West African cuisines incorporate a diverse variety of foods that are divided among its 16 countries. In this part of Africa, a number of families raise and grow their own food. Indigenous foods comprise a number of animals and plant species and they are essential to individuals whose lifestyle relies on hunting and farming.
Even though obvious differences are there among the local West African cuisines, many commonalities can also be found, primarily in the ingredients used. A number of these dishes are enhanced with a base of chili peppers, onions and tomatoes. Considered in the region as being a “sacred” and essential cooking technique, combining these 3 ingredients sautéed in oil is equivalent to similar perceptions like the holy trinity of Creole and Cajun cooking in the United States.
Palm nut oil is the most commonly used cooking oil. It contributes a distinctive texture, flavor and color to the food. Highlighted below are some West African cuisines you should taste:
Also known as Benachin, Jollof rice is a very popular West African dish. It has its origin in Senegal; however, since then it has spread across the entire of West Africa, particularly Ghana and Nigeria.
Jollof Rice has many variations. Among the most common of the basic ingredients are rice, tomato paste, tomatoes, red pepper, salt and onion. Apart from that, virtually any type of vegetable, meat or spice can be included.
For the Senegalese, their version of the dish is a bit different and it is the national dish known as Ceebu Jen. “Rice meat” or “thiebou yapp” is another variation that is made with red meats like beef or mutton.
Fufu is typically made from yams, cassava and sometimes combined with cornmeal, plantains or cocoyam. In Ghana, the dish is typically made from boiled unripe plantain and cassava beaten together and cocoyam is often included.
These products are currently available if flour/powder form and can be combined with hot water to attain the final product. This eliminates the arduous task of having to use a pestle to beat the ingredients in a mortar until the desired consistency is achieved. In addition, Fufu can be made from rice, semolina, or instant potato flakes.
However, the dish is often still made using traditional techniques: pounding the base ingredients in a mortar. In situations where modern appliances are available a food processor may be used as well.
Akara can be found in a variety of forms in Togo, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Benin, Sierra Leone and Gambia. The dish is made with black eyed peas that is cooked and mashed, seasoned with chopped onions and salt and formed into the shape of a big scone. It is then deep-fried in palm oil.
To serve, it is split in two and stuffed with caruru and vatapá, which are spicy pastes made from ingredients like ground cashews, palm oil and shrimp. Typically, the vegetarian version is served with green tomatoes and hot peppers. Additionally, Akara can come in a healthier form known as Abara. In the version, the ingredients are boiled as opposed to being deep fried.
Cachupa is one of Cape Verde islands’ well-known dishes. It is basically a slow-cooked stew of beans, corn (hominy), sweet potato, cassava and fish or meat. The meats typically include sausage, chicken, goat or beef; morcela (blood sausage) is often included as well. Referred to as the national dish of the country, there is a regional variation for each island. The version known as Cachupa Rica normally has more ingredients than Cachupa Pobre, which is considered a simpler version.
This type of soup is quite popular in West Africa and grounded seeds from melon, squash, and gourd are used to thicken it. In addition to the seeds, oil and water, the egusi soup normally contains palm oil, green leafy vegetables, meat seasonings and other vegetables. Typically, the leafy vegetables used in this soup include spinach, celosia, pumpkin leaf and bitterleaf. Other vegetables often include okra and tomatoes. Chili peppers, locust beans and onions are also used in this soup. Commonly used meats and seafood include goat, beef, fish, crayfish or shrimp.
Kenkey is a staple dish that is comparable to sourdough dumpling from certain West African regions. Typically, this dish is served with soup, stew, fried fish or pepper sauce. Togo, Eastern Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Western Benin are some of the areas in which kenkey is eaten.
The process of making kenkey involves leaving the maize to ferment before it is cooked. As such, preparation will take a few days to allow the dough to ferment. After the fermentation process, the kenkey is then cooked partially, wrapped in corn husks, banana leaves or aluminum and put to steam. There are a number of different versions of kenkey. These include Fante and Ga kenkey. In most areas in Ghana, the Ga kenkey is a lot more common
Chin chin is a crunchy, donut-like snack that is made of dough. The dough typically contains sugar, flour, milk and butter. Based on individual preference, other ingredients can be included like eggs, baking powder and nutmeg. Cowpeas could also be used in this snack. The dough is cut into various sizes and shapes and usually deep fried in vegetable oil. For those who prefer not to eat fried foods, there is also an option to bake the dough.
Alloco, as it is referred to in Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, is made from fried plantain and is a popular West African snack. It is typically served with onions and chili pepper. It is often served in Nigeria as a side or it can be eaten by itself.
This snack is widely viewed as fast food and can be purchased in Côte d’Ivoire on the streets. There is an area with many vendors selling grilled meat and Alloco that is located in the Cocody neighborhood called Allocodrome, named after this snack.