This page has a summary explanation about African food recipes. The aim is to create a general picture of African cuisine considering political, cultural, religious and economical history as well as biotopes and other defining factors. At the bottom of this page will be links to specific countries. By clicking on each country’s link at the bottom of the page you will be taken to a specific page with information and family recipes submitted by visitors to this site. Bear in mind that this is a work in progress and that the site is new, at the time this is written I have not many submitted African food recipes. Perhaps you can change this? Then just use the ‘Submit Recipe’ button in the menu on your left.
This huge continent has a great variation in biotopes. Deserts like the great Sahara in the north and the Kalahari in the south. There are several mountain ranges, like Atlas in the northeast, and Drakenberg in the south. Highlands, jungles and savannas are also covering big areas. The climate ranges from tropical to sub-arctic. In general the northern part of Africa, with the exception of the Nile valley, is dry. The southern part is more of a mix with savannas, deserts, jungles and fertile plateaus. This has had a great influence on regional diets and cuisines.
It is widely believed that our earliest ancestors lived in Africa, from there they spread all over the world, constantly evolving. One of our earliest civilizations was the Egyptian that started in the Nile valley. They established a culinary tradition with recipes that live on until today. Check out my page Ancient Egyptian Food to read more about this. The Egyptians expanded into the Middle East. After them came Greeks and Romans. The Islamic Arabs took over Egypt and adjoining areas in the 7th century, Islam kept spreading; today the northern half of Africa is Muslim. In other parts of Africa civilizations manifested themselves later; Around the 10th century you have some empires in sub-Saharan areas like the Kanem-Bornu. Many small independent kingdoms were formed, mainly in West Africa. The Arabs and Indians were the first to start big scale trading of African commodities like spices, ivory and as mentioned below slaves. The Arab and Indian influence is very visible in the cuisines of East Africa.
Slaves was commonly used all over the world until the 19th century, perhaps on no other continent did it have more consequences than in Africa. In fact the slave trade is contributed to be the economic foundation for most of the sub-Saharan kingdoms. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all used black African slaves. The trade oriented Arabs took it to a higher level. It is believed that more than 15 million slaves was transported out of Africa between the 7th and the 19th century. The discovery of the New World created a great demand for work force and a boom in the slave trade. The abolition of slavery led to economic crisis and the demise of many African states. Like always when countries trade with each other, traditions, ingredients and recipes were also exchanged, with the slaves came their cuisines.
In the 19th century started a race for colonization of the continent. Some mighty European countries wanted their share of the cake. Therefore did Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Great Britain, Italy and Portugal all put claim to areas – by the end of the 19th century only a few African countries were still independent. The effects of this is very much present to day in culture, language and food, quite large ethnic groups migrated to the new colonies. South Africa as an example received Dutch, English and Indian immigrants. African food recipes can only be understood if you have this in mind.
After the Second World War the fight for independence started, many times in bloody coups where the aim was to overthrow the colonial powers. Only when the apartheid government in South Africa lost its power in 1994 you could say that the colonial era was over. In many countries this transition to independence has not been an easy one. It was for a long period a bloody arena in the so called Cold War. International companies have exploited natural resources with questionable methods and corruption and personal interests have hampered national politics; the latter many times fueled by ethnic tensions. Starvation, diseases, cruelty and poverty are today part of everyday life for many Africans.
Understanding African Food Recipes
All the factors mentioned above are essential in understanding how the different cuisines in Africa have come to be. In South Africa influences from England, Holland and Asian Indians have mixed with African cuisines. In West Africa a lot of the traditions from their old kingdoms are alive in their food culture, rice and starches like beans and sweet potatoes are common ingredients in African food recipes from these regions. Notable is how the South American manioc (or cassava) is common in West African recipes, a heritage from exchanges during the slave trade. On Africa’s Horn and in East Africa spices and cooking methods are very similar to Middle Eastern cuisine, owing its explanation to the history of trade with the Arabs. In North Africa ancient Roman, Arab, Egyptian and Greek cuisines have mixed with different regional traditions to create quite distinct kitchens. And then adding biotopes, colonization, religious taboos, migration and modern economy… African food recipes are complex and have to be understood by discussing each country in detail.
Follow the links below to different countries. More detailed discussions about their cuisines and food history are on these pages. Some pages will have genuine submitted food recipes from that country. The countries are grouped under regions.
North African food recipes are to a big extent affected by dry climate, arid soil and a history of influence from Islam and Arabian cuisine.
Cuisines from the countries of West Africa share many traits, the use of some ingredients and the preference for spicy flavorful stews are some. West African food recipes vary quite a bit in accordance with biotope and religion. Colonial history also plays an important part.
Spicy stews and starches like manioc and maize are in common use. The relative absence of Islam and colonial history with countries like Belgium and Portugal have been defining in the development of Central African food recipes.
Eastern African food recipes vary a lot since the region spans such a large area. In several countries influences and ingredients from the Middle East, India and South East Asia are quite prominent. The colonial period brought several culinary traits from various parts of Europe.
Southern African food recipes have developed in countries with lots of wildlife and quite extreme biotopical conditions. A base in African cooking has been supplemented by influences from European countries like England, India and the Netherlands. The meeting between these varied cuisines have created several quite unique dishes.