Monday, October 23, 2006

Africa in Brasil (Brazil)

My husband is in Brasil/Brazil this October (2006). It turns out a number of people there never saw my pictures nor comments from my trip last year, so here they are in case you missed them, too. I still intend to pursue researching the Afro-Latin connections in Brazil and Latin America:

"I've just returned home (I wrote in 2005) from exploring Afro-Brazilian cuisine in Salvador (Bahia), Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto (Minas Gerais), and Rio de Janeiro. The Portuguese and indigenous influences that worked their way back to Africa (such as corn and cassava and farofa-like gari) were fascinating, as were the influences going the other way (e.g., why dendê oil and coconut milk but not palm butter?). I sampled Cristina's tasty acarajé (a deep-fried cowpea paste fritter split open and filled with shrimp and a pepper sauce), reportedly "the best in Salvador," at Barraca de Cira, Praia de Itapoã. Acarajé is the descendant of West Africa's akla (a.k.a. akara, accara, kosai, koose, kose). We also had abará, a version steamed in banana leaves that has to be related to Ghana's tubaani or Nigeria's moyin-moyin or elele. I'm especially indebted to Brazilian colleagues: fellow IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) member Margarida Nogueira in Rio, Dr. Ericivaldo Veiga de Jesus, from the Catholic University of São Paulo, nutritionist Vera Fontes in Belo Horizonte, and Patricia Soutto Mayor Assumpçao of Buffet Célia Soutto Mayor. Plus special thank yous for their warm hospitality and acting as translators and guides go to Virginia and Renato Ciminelli and their family, Monica Christina Teixeira, and Claudia Lima. Several people have suggested pursuing further research into these cultural and agricultural connections via three-way collaboration among researchers in Brazil (and/or other Latin countries), Africa, and the U.S. Much attention appears already devoted to the influences from Africa to Brazil and the diaspora. I am especially interested in pursuing things from the other direction. For example, I wonder how related central Africa's batôn de manioc is to the processing of manioc by peoples in Amazonia, such as the Tupi-Guarani. Ditto for the fermenting of corn for Ghana's kenkey or banku. Also, I've never eaten cassava chips in Ghana, but they're a standard in Brazil. How do Brazil's roughly 1600 species of cassava (manioc) compare to West Africa's? Etc., etc., etc. Any ideas on how to pursue these interests? Get in touch."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Egusi soup and yam pottage, a conversation about Nigerian cuisine

We met in Wegmans, her grocery cart filled with collard greens, and I discovered that Mrs. R. A. (Auntie Bola) Sodeinde was in Pennsylvania for just one more day. She was busy cooking up some jollof rice and egusi stew for her son and his family before returning to Nigeria. When I learned of her television cooking show in Nigeria in the 1960s, and that she was in charge of providing food to students, faculty, and visiting dignitaries at the University of Lagos from 1962-1975, I knew I had to talk more with her. She graciously consented, and the interview is available as a podcast (To subscribe to earlier and future podcasts, go to itunes or a similar podcast directory, and search for BETUMI: the African Culinary Network). To listen to her interview only, click on the title above.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Coming soon to a store near you (or maybe already there!)

I was delighted to find our local Wegman's has begun carrying Julie and Albert Ndjee's West African salsa-like organic, preservative- and msg-free marinade/sauce "Neilly's Ultimate Seasonings" which bottles the flavors of the cuisine of Julie's homeland Cameroon. While my nephew from Ghana liked the pepperiness of the hot version (along, I'm sure with the onions and garlic) he found it "too tomato-y" and wanted more salt and less lemon, and, frankly, would have preferred the pounded dried shrimps and herrings of his familiar sheeto (or shito, shitor) from Ghana to its chicken-based flavors. Both the mild and the hot version had a pleasant complexity beyond the southern African "peri-peri" sauces I've had. Apparently there's also a vegetarian version that hasn't made it into our store yet. Ultimate Seasonings is working its way from the northeast westward in the U.S., and is available in a number of stores, ranging from Whole Foods Markets to Ukrop's and Kroger and ACME. For more information, click on the Ultimate Seasonings link on the right.

It's a fast, convenient, healthy way to get a taste of West Africa. Also, another sign that African cuisine is on the move into the mainstream consciousness.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"They Keep Their Fires Burning" Conversations on food, manners and hospitality in Africa"

Another good book to know about: Georgina Beier edited this contribution to Germany's Beyreuth African Studies series (#72), published in 2005 ( I had a little trouble running it down, but it's a fascinating record of growing up and society in largely rural or small town late 20th and early 21st century sub-Saharan Africa by 14 notable Africans, many artists or scholars (all but 2 of them men, and heavily weighted towards Nigeria) sharing stories and insights about their families, communities, and food. Contributors are from Nigeria (Chinua Achebe, Segun Olusola, whose essay gives the book its title, Rowland Abiodun, Bridget Robinson Kuba, Wole Ogundele, Umar Danfulani, Andrew Haruna), Burkina Faso (Karim Traore), Cameroon, (Godfrey B. Tangwa), Tanzania (Matthew Ole Suya Brown, a Masai), Sudan (Ibrahim El-Salahi), Uganda (Taban lo Liyong), and South Africa (Rebecca and Es'kia Mphahlele). It is a welcome addition to culinary writing on sub-Saharan Africa.