Some Like it Hot: Food in West Africa

A typical meal in West Africa is heavy on starchy foods, light on meat, generous on fat and commonly cooked in one pot.

Food Facts

Staples: Peanuts, seafood and hot hot hot chili
Special Dishes: Beignets Crevettes & fufu
Tips: Don’t chew, just swallow

Hot, hot, hot! 

A typical meal in West Africa is heavy on starchy foods, light on meat, generous on fat and commonly cooked in one pot. Other than that, the most telling characteristic of an African dish is heat: chili peppers are used beyond what we would begin to think of as hot. The most notorious peppers, the Scotch Bonnets and the pilli pilli, earn respect from even the most dedicated chili-heads. Equatorial climates all tend to encourage the use of chilis, as these hot foods produce the effect of “gustatory sweating” — distinguished from other types of bodily perspiration and resulting in an overall cooling effect.

Fish and meats

West African cuisine bears more seafood than the rest of the continent, and unlike most other cultures, mixes seafood and meats together in many dishes. Beignets Crevettes are a West African creation with a French influence and is basically fish with a white wine sauce. Most dishes are some form of stew, allowing for the stringy, poorer quality lamb and goats to be used, and chickens and eggs are commonly served throughout Africa.

Staples

Peanuts can be found in just about anything, from soups and stews to garnishes, snacks and pounded into a paste. West Africa is blessed with rain, resulting in rice as the predominant starchy food, while corn, millet and sorghum dishes are featured on the rest of the continent.
Along with rice, yams, sweet potatoes, cassava and potatoes and root vegetables fill the bellies of the people, as do plantains. All can be cooked in multiple ways: roasted, baked, boiled, mashed, with cinnamon, or sugar or oil or in a range of both sweet and savoury.

Plantain boiled up with cassava is then pounded into balls and served with sauce to makefufu, a substantial local feed. Its very cheap, though consuming is a bit of an art form: Don’t chew, just swallow!

 

MORE INFORMATION

Smithsonian Centre
Learn about the social significance of food and eating patterns in West Africa

By Jess Halliday

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