Nevertheless, African cuisine is something I have always wanted to learn more about- but I’m slightly ashamed to say I know very little about. Other than Moroccan dishes I wouldn’t have been able to name you a single dish until a couple of weeks ago.
I haven’t been on a trip to Africa, but I have spent the last few weeks getting acquainted with the African establishments here in Manchester and twinned with a whole pile of research, I have managed to pull together a rather loose guide to eating African cuisine.
And let me tell you, I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute and every mouthful.
North Africa is well worth its own food guide at some point, but I am just going to run through the basics. It might be a sweeping statement, but I reckon North African food is perhaps the food from this continent in which we are most familiar with. I’m sure everyone has tucked into a tasty bowl of couscous at least once in their life- surely?
North African food is an amalgamation of African, Middle Eastern, and even Mediterranean cuisine which comes from many centuries’ worth of communication and exchanges with other cultures.
Take Morocco, for example, the African gateway to Europe, which manages to marry flavours like olives and lemons with fruity African lamb, beef and chicken stews which are most commonly known as Tagines. The name of this dish comes from the clay pot in which it is cooked in – a tall, closed off chimney like chamber which locks in steam and creates maximum succulence.
There is no set recipe for tagine – but it tends to take meat, tomatoes, dried fruit, subtle spices and water. These dishes are often finished with nuts or fresh fruit and served with couscous and flatbread.
If it is tagine you are after, there is only really one place to bear in mind- and that place is Pomegranate, which for the record is technically a Persian Restaurant, but they make a mean tagine. They have a few to choose from, but a go-to favourite of mine is the Lamb Miveh which is tender pieces of lamb in spiced tomato and plum sauce with dried apricot, garlic and herbs.
For Moroccan authenticity a little further afield, try Mozaic Cafe and Deli in Ashton-Under-Lyne.
Egypt too is a combination of Middle Eastern and African flavours- but also has the added bonus of a rich, ancient history which still holds influence over the cuisine. Many dishes in Egypt are pre-Ottoman, pre-Islamic and are probably as old as the Pharaohs themselves.
One of these dishes- Ful Medames– is speculated to have been feeding Egyptians since around the time the pyramids were still relatively new, and these beans are still satisfying people today. Ful Medames is one of the country’s national dishes and comprises of fava (or broad beans to us Brits) simmered with spices and olive oil.
Sometimes, this dish is eaten with eggs and pita in the morning, but it makes the perfect addition to any mezze feast. Head over to Jasmine in Chorlton for a great plate of Ful Medames.
One of the most important things to understand about African cuisine is that it is heavily influenced by cultures around the rest of the world – and for once I can say that colonialism isn’t always to blame.
South Africa, for example, has a dish called Bunny Chow which originated in the Indian-South-African community living in Durban in the 1940’s. It is quite a lowly dish comprising of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry and is considered to be one of South Africa’s most treasured street-foods. Suddenly, my brother’s classic curry sandwiches don’t seem so weird.
It is said that the loaf just made a convenient vessel to transport the curries to work by the Indian migrant community, but it is also said that the bread was a reaction to the considerable lack of traditional Indian breads like roti, naan and kulcha.
These curries started off completely vegetarian as to fit the needs of the Hindu or Buddhist South Indians, but meat versions were introduced later. Nowadays, Bunny Chow is a quick, cheap snack made with chicken or mutton. You can get hold of it at Mowgli in fruity chicken and veggie varieties which both come highly recommended.
Eastern coastal countries such as Mozambique have a cuisine which is a heady blend of traditional African, Portuguese and Persian favours. The taste of Mozambique can be attributed to fragrant spices, hot peri-peri chilli, creamy coconut sauces and hints of nuts like cashews and peanuts to pull it all together.
The iconic dish from this part of the world is Galinha a Zambeziana, which is basically the peri-peri chicken we know and love. This dish is a succulent feast of chicken with peppers, hot chilli, lime, garlic and coconut.
Peri-Peri sauce as we know it originated when Portuguese settlers in Africa stumbled across the bird’s eye chilli and made a marinade with garlic, red wine vinegar, paprika and other European imports all the way back in the 19th Century.
The name is taken from the Swahili for ‘pepper-pepper’ and has spread more recently as a junk-food favourite 200 years later. Here in Manchester, the peri-peri chicken is legendary from Katsouris Deli and is authentic with a confidently hot spice level.
In Ethiopia, a common dish is Injera. This is a large, thin pancake which is used like a plate in a similar way to South African Bunny Chow. It is made from a high-fibre grain with a slightly sour taste and a soft, spongy texture.
To serve, the Injera is placed on a large plate and then various curries and salads are spooned on top. To eat, you rip off a little bit of the pancake and scoop up some sauce. Traditionally, these plates are designed to be shared amongst a group- which makes eating a sociable and fun experience.
There are a couple of places in Manchester which offer traditional Injera – but one of my favourites has to be Blue Nile Café and Restaurant down in Stretford. Have your Injera with your choice of four meat or six vegetarian stews all served with salad and yoghurt. Honestly, it is divine.
When it comes to Western Africa, it is hard to pin down a singular dish that encapsulates the whole area. But one you shouldn’t forget is Jollof rice which comes from Nigeria and is eaten all over Western Africa and indeed the rest of the continent.
Jollof rice is a one-pot rice dish cooked with onions, tomatoes, spices and peppers and is used as an aromatic side to meat dishes. It is said to be the precursor to Jambalaya – a key dish in Cajun cuisine. Typically, it is served at Nigerian festive gatherings, weddings, parties and other events alongside other Nigerian favourites like Fried Plantain and Pounded Yam.
It won’t come as a surprise that you can find this dish at the appropriately named Jollof Café near Gorton. Their Goat Soup (which is basically a stew) with a side of this rice is a match made in heaven. While you are there, grab a couple Akara dumplings too for the full West African experience.