Cooking from West Africa
Hundreds of years ago the empires of West Africa flourished and expanded through trade on the edge of the Sahara desert. Today, these lands are occupied by modern nations after a long and brutal history throughout the lands of Africa. Stretching from Senegal to Nigeria, these lands are rich in resources, ranging from wet coastal rain forests to the Sahel at the edge of the desert. Along with expansion came the foods of the region of West Africa, which are rich in flavor and reveal the wonderful diversity of African cuisine. The land south of the Sahara is full of history and contains a full array of foods, revealing the culture and creativity of the vast resources that encompass the land (Jackson 3).
West Africa encompasses a wide band south from the Sahara Desert to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, with very different climates accordingly. Ancient traders would make frequent journeys across the desert to exchange salt and spices for gold, along with ivory and slaves in the south. The Empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai expanded and flourished as a result of the trans-Saharan trade. This trade was crucial for West Africa and for many years this trade was the only interaction West Africa had with the rest of the world (Jackson 8).
In the fifteenth century, Europeans began to explore the continent of Africa and they quickly realized its value. Many European powers, including the Portuguese, French, British, and Scandinavians, began to inhabit the coast by building forts and using them to store gold, timber, ivory, cocoa, and slaves.
As a result of the takeover by the Europeans, the empires of West Africa began to decline and the focus on trade began to end in Africa.
By the early nineteenth century, slavery had ended and West Africa was divided up between the French, British, and Portuguese. Ethnic peoples were divided and Africa was in many aspects deprived of the opportunity to expand its culture. During this time the people were oppressed and neglected, and much of Africas history was lost under the control and takeover of the Europeans. Although these people were estranged from their culture for many years, they were able to express their traditions and cultures through their cooking. Through their vast resources, Africans were able to prepare and nurture many varieties of food that are still prepared today (Jackson 180).
The West African coast is humid and swampy, and Liberia and Sierra Leone have a monsoon climate, which produces heavy rainfalls. The combination of both areas provides seafood and coconut palms in large amounts. In areas more inland, rainforests gradually open into grasslands, and therefore yams, cassava, cocoyams, kola nuts, and many vegetables are grown. Tropical fruits are also abundant, and further north the drier climate produces millet or sorghum and groundnuts. Rice is also grown in many of the wet coastal areas of West Africa, and often rice is the base food for the meals. In Hausa, a rice dish with many different meat and vegetable ingredients is called dafa duka, which means to cook everything.
Jollof rice with chicken, beef, and ham is a dish served throughout West Africa. The taste and rich flavor exemplify the uniqueness of African cuisine (Jackson 2
Today, West African food can be found around the world and its preparation requires very little specialized equipment. African women pound grains, beans, and vegetables, using large mortars and pestles. The flexibility and variety of African cooking reveals the history of the Africans, who traditionally relied on the resources available each day for ingredients. West Africans traditionally eat one large meal a day and snack many times during the day on small chops, which are varieties of corn cakes. These corn cakes are round and crunchy, and restore the authenticity of West Africa.
The common but unique foods and the methods of food preparation illustrate the diverse culture of the West African people. One traditional meal found in West Africa begins with a snack eaten throughout the day called corn cakes. The big meal for dinner is often jollof rice with chicken, beef, and ham as the main meal. Chin-chins are a common accompaniment to any meal to .