From the spicy tagines of North Africa and the savoury stews of West Africa to the aromatic curries of East Africa and the hearty braais of Southern Africa, each region has its own distinctive dishes and flavours that showcase the local ingredients and cooking techniques. Read on to explore the mosaic of cuisines represented in African food.
Marrakesh, Morocco by Dennis Bunnik
Shaped by its diverse landscapes, including the Sahara Desert and trade routes that connected the region with the Middle East and Europe, North African food is a tantalising fusion of Amazigh, Arab, and Mediterranean flavours and ingredients. Countries such as Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia infuse their cuisine with complex aromatic spices like cumin, coriander and cinnamon, along with bold ingredients such as olives, dates, figs and preserved lemons, creating a rich culinary experience that has captivated food enthusiasts worldwide. Here are some iconic dishes that define North African flavours:
- Tagine: Tagine, named after the distinctive clay pot it's cooked in, is a slow-cooked stew filled with tender meats, vegetables, dried fruits and a symphony of spices. It's a dish that embodies the essence of North African cuisine and is served with couscous and breads.
- Couscous: Couscous, a staple in North African cuisine, is a versatile semolina wheat dish that serves as a delightful base for stews and salads. It's often steamed and fluffed to perfection, serving as the perfect accompaniment to flavourful tagines.
- Falafel: Egypt is famous for falafel, deep-fried balls made from ground chickpeas or fava beans. These crispy delights are often served in pita bread with tahini sauce and fresh vegetables.
Take a cooking class in a beautiful Moroccan riad on our Moroccan Discovery small group tour.
Groundnut stew by Nicolas Phulpin
In West Africa, you’ll find a vibrant food culture characterised by bold spices, hearty stews and versatile ingredients. Staples like yams, cassava, plantains and rice provide the foundation for a plethora of dishes while aromatic spices and herbs like chilli, ginger and garlic infuse the cuisine with depth and fragrance. Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal are just a few of the countries that contribute to this rich tapestry of tastes. You can find these dishes in West African gastronomy:
- Jollof Rice: Jollof rice is a beloved West African one-pot rice dish cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and an array of spices. It's often served with grilled or stewed meats and fried plantains.
- Groundnut Stew: Groundnut stew (also know as maafé) is a delicious dish made with peanuts, tomatoes, onions, spices and meat or fish, common in West Africa. Groundnut stew is served with rice, fufu or bread.
- Plantain-based Treats: Plantains are a versatile ingredient in West African cuisine. They can be fried to make dodo (fried plantains) or baked into delicious snacks like kelewele, which are spicy, caramelised plantain bites.
Samosas in Somalia by Ilyas A. Abukar, Flickr
With its proximity to the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula, East Africa is a culinary treasure trove bursting with flavours. Staple grains like maize, millet, and sorghum serve as a canvas for an array of vibrant spices, including cardamom, cloves and ginger. The region's coastal areas infuse dishes with coconut milk and seafood, while the Swahili cuisine showcases a harmony of Arab, Indian and Portuguese influences. Street food culture thrives in Kenya and Tanzania, offering an array of mouthwatering options like samosas, grilled meats, chapati, and chips mayai (chips and eggs). Here are some iconic dishes from East African cuisine:
- Injera: Injera, a spongy sourdough flatbread, is a staple of Ethiopian food. It serves as a base for a variety of stews and is often used as both plate and utensil. To learn more about Ethiopian cuisine, click here.
- Biryani: Influenced by Indian cuisine, biryani is a fragrant rice dish cooked with aromatic spices, meat (usually chicken or lamb), and sometimes vegetables. It's a beloved dish in Kenya and Tanzania.
- Samosas: Samosas, delicious deep-fried pastries filled with spiced meat or vegetables, are a popular snack across East Africa. They are often served with chutney for added flavour.
Enjoy a Swahili cooking class on our Kenya & Tanzania small group tour.
Braai by Alan Levin, Flickr
Bobotie in South Africa by Priscilla Aster
In South Africa the cuisine is sometimes referred to as “rainbow cuisine” for its diverse fusion of cultures. Southern African food is influenced by Indigenous peoples, such as the Khoisan and the Bantu, who have their own unique dishes and ingredients, as well as by the European, Asian and Malay immigrants who brought their own flavours and techniques. Meat is the centrepiece of any South African meal, including a braai, the South African equivalent of a barbeque. Braai is a quintessential South African social event where meat is grilled over a wood or charcoal fire and served with side dishes like corn on the cob, roosterkoek (a traditional South African bread) and of course, beer and wine. You can find these classic dishes in South African cuisine:
- Bobotie: Bobotie is a classic Cape Malay dish that consists of spiced minced meat, dried fruits, and nuts, topped with a layer of egg mixture and baked in the oven. It is often served with rice, chutney, or sambal.
- Boerewors: Boerewors, a traditional South African sausage, is a must-try for meat lovers. It's typically seasoned with a blend of spices and cooked at a braai.
- Biltong: Biiltong is an airdried meat snack typically made from beef, chicken, fish or wild game. While similar to beef jerky, the curing process makes biltong tender and packed with flavour.
Learn how to make a variety of Cape Malay dishes on our Namibia & South Africa Adventure multi-activity tour.
Central African food is a lesser-known cuisine that showcases the richness and diversity of the region. Starches, such as fufu, are the staple foods, eaten with sauces and stews made with meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts and insects. The cuisine also reflects the influence of the Swahilis, the Arabs, the Europeans and other African cuisines. These influences introduced ingredients like spices, coconut milk, rice, cassava, dates, nuts, dried fruits, coffee, tea, maize, tomatoes, peanuts, bread, wine and grilled meat. Food in Central Africa is a way of celebrating life and sharing with others. These dishes showcase the flavours of Central African cuisine:
- Egusi Soup: Egusi soup is a traditional dish from West and Central Africa that is made with ground melon seeds, palm oil, leafy vegetables, and various seasonings and meats. Often eaten with fufu, rice, or other starchy foods, Egusi soup is also known as mbíka in the Central African Republic.
- Moambe Chicken: Moambe chicken, also known as muamba de galina, is a stew prepared with tomatoes, onions, salt, garlic, pumpkin, lemon juice and palm oil. It is considered one of the staple dishes of the region and is usually accompanied by yuca or rice.
- Ghana Chichinga: Chichinga is a skewered and grilled meat seasoned with a spice mix called suya, made from peanuts, ground spices and chilli. This street food originated from Ghana and is often eaten with jollof rice, salads or fried plantains.
African food is a testament to the continent’s rich cultural heritage and culinary creativity. Whether you're a food enthusiast, a traveller, or simply curious about the world's diverse flavours, African regional delicacies are sure to tantalise your tastebuds and leave you craving more. Explore African cuisine, culture, stunning landscapes and more on our Africa small group tours.