinegar although additional ingredients are sometimes used. Biltong is related to beef jerky but is typically less sweet.
To enjoy biltong, eat as a snack, add to stews or between slices of bread. Biltong is a great source of protein with some varieties containing up to 67% protein!
Pap en Vleis (South Africa)
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Pap en vleis is a classic Southern African dish and, for many, it is the epitome of comfort food. Pap en vleis can literally be translated as maize porridge and meat, and is a combination of starch and braised meat with gravy, relish or chakalaka. The pap of the dish is usually maize porridge that is thick enough to eat using fingers. Pap is also known as Sadza in Zimbabwe and Nshima in Zambia.
Vleis refers to the meat that is served with the pap and can be any variety of meat, including chicken, beef, mutton and fish.
Namibian Venison (Namibia)
When in Namibia, eat as the locals do! What better way to immerse yourself into Namibian culture than to try their famously delectable Namibian venison? Most countries around the Southern African region offers some of the best venison in the world, but the Namibians argue that theirs is the best there is! Juicy and succulent to taste, Namibian venison is best served with oshifima (maize porridge) and fine Namibian beer.
Biryani and Pilau (Zanzibar)
Zanzibar’s other secret treasure, aside from the Red Colobus monkey and amazing beaches, is biryani and pilau! Originating from the Middle East, biryani and pilau were introduced to the island of Zanzibar thanks to Arab and Indian trade. Pilau and biryani are somewhat similar in that they are both rice mixed with a combination of spices. However, while pilau comes about by cooking spices, meat and sauce with rice in one pot, biryani is made by cooking rice and meat separately and then subsequently combined together.
Consider eating this fragrant rice dish with kachumbari – a fresh onion and tomato salad – for an even more sensational experience!
Muamba de Galinha (Angola)
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Muamba de Galinha is exemplar of the strong Portuguese influence that can be found in Angolan cuisine. Also known as ‘chicken muamba’, this dish is known to be one of Angola’s national food treasures. Muamba de Galinha is spicy and somewhat oily, and is made using palm oil, garlic, chili and okra.
Recipes to Try at Home
Muamba de Galinha (Chicken Muamba)
Chicken muamba can easily be re-created at home! Here’s a recipe for you!
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty level: Medium
- 3 ½ lb whole chickens chopped into pieces
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 large tomato
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 small onion, diced
- ½ cup chunky peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons palm oil
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 hot pepper
- Simmer chicken covered in water with bouquet garni until it’s tender and falls off the bone. Pull meat off the bone and reserve the stock.
- Sauté onion, hot pepper and garlic in oil until fragrant and translucent. Add tomato.
- Stir in tomato paste and add in half cup of the chicken stock.
- Add peanut butter.
- Cook until your sauce has a texture similar to spaghetti sauce. Add more stock if needed.
- Return the chicken meat into the pan and simmer for a few minutes.
- Serve over rice.
Easy African Pilau
Many balk at the idea of making their own pilau, as the list of ingredients can be quite overwhelming . However, once the chopping and cutting is all done, the actual process of cooking pilau is quite easy! Serve up this hearty dish at home with this great recipe adapted from Immaculate Bites!
Time: 40 minutes
Difficulty level: Easy
- 2 – 3 tablespoons cooking oil/butter/Ghee
- 1 teaspoon cumin spice
- ½ teaspoon cardamom spice
- ¼ teaspoon curry spice
- ½ teaspoon star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon pepper flake
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- ½ teaspoon white/black pepper
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, deseeded and chopped
- 1/3 to ½ cup cashew (optional)
- 2 cups Basmati rice
- 1-2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
- 4 cups liquid broth or water
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- Heat a saucepan with oil/butter.
- Sauté cashews for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add all the spices – cumin, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, curry, cardamom and paprika – and stir for 1 minute. Add garlic, ginger, jalapeno pepper and onions. Cook for another minute.
- Add tomatoes and bell pepper. Cook for 2 – 3 minutes
- Stir in rice, cook for 2 minutes then add the broth/water.
- Add salt to taste and bring mixture to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer until rice is completely cooked – about 18-20 minutes. You may need to add more stock as the rice cooks.
- Once the rice is cooked, remove cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Serve.
Want to eat like a local in Africa? Go on a cultural safari and get to know Africa like you never did before!