33 Most Popular African Traditional Cuisine
Over the years, African communities have developed and adopted specific recipes. Topify List present the most consumed traditional recipe in Africa, top local food in Africa: Central Africa, East Africa, North Africa, South Africa and West Africa.
Researches shows that the foods we choose to eat—or not to eat—may increase our life span or the quality of our lives. Not a day goes by, it seems, without feature news stories about food and its impact on health. The message that we can reduce our chances of developing cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases by maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing the fat and calories in our diets, eating more vitaminand mineral-rich fruits and vegetables, and getting fit is becoming a familiar one.
Africa is of great deal of material and immaterial culture, therefore, food is of no exception. The ability to understand the dietary and lifestyle factors that are most likely to ensure a long, healthy life is widely embrace in Africa right from the primitive. And the good news is that we can incorporate these factors into our own lives without sacrificing taste or giving up the foods we enjoy, by discovering and eating tastier, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
This article on Topify provides a skosh List of Popular Traditional African Foods, and perhaps, at the end you will agree with us. Though, the list generated through research online, vox pops, and the author's opinion as par the subject matter.
- 1 Most Popular African Local Food
- 1.1 Stews and Starches
- 1.2 Greens
- 1.3 Red Palm Oil
- 1.4 Peanuts
- 1.5 Banana Leaves
- 1.6 Meat, Fish, and Fowl
- 1.7 Beverages, Snacks, and Desserts
- 1.8 Maize, sorghum, and millets
- 1.9 Githerri
- 1.10 Ugali (sima)
- 1.11 Porridge (gruel)
- 1.12 Rice (wali in East Africa)
- 1.13 Barley
- 1.14 Teff
- 1.15 Cassava
- 1.16 Potato (English/Irish potato)
- 1.17 Tannia and cocoyams or taro
- 1.18 Yams
- 1.19 Garri, Amala and Eba
- 1.20 Bananas and plantains
- 1.21 Ensete
- 1.22 Beans (kidney bean, common bean) and peas
- 1.23 Bambarra groundnuts
- 1.24 Fish
- 1.25 Meat (Bushmeat)
- 1.26 Chicken
- 1.27 Milk and milk products
- 1.28 Fruit
- 1.29 Coffee
- 1.30 Tea
- 1.31 Stimulants
- 1.32 Spices/flavorings
Most Popular African Local Food
Stews and Starches
It is difficult to know whether to call these dishes stews, soups, or sauces. Part of the confusion is that they are eaten with a starchy staple dish. Many Africans believe that the only real meal is one that combines a stew or sauce with a starch.
Stewing has probably been the most common cooking method in Africa for centuries. Traditional African kitchens are located apart from the living and sleeping quarters. In each a large pot or cauldron for making stews rests on three stones above a wood fire. These dishes are usually simple, made with only a few ingredients. Stews are usually thickened with African oil palm fruit or crushed peanuts, but other thickeners are also used: crushed seeds of Cucurbitaceae (gourds, melons, and pumpkins), known by the West African name, egusi, and called mbika in Central Africa; crushed seed kernels of the mangue sauvage (wild mango) fruit ( Irvingia gabonensis), called odika, dika,or etima;and okra, which is called ngumbo.
One distinguishing characteristic of African cooking is the use of edible leaves, which Americans call “greens.” Indeed, the greens of the southeastern United States—collard greens, kale, and mustard greens—have their roots in Africa. In French-speaking Africa these are commonly called “feuilles” (leaves). It is hard to overstate the amount and variety of greens consumed. Oftentimes greens are the main ingredient in the daily stew, cooked with only a little onion, hot pepper, meat, fish, or oil for flavoring. Some of the greens consumed in Africa are bitterleaf, waterleaf, cassava, okra, pumpkin, sorrel, sweet potato, and taro.
Red Palm Oil
Another distinguishing characteristic of African cuisine is the use of red palm oil, obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis (not to be confused with the clear oil pressed from the hard kernel). Reddish and thick, it has a distinctive flavor for which there is no substitute. Women make red palm oil, or palm butter, at home by boiling and hand-squeezing fresh palm nuts. The oily pulp is cooked with chicken, onion, tomato, okra, garlic, or sorrel leaves, and chili pepper to produce a stew called moambé or poulet nyembwe (also gnemboue). Moambé is also made with other meats. This is one of many Central African dishes related to West African counterparts, in this case the West African palm oil chop, though the Central African versions tend to be simpler and made with fewer ingredients. Outside of Africa, canned palm soup base (also called sauce graine, noix de palme, or cream of palm fruit) can be used.
