As I had pointed out back in 2009 (when I wrote the part one of this blog), there is a limitless collection of traditional dishes in West Africa. The tropical rainforested quarter is a cultural hotbed, where you will find at least 18 countries. Each one of these countries has at least ten distinct tribes within them. Every tribe has their specific language, religion, culture, music, tradition, dress code, history and yes, cuisine. West Africa is currently suffering from tottering genealogies, systemic corruption, westernization, unwritten history, ancestors who died in exile taking some fundamental information of significant tribal procedures, etc.
Much of the younger generation have lost their exact heritage as they develop an intense craving for alien artifacts. Still, there is a considerable deposit of culture which historians have traced through the cuisine.
One of the several traditional natural fruits that play a significant role in West African cuisine is a fruit which comes from the palm tree. Nigerians, as well as Sierra Leoneans, call it the “Banga” or Palm Nut. You can also get palm oil from this fruit. This palm oil is a crucial ingredient in many West African meals. The palm tree also produces an intoxicating sap which many local West Africans tap and drink like beer. The sauce from simmered palm nuts thickens into an oil-based soup which some historians believe was introduced in the Delta region, by the Urhobo ethnic group of Nigeria.
Since many tribal people populated West Africa by migrating and intermarrying throughout the area, the palm tree and its Banga or Palm Nut Soup is a tasty treat in various countries across the region. It is similar to the Peanut Stew which I recommended in part one of this blog. Here the cook boils the palm nut until it softens. The cook strips the softened kernel from its shell, grind, and strain with water. The chef then brings the creamy residue to boil with pepper, onions and, vegetable plus tribal specific seasoning. A collection of meats (beef, chicken or lamb) or fish often graces the dish.
Banku & Tilapia
North Americans consider tilapia an unnatural fish recognizing that agriculturists have bred the species under humanmade conditions. As a result, only a few people opt for tilapia in North America. Despite that, since moving to Europe, the tilapia seems to surface in every fish pot. So, for my North American first-timers who would like to venture with this feast, I’d propose swapping your tilapia with a salmon. Personally, I‘d go with the barracuda. Snapper and Grouper fish are also great substitutes.
Some Ghanian dishes come with a deliciously peppered collection of fish, chicken, and beef all in one soup, or stew. Many of their locals savor the combined delicacies such as, beef tripe, cow foot and other unusual parts of the animal which may surface in the soup or stew. Usually, the more treats the, better. I know, many of my western friends are probably thinking, ew but trust me when I tell you, your expression should be yum! Ghanaians prepare a mouthwatering assortment of dishes in their cuisine. Their dinner plates come with a dynamic variety of textures and flavors.
This celebrated culture has also mastered the art of fermented cassava, potato, yam and other roots which they mash. A large piece of fish is bathed in traditional seasonings and grilled. Performing as the source of carbohydrates is something called the Banku which is supplemented with the crispy and juicy grilled tilapia or salmon. Mostly from the south of Ghana, the Banku is mashed corn plus cassava that is fermented. Ghanaians serve this with a sauce made from hot pepper, crushed tomatoes, and sliced onions.
How many of my readers can still recall my earlier blogs, lyrics, and poems about the Islands off the west coast of Africa? Islands like Mao, Brava, Santa Cruise or Las Palmas are among a cluster of beautiful West African sanctuaries which the Portuguese enslaved and colonized. Being closer to mainland Senegal and Morocco, where many tribal people integrated, you will find that the Mende, Mandingo, and the Portuguese have a considerable influence on Cape Verdi cuisine. Also, expect to see some differences between the Island and the Mainland cuisine. This means Cape Verdi Islanders go for usual West African assortments like rice, yam, cassava, potato, etc. The people hone their staple mainly from corn and beans.
Of course, they delve into the same range of meats as other West Africans. Being an Island, you should expect to see some precise foods made from tuna, lobster, chicken, and beef. When dinner is served, you will savor over a Cape Verdi plate. Never turn down Cape Verdian grilled fish, chicken or eggs with sliced and roasted tomatoes. I often crave their distinctive flavored and baked shrimp, crab, or oysters. Still, our dish of choice (in this blog) comes with corn, cassava, sweet potato, and beans that are seasoned Portuguese style and slow cooked with any fish or meat ranging from tuna and barracuda to beef, goat, lamb or chicken.
An efficient advance into the library of any history is to inquire about cuisine. The reason being, food plays one of the most critical roles in culture. One can learn a lot about a society or a region through the unfolding of their cultural dishes. Centuries before Europe commanded the world in mathematics, science or literature; one had to prattle across the Sahara to gain such wisdom at the old institutions and megaversities of Timbuktu, Mali. If you sketched the migration route of the leading historical societies, you would discern that many started from Sudan.
This evidence also shows that some of them had migrated along the coast of West Africa. Is this why the Cameroonian Ndole’ is similar to the Egusi Soup in Nigeria or the Sakpa in Sierra Leone? If a food historian didn’t go to Mali, he or she made sure to visit Egypt or Ethiopia. Grievously, ancient high and wealthy empires of Africa saw a constant orchestration of moral conflicts. Every rising empire from the Middle East to Europe became frantic for the knowledge and wealth in Africa. And the diverse regions of Africa, namely the North and the East held off the invaders for centuries. And in the end, they caved in.
The Food & The Tradition
When Egypt fell so did the empires south and south-west, eventually giving rise to vast Islamic empires in North Africa. The invaders stole the archives of scientific, mathematical, and literacy, as antiquity endured in the traditional cuisine. Ndole’ stands as Cameroon’s classic dish. This meal which other regions called “Bitter Leaf,” comes with stewed ground nuts. You cook it with traditionally seasoned fish or beef. Ghanian dishes are melting pots of assorted fish, meats, and other seafood or delicacies. You may be delighted to discover the same in Cameroon.
The delicious stew of meats, fish, seafood and bitter leaves also comes with steamed or fried plantain. There is a fermented mash of cassava and manioc called, “Bobolo.” This meal has a similar appearance, taste, and texture as the Egusi in Nigeria and the Sakpa in Sierra Leone. Traditional seasoning is crucial to West Africam cuisine since it is a way to tell the difference between a dish prepared by society in Benin for example or a comparable meal developed by the organization in Burkina Faso.*