There are a few foods that will accompany you through large parts of the African continent: the infamous roasted chicken, fried banana and plantains; in the tropics yams and sweet potato. And of course Africa’s version of polenta: fufu, ugali, sadza, pap… Pap might be the most fitting name for the cheap staple food that those who can afford it will have with soups, vegetables and meat while those who can’t will have it as is, with a with tomatoes.
But then there are the specialties that are prevalent in only one country or region.
Morocco is known for tajine , in simple terms a stew variation: any kind of meat or fish along with veggies is put in a cone-shaped earth ware, seasoned with oriental spices and cooked (stewed) in an oven for up to several hours. The smell upon opening the tajine is bedazzling. When traveling through the Moroccan hinterland be a bit more adventurous and stop in a random village, find a restaurant (a challenge in itself) and have the dish of the day. It’s usually the only dish sold but I have rarely been disappointed. In Tuareg country, at the edge of the Saharan desert the meat heavy Tuareg pizza is a favorite.
In Ethiopia everything is a bit different from the rest of Africa. The main religion is one of the oldest Orthodox forms of Christianity, the dance consists mainly of shaking the shoulders and the food is a mix of Italian and injera. Injera is a very large sour dough pancake made from an almost forgotten grain, tef. Some people call it the ‘wash cloth’ as reference to its spongy texture. It certainly is an acquired taste that took me a few days to get into as well. But after that you will hate to miss it. Food is either served on the injera or in pots (to be dumped on the injera – beware of the sogginess…). Either way bits of the injera are used to scoop up the food. My two favorites are shiro bujena, a chick pea based soup with ground meat, and the fasting (read: vegetarian) injera beyeaynetu.
Finally some really exotic food: maggots. I have to admit that I didn’t buy them in the market or had them along the way but rather tried them in the pretentious environment of the Victoria Falls’ Boma restaurant. The fried Mopani Worm, aka Macimbi, frankly tastes like nothing. The texture is a bit rubbery, no crunch.
For a more comprehensive list of African dishes Wikipedia is a good starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African_dishes . And then go out and explore the local restaurant and food scene. Try things! Don’t be afraid! Be as open-minded about the food as you should be about the culture and country you’re visiting. I promise you won’t regret it.
After the eating days of Christmas come the drinking days around New Year. Consequently in the coming days leading up to New Year’s Eve I’ll share some of my memories of African drinks with you.