Thursday, December 20, 2007

East and West African Food and Foodways

African food historians and scholars who are based in Africa can lead lonely lives. They need contact with and support of like-minded people. We need them to share their insights and publish their findings. I recently heard from Forka Leypey Mathew, in Yaounde, Cameroon, who has studied the social history of how traditional food preparation and eating patterns have changed among several groups in Cameroon, including the Bakweri (occupants of Buea and Limbe), Mbo (occupants of Melong, Santchou, Nkongsamba and other villages), Bamum (occupants of Foumban), Wawa (occupants of Banyo), Doowaayo (occupants of Poli), Guidar (occupants of Guider) and Kotoko (occupants of Kousseri and the entire Cameroon section of the Lake Chad Basin). Matew ( welcomes correspondence with others who share similar interests.

Scholars outside of Africa are also doing exciting things. In 2006, Verena Raschke completed her doctoral work cojointly at the University of Vienna in Austria and Monash University in Australia, studying traditional East African food habits and their health benefits, and has made quite a bit of information available online. She's also been actively publishing the results of her research. For example:

1. Raschke V, Cheema B. Colonization, the New World Order and the Eradication of Traditional Food Habits in East Africa: Historical Perspective on the Nutrition Transition. Public Health Nutrition, in press, 2007

2. Raschke V, Oltersdorf U, Elmadfa I, Wahlqvist M, Cheema B, Kouris-Blazos A. Investigation of the Dietary Intake and Health Status in East Africa in the 1960s: A Systematic Review of the Historic Oltersdorf Collection. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, in press, 2007

3. Raschke V, Oltersdorf U, Elmadfa I, Wahlqvist M, Cheema B, Kouris-Blazos A. Content of a novel online collection of traditional east African food habits (1930s-1960s): Data collected by the Max-Planck-Nutrition Research Unit, Bumbuli, Tanzania. Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 16:140-51, 2007

4. Raschke V, Oltersdorf U, Elmadfa I, Wahlqvist M, Cheema B, Kouris-Blazos A. The need for an online collection of traditional African food habits. African Journal of Food, Agriculture, Nutrition and Development (AJFAND Online), 7(1), 2007; Available at:

5. Raschke V, East African Food Habits On-line. In: Wahlqvist ML. Healthy Eating Club. Melbourne, HEC Press. Web-site:; 2005

Let's continue to identify and promote those who take African cuisine and food history seriously!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tapioca Project and Cooking Contest

This week in Rio has been filled with fantastic opportunities to get to know Teresa Corção and Margarida Nogueira and their Manioc Project. The day after arriving I had the great good fortune to attend the 3rd “tapioca cooking contest” (a light, magical cassava “pancake” cooked without oil) held as part of their work with children, especially those from the favelas:

Their project has been so enthusiastically received by the children and the schools that Teresa and Margarida now have a bigger dream: to expand “Projeto Mandioca” to other cities and states in Brazil, beginning with São Paulo. They plan to develop materials to train and equip teams of qualified volunteers to duplicate and replicate the projects on a wide scale. Already they’ve worked in 6 schools and reached at least a thousand children. These dream-makers deserve our support and encouragement. Read (in Portuguese) more about the foundation they have just established, the
Instituto Maniva, to make it possible.

How does this relate to Africa? Teresa and Margarida are acting locally, but they are definitely thinking globally. They want to see the love of and respect for manioc (e.g., cassava) spread everywhere, moving beyond Brazil to Africa. After all, Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of manioc (cassava), and it was Nigerian poet Flora Nwapa who wrote the ode to cassava, Cassava Song and Rice Song. Let’s join them and dream together.

Another joy in Rio was to eat at O Navegador, Teresa’s world class restaurant (with its incredible organic salad bar ,".org") where I enjoyed a highly sophisticated version of a tapioca pancake with black sesame seeds and rock salt (and filled with bobo de camarão, