It’s often important to make a little go a long way and what better way to do this than with a healthy dose of carbs! While rice features prominently, wherever you are in Africa, no meal is complete without a starchy porridge known as fufu, ugali, pap, iwisa, sadza or mealie meal , depending where you’re from. In fact African people say they don’t feel full unless they’ve had their fufu (or equivalent).
West African palates favour chilli, hot spices, yams and on the coast; fish (fresh, dried and smoked). In West Africa, fufu is usually made from yams, sometimes combined with powdered cocoyam, plantains, cassava, or maize. The best way to eat it is to have a mound of fufu served alongside a sauce (commonly containing okra, fish, tomato or cassava leaves). The diner pinches off a small ball of fufu with the right hand and makes an indentation with the thumb. This reservoir is then filled with sauce, and the ball is eaten.
Red palm fruit oil is also a West African staple – it’s the cooking oil of most meals. Unlike its infamous, trans-fatty cousin – palm oil, the palm fruit oil is high in beta-carotene and antioxidents and is actually good for you.
Often in the news for war and famine, most Westerners know nothing of the fabulous culinary traditions of; Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. In this region, the wonderfully spongy, fermented bread called injera is a staple. Almost every meal is served on the large, round flat bread. Made from the grain called tef which only grows in Africa and at this stage is unable to be imported into Australia, it’s multi functional - serving as an edible plate, a knife and fork and absorber of every last drop of delicious juice, especially when served with stews known as ‘wats’. Injera bread in Australia is made with white, wholemeal and sometimes rye flour and is absolutely delicious.
With its origins in Ethiopia, coffee is a crucial part of the social and cultural life. Unlike Western baristas, Ethiopians roast-as-they-go. Each bean is treated with great respect during the roasting and grinding process and the resulting taste is a deliciously soft brew which sometimes has spices added including kibbled ginger. No coffee ceremony is complete without popcorn and sometimes dates and a sweet soft bread called himbasha. The ceremony has three rounds of coffee and is accompanied by burning frankincense – it’s a heady feast for the senses and takes at least an hour – far from the Italian espresso taken standing up in a coffee bar!
Along the ‘Swahili Coast’ of Kenya and Tanzania is a wonderful culinary fusion of African, Indian and Arabic flavours. Local produce such as fish, bananas and coconuts feature prominently and curries, pickles and Persian flavours (like saffron, nutmeg and pomegranate) are a legacy of the ‘spice trade’ with the Arabs, the Indians and the British. The Portuguese also had an impact in the region – particularly on marinating and barbequing techniques.
Further inland, cattle breeding tribes (like the Masai) provide more of a meat and milk-based diet. And the beloved, omnipresent, starchy porridge strikes again – but with a few variations. In Uganda, it’s steamed plantains (green bananas) called matoke, that provide the carb filler of many meals.