African food links

Stabroek News: Lifestyle - - Front Page - Cyn­thia Nel­son

Caribbean food is a cre­ative com­bi­na­tion of cuisines from all over the world. How­ever, as we get ready to celebrate Eman­ci­pa­tion Day this is an ideal time to think about how our food is linked to the cuisines of the African con­tent. I em­pha­size the African con­ti­nent, be­cause there are still many peo­ple who seem to talk and write as if Africa is one coun­try. Africa is a vast con­ti­nent of 47 coun­tries (53 if the is­land na­tions of Mada­gas­car, Co­moros, Sey­chelles, Cape Verde Is­lands, São Tomé & Principe, and Mau­ri­tius are in­cluded). And within each of these coun­tries there are many dif­fer­ent peo­ples. This means we might use­fully get into the habit of think­ing about African in­flu­ences rather than a sin­gu­lar, uni­fied, African in­flu­ence. It is of­ten as­sumed that African in­flu­ences in the Caribbean are only West African in ori­gin. We trace our her­itage to the en­slaved Africans who were forced to travel the hor­ren­dous Mid­dle Pas­sage from the West Coast of Africa to the Caribbean. How­ever, many scholars sug­gest that Africans from dif­fer­ent parts of the con­ti­nent were brought to the slave ports on the West Coast be­fore be­ing sold into slav­ery. Thus it seems likely that, although the West African in­flu­ence is very strong, we can, in fact, trace our food and cul­tural her­itage to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in Africa. So what are some of the in­gre­di­ents and dishes that we use and make to­day that we can point to as be­ing African in ori­gin or in­flu­ence? Tamarind, wa­ter­melon, sor­rel (roselle), toma­toes, hot pep­pers, and pi­geon peas are among the in­gre­di­ents used widely in African cui­sine that we have in­cor­po­rated in many ways in our fused cui­sine. In Ghana, they too make plan­tain chips and in Nige­ria, they make fried ripe plan­tains just like us; they call it dodo ikrie. In Kenya, the type of pump­kin they use is the same that we do in the Caribbean; in Kenya and in North Amer­ica is it known as cal­abaza. The Kenyans also make a sim­i­lar dish of fried pump­kin just like us but their cook­ing tech­nique is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. They first par-cook the cut chunks of pump­kin and then add it to sautéed onions. The pump­kin is then cooked un­til it caramelizes and changes colour, be­com­ing brown­rust in colour. I smiled when I read that some­times they add a pinch of sugar to their fried pump­kin be­cause that is ex­actly what I grew up see­ing my mother do when­ever she cooked pump­kin. In Su­dan, they too make a sim­i­lar ver­sion of stewed liver. They eat theirs over a bed of fungee/fungi a corn­meal mash sim­i­lar to Ba­jan cou-cou or An­tigua and Bar­buda’s fungee/

fungi. In Niger, the make a dish called tuo (turned corn­meal, aka corn­meal cou-cou). While we make foo-foo, with var­i­ous ground pro­vi­sions, the orig­i­nal foo-foo was made ex­clu­sively with yams. This is another case of our im­pro­vis­ing and in­no­vat­ing as we use plan­tains, ed­does, cas­sava and ta­nia to make foo-foo. In some ways, the Nige­rian fish cake is sim­i­lar to the Guyanese fish­cake − they too use fresh fish in their fish cakes, how­ever, in­stead of adding mashed pota­toes, they use mashed yams (which I know we some­times use). We shape ours like the Por­tuguese do and in the case of the Por­tuguese, salted fish is used to make their fish cakes. I was ex­cited to learn that in Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, they too make lemon­grass tea! And they use it sim­i­larly to French tisane (herbal tea). Years ago when I first made lemon­grass tea and posted it on my blog sev­eral friends from China and In­done­sia were in­trigued by the use of the lemon­grass to make a tea; their ex­pe­ri­ence had only been in us­ing lemon­grass as a culi­nary herb. I’ve writ­ten in the past about black-eye peas and their in­flu­ence on our food; the use of these peas/beans in the cook-up rice that we make not only on week­ends, but es­pe­cially on the last night of each year. In cook­ing this dish, we in­voke the prac­tices of the Africans who came be­fore us and passed on a tra­di­tion of cook­ing a par­tic­u­lar dish and ush­er­ing in a New Year hope­ful of luck and good for­tune. Eman­ci­pa­tion Day is a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity for us to celebrate our African her­itage. There will be events go­ing on up and down Guyana that re­mind us of our rich African cul­ture. Go out and en­joy them, no mat­ter where your own fore­bears came from. Yet, let us also take note, that ev­ery day, the dishes on our stoves are tes­ti­mony to our an­ces­tors, to their spirit of sur­vival, to their cre­ativ­ity, and to their com­mit­ment to sur­vive and flour­ish – no mat­ter how hard the cir­cum­stances. Let’s live up to their ex­am­ple.

(Photo by Cyn­thia Nel­son)

Corn­meal Cou-cou with Stewed Sar­dines

(Photo by Cyn­thia Nel­son)

Corn­meal Por­ridge (aka Mealie Pap in Africa)

(Photo by Cyn­thia Nel­son)

Plan­tain Foo-foo & Stewed Beef

(Photo by Cyn­thia Nel­son)

Fried Ripe Plan­tains (Dodo Ikrie in Nige­ria)

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