Peanuts are roasted and eaten as snacks, but they are used more interestingly in stews and sauces. The chickengroundnut stew—made from chicken, peanuts, tomato, onion, and chili pepper—is common especially in Central Africa, as it is throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Peanut sauces are served with roasted meats or fried fish, or boiled yams, sweet potatoes, or rice. Greens are cooked in groundnut sauce; meat, fish, or fowl can be added to produce a variety of stews.
An interesting cooking method in most part of Africa is steaming or grilling food wrapped in packets fashioned from the leaves of banana trees or other plants. This is an old cooking method, predating the use of iron, maybe even clay cooking pots. It is very practical when camping or traveling as it eliminates the need to carry pots, and the leaves can also be used as plates and bowls. Certain leaves are especially favored because they give a particular flavor to food. Kwanga, for example, is wrapped in leaf packets before its final steaming. Maboké (singular liboké, also called ajomba or jomba)—leaf-wrapped packets of meat or fish, with onion, tomato, maybe okra, seasoned with lemon juice or hot chili pepper—are grilled over hot coals or steamed in a pot. Crushed peanuts, or mbika, are sometimes included in the packets. Filling the leaf packets with mashed beans (such as black-eyed peas) and sautéed peppers, then steaming, produces koki (also called ekoki or gâteau de haricots).
Meat, Fish, and Fowl
Generally, people in Africa eat meat, fish, or fowl whenever possible. Every village has domesticated chickens (or guinea fowl) and goats. Wild game, viande de brousse or bushmeat, is very common: antelope, birds, buffalo, crocodiles, fish, monkeys, pangolins, wild boars, and many other species are hunted. Almost every type of wildlife—from insects to primates—is hunted and eaten in Africa, though individual ethnic groups have their own traditions regarding what is edible and what is not. Some will eat snake meat, for example, while others will not. There are many traditional beliefs concerning who should eat certain foods and who should not: for example, a certain food may be reserved for men because it is believed that women who eat it cannot become pregnant or will suffer other ill effects.Women in the Odzala region of the Congo Republic do not eat gorilla meat, fearing that doing so would cause their husbands to become as brutal as gorillas.
Beverages, Snacks, and Desserts
Bottled beer and soft drinks, sometimes unrefrigerated, are available throughout Central Africa. Traditional beverages include vin de palme or emu (palm wine), self-fermented palm tree sap. Beer is made from corn, millet, plantains, and sorghum. Cassava, yam, or plantain porridges are thinned with water to make breakfast beverages, weaning foods for infants, and nutritious drinks for convalescents. Coffee and tea are also popular beverages. Africans are great snackers. Vendors selling hot beignets (Frenchstyle doughnuts), fried plantain, grilled corn-on-the-cob, kola nuts, brochettes (shish kabobs), roasted peanuts, soft drinks, and various fruits are seen on urban streets and near bus and taxi stops and train depots.
Maize, sorghum, and millets
In the last quarter of the twentieth century, maize replaced sorghum as the most important cereal in East Africa. It is common to see people in urban areas fanning a charcoal fire in the streets and roasting fresh soft maize. Passersby buy this roasted maize (mahindi ya kuchoma) and eat it as they walk. Green maize is also boiled in water (amakhaye in Kisa), with or without the inner covers, and is salted and eaten just like roasted maize. Alternatively, fresh maize is removed from the cob and boiled fresh or when dry ( inete). Among the Somali, fresh maize (galeey) is fried in oil and taken as a snack. Dry maize is fried in sesame oil to make popcorn (salol), which is often served with coffee to men as they chew khat (miraa).
A popular East African food is githeri. This is basically a boiled mixture of fresh or dry maize with seeds from beans, garden peas, lablab beans, groundnuts, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Githeri may be consumed alone or mixed with leafy greens or stews, especially meat stew.
Probably the most important food in East Africa is ugali or sima (asida in Arabic, kun in Dinka, kawunga in Baganda, akaro in Banyankore, buro in Banyoro). Ugali is a sticky, moist dish that is made by mixing flour from a starchy food (mainly cereal and usually maize, but it can also be sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, wheat, and occasionally cassava, or a mixture of any of these) in hot water and cooking as one mixes the substance to a paste that varies in consistency from place to place. Ugali by itself has a mild taste. It is usually eaten with one’s fingers. It may be eaten with sour fermented milk, a vegetable stew (for example, beans, cowpeas, pigeon pea, green gram), meat stew, green vegetables, chicken, or fish. In the Lake Victoria region, fish is a common accompaniment. The combination of roasted meat (commonly known as nyama-choma) and ugaliis considered a delicacy in beer-drinking places. Ugali is very filling and is known for its ability to make people sleepy; hence it is good for the evenings.
