Whether you’re visiting West Africa or simply want to try out a new type of food, West African cuisine is a must-have.
There are so many reasons why you should try West African food, and one of them is because it belongs to the most influential food culture globally. Its history dates back to 4000 BCE, and the spices and ingredients used in making West African cuisine existed thousands of years ago.
History of West African Cuisine
During the colonial period, the Mediterranean and Europe traded everything with West Africans — from precious metals to cotton. As for food trades, Europeans introduced peanuts, chilies, and tomatoes to West Africa, while the latter traded okra, black-eyed peas, rice, and other ingredients.
Now, West African food influences food worldwide. For instance, okra, black-eyed peas, and rice are staples in West Indian countries. Red rice, greens, yams, and gumbo are famous in Creole classics in the American Deep South and Louisiana.
Arabs also influenced West African cuisine as they introduced cilantro, cloves, mints, and cinnamon.
In West Africa, most cultures use chili peppers and seafood, more so than the rest of the continent. Moreover, West African food has become famous because of its rich flavors.
More and more people are becoming hooked on West African food because of its healthy vegetable and fruit bases, making it delectable. Here’s some of the most flavorful West African cuisine that you should try:
Waakye From Ghana
One of the most popular Ghanaian foods is waakye, a breakfast meal, but you can still eat it throughout the day.
Its main ingredients include the following:
● Spaghetti and stew, which are the only non-Ghanaian ingredients in the recipe
● Ground cassava or moist gari
● Beans These ingredients make the dish flavourful and filling. You can also opt for boiled eggs, meat, or fish to add more protein. For a whole new level of waakye, you can add a vegetable salad, spiced plantain, or kelewele.
Ghanaian food and Nigerian food commonly involve Jollof rice, famous mainly for parties. Not only is it popular at weddings or catering events, but you can also find it at food stalls or chop bars.
Here are its other ingredients, making it vibrantly orange:
● Bouillon cubes or stock
● Tomato-based sauce
After steaming the rice in its main ingredients, you can also add fish and meat, green peas, or carrots. To make it more feastful, add some fried plantains as a side, fish stew, or grilled chicken.
This rich stew has a palm fruit base, a famous Niger food. You can use various spices and briny crayfish to accompany the Banga soup.
Another famous stew in West Africa is Efo Riro, also known as a stirred leafy vegetable.
Its ingredients include the following:
● Red bell peppers
● Scotch bonnets
To make it more flavorful, you can add some ground crayfish, locust bean or iru, meat, or fish. This West African cuisine also uses its native crop: palm oil.
Some people use vegetable oil as an alternative, but the taste may be different.
One of the most quintessential Senegalese food dishes is the tcheb, chebu jen, or ceebu jën, known as the thiéboudienne. When translated, it means fish with rice.
This West African food is a national dish in Senegal, which comes in various sizes and shapes.
Although you can cook it differently, the main ingredients consist of the following:
● Dahkar or sweet-sour tamarind
● Sweet potatoes
● Tomato sauce
● Seasoned rice
● Grilled or fried local white fish
Its popularity is seen mainly on the coastal Senegalese food menus, although it originated in the northern city of Saint-Louis.
Most Common West African Ingredients
If you’re an adventurous and health-conscious foodie, West African cuisine is perfect for you because of its healthy base of vegetables and fruit. What makes it more flavorful and vibrant (with rich textures) are the native delicacies and spices in each dish.
Moreover, most recipes like Nigerian tapas are made for sharing. This African food emphasizes the West African culture of sharing while dining in restaurants or at home.
Common West African ingredients include the following:
As mentioned, most West African food is vegetable-based. One of the best vegan-friendly food options you can try is the Nigerian Yoruba dish’s Moin-moin.
Its ingredients include fish, eggs, ground brown beans, sweet red pepper, and onions.
Other vegetarian dishes may contain the following vegetables:
● White and red onions
● Native yams
● Bay leaf
● Scotch bonnets
Aside from vegetables, many West African foods have fruits as the base. One of the most popular choices is the native roselle hibiscus flower. You can use it to add mellow taste and rich color to your recipes, aside from its health benefits. Some even use it in Zobo drinks.
Although most locals enjoy fresh fruits, some use fruits as ingredients in their dishes. This includes melon seeds for egusi soup to make it more savory.
Meat and Fish
Don’t fret if you’re a meat and fish lover, because there are also African dishes with meat and fish as their main ingredients. They also have dishes from various animals like honeycomb tripe or shaki and goat’s head for stew.
Other meats include spiced cuts of chicken and lamb as street foods. They even have dishes using beef, ox, and land snail.
As for carbs, West African food tends to involve a lot of rice. Other foods rich in carbs are corn meal, plantains, and yams.
Indulge in West African Cuisine
Now that you’re familiar with West African ingredients, you know that they’re both healthy and sumptuous. So, if you plan to travel to West Africa, don’t leave without trying their native and popular dishes.
Or, you could even take inspiration from these West African dishes and start cooking your own at home.