Porridge (uji in Swahili) is a popular food in Africa. It is a healthy food, especially for children and breast-feeding mothers, as it is easy to digest and provides both water and energy in readiness for the day. However, tea has replaced porridge as a breakfast food in most parts of East Africa, which has further complicated the Challenge of malnutrition. Porridge is mainly made from cereals. Depending on the area, porridge may be thin or thick and may be flavored with sugar, salt, lemon, tamarind, baobab, coconut, cow ghee/butter, or milk. Probably the most delicious type of porridge is the fermented type, obusera obupuute (Kisa).
Rice (wali in East Africa)
Rice is an important dish for the Ethiopian, Asian, and Muslim communities in Africa. A common dish is wali usambara, which is rice prepared with coconut milk, salt, and a bit of oil. Biriani is a very spicy dish composed of rice (usually spiced) and spiced meat or chicken stews. Pilau is a spicy mixture of meat stew and rice that is popular both inland and in coastal areas. Spices in this dish include coriander, cardamom, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, onion, and garlic. Pilau is a popular dish in ceremonies all over the region.
Cheko (Ethiopia) is a type of spiced bread made from barley. Barley is also used to make a type of porridge known as baso. This is often flavored with honey, sugar, salt, and butter.
Teff (Eragrostis tef ), a type of cereal grass, is grown traditionally only in Ethiopia, particularly in the western region. Most teff is made into enjera (injera), a huge, flat, flabby, rather elastic, and slightly sour pancake that is eaten with spicy meat or vegetable stews such as doro watt (hot, spiced chicken curry), sega watt (lamb sauce), and key watt (hot, spiced beef sauce). One tears off pieces of the pancake and uses them to scoop or roll the stews. Enjera is a typical food in Ethiopian restaurants all over the region. The Somali type of enjera (canjeero) is usually made from a mixture of maize and wheat and is often flavored with garlic and iliki. Sugar and milk cream are usually added to breakfast enjera. Enjera may also be made from a mixture of rice and wheat.
Cassava is important at the coastal areas and among the Iteso and Luo of Lake Victoria basin and their relatives in Uganda, the Acholi, Langi, and Alur. Dry cassava can be roasted or boiled or eaten fresh. In the coastal region, fried cassava is flavored with lemon and powdered pepper and eaten with tea. Cassava is also deep-fried (mgazija wa kukalanga in Giriama). Cassava leaves (mchicha kisamvu) are used as a vegetable throughout the region.
Potato (English/Irish potato)
Potatoes are used to make a popular stew (called karanga in Kenya) of carrots, tomatoes, meat, and onions. These are usually served with ugali, chapati, or wali (rice). Chips, or french fries, are the most popular foods in fast-food kiosks and are usually served with pork or beef sausages. In Burundi, chips are also prepared from green bananas ( ibitoke) and sweet potatoes (ibijumbu).
Tannia and cocoyams or taro
Tannia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium, called Marumi in the Meru region of Tanzania) is commonly used in Uganda and parts of Tanzania, especially among the Chagga, Ameru, and Arusha peoples. The tubers may be cooked with meat, beans, and maize or boiled and eaten with tea. Cocoyams or taro (Colacasia esculenta), on the other hand, are widespread in the region and are commonly planted along water courses. The tubers are prepared in the same manner as tannia. Both tannia and cocoyams are popular breakfast foods.
In Africa yams ( Dioscorea) come in various types and include such varieties as the aerial yam or air potato, whose tubers are borne on the stems. Yams are prepared in the same ways as tannia and cocoyams.
Garri, Amala and Eba
Made from yam flower (Elubo), a popular staple food in West Africa consume with sauce, stew or soup. This food is in varieties as in colour, as a result of the flower used (cassava flower or yam flower) Eba on the other is produced from gary, garri or gari. It is quiet popular in nooks and crannies in Africa.
Bananas and plantains
Many varieties of bananas exist in Africa. Different varieties are used for brewing beer and cooking, and others are eaten when ripe, such as kisukari (Swahili) or igisukari (Burundi). Kisimiti and kibungara (found in the Mount Meru section of Tanzania) are varieties used to make traditional beers called banana and mbege. Also in Mount Meru, the soft varieties of bananas called Uganda and ng’ombe are preferred for meat and maize dishes. A cooked mixture of ndizi ng’ombe and maize meal, served with milk, is known as loshoro and is a favorite food for the Arusha. In Tanzania, mashed beans and bananas (kishumba) are often served as a wedding cake with dengelwa (local sugar cane beer). Green bananas (matooke) are the most important foods of the Baganda of Uganda. They are usually wrapped in banana leaves, steamed, and then mashed and eaten with a variety of steamed sauces usually containing groundnuts.
Ensete (enset) is a bananalike plant ( Ensete edule) exploited in southern Ethiopia for its pseudo-stem and leaf midribs—a source of a starchy product that is the staple food of parts of Ethiopia. This starch is fermented in the ground for periods lasting weeks or months. It is made into several products, including kocho (bread) and bula (porridge). Kocho is usually eaten with kittifo (kitfo)—hand-minced beef mixed with butter and pepper and served raw or cooked. A major disadvantage of ensete is its low protein content.
Beans (kidney bean, common bean) and peas
In Rwanda and Burundi beans are eaten for breakfast, lunch, supper, and as a snack. They are cooked with starchy foods such as sweet potatoes, green bananas, cocoyams, and cassava, as well as leafy green and fruit vegetables. In coastal parts of Tanzania, beans ( maharage) are cooked in coconut milk (tui) and served with ugali. Among the Giriama of Kenya this stew is known as borohowa ya maharagwe.
Bambara (Vigna subterranea) seeds are boiled with maize (usually after overnight soaking) to make a type of githeri ( amenjera ke tsimbande in Luhyia) usually eaten as a snack. These seeds are also fried like groundnuts.
The most popular type of fish (eja, samaki, rech) in Africa is the tilapia (mainly Oreochromis niloticus) or ngege. People along the shores of Lake Victoria often enjoy this dish with ugali. The large Nile perch ( Lates niloticus) is not as popular as talapia, but it provides large quantities of meat, which are usually made into fish balls. Another common fish is the small sardinelike fish ( Rastrineobola argentea) known by the names omena (Luo) and dagaa (Swahili). These cheap sources of protein are dried and sold in tins in most urban markets.
Meat (nyama, ring, eran-igbe) is used to prepare a variety of sauces and stews (mchuzi in Swahili and watt in Amharic). In Ethiopia, quanta is meat that is cut in long pieces, smeared with powdered pepper, salted, and dried by hanging it above the fireplace for five to seven days. This meat is used to make a hot stew, quanta watt, which is served with enjera or mixed with broken pieces of enjera and eaten as quanta firfir (Amharic) or sukume (Oromic). Among the Luo of Kenya, such dried meat is known as aliya and is made into a stew that is eaten with ugali. Among the Somali, dried meat ( otkac or nyirnyir) is usually prepared from camel meat ( hilib gel).
Most households in Africa raise chickens, which are usually prepared for guests. The various parts of the chicken hold significance in different regions. In western Kenya, for example, the tail part of the chicken is reserved for the male head of a family. Among the Kamba of Kenya, a gizzard is served to the most important person in a group of visitors, while among the Luhyia the gizzard ( imondo) is never shared. If two people did share it, it is believed they would always be in disagreement.
Milk and milk products
The nomadic tribes of Sudan make a type of cheese called kush-kush eaten with sorghum porridge. Camel herders put milk into a skin bag that is fastened to the saddle of a camel, and the milk (gariss) is allowed to ferment. This is a major source of food for the herders as they roam with their animals in remote areas.
A wide range of traditional and exotic fruits are consumed in Africa, usually as snacks. Mango, citrus fruits, banana, jackfruit, papaya, melons, guava, passion fruit, custard apple, and avocado pear are all common market fruits. Many of the traditional fruits are picked in the wild, such as baobab ( Adansonia digitata), wild custard apple, saba, carissa, dialium, flacourtia (Indian plum), marula, vangueria, tamarind, vitex, and jujube.
Although Eastern Africa is one of the largest producers of coffee, the beverage is not very popular except in its original home—Ethiopia. Among the Muslim communities of the coastal region, very strong coffee ( kahawa chungu) is served in small cups along the streets in the evenings and early in the morning. In Ethiopia, raw coffee (bun) is roasted on a pan until it turns brown. It is then spiced and ground into flour on a stone. The coffee is served in an earthenware kettle (jebena). Coffee-drinking is an important occasion in many communities in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia. Among the Somali, coffee is served in small cups with date fruits or xalwa.
Tea has replaced porridge as the morning drink in many homes in East Africa. In many rural restaurants it is customary to serve tea as soon as one sits down. The common way of preparing tea in homes and in most restaurants is by boiling water and adding tea leaves and milk, all mixed together (chai ya maziwa). Tea without milk is popularly known as strungi (from “strong tea”) and as shaah biiges in Somali. The Maragoli and Taita of Kenya value tea highly.
Khat (also known as Abyssinia tea or miraa) is a popular stimulant in East Africa. The bark from fresh young shoots is peeled off and chewed. Khat is an important plant during wedding ceremonies among the Somali and Boran of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Probably the most widespread item used for flavor is salt. In many traditional societies, salt is a filtrate of ashes from dry bean leaves, banana peels, water reeds, sorghum head, and normal ash. Most communities used samli or ghee to flavor food. In Tanzania and most coastal parts of the region, coconut milk is also used to flavor food. Grated coconut and water are squeezed in a woven bag to produce concentrated milk. In case you feel, this list is not complete, kindly use this comment section to add that sort of locally made African food that we didn't list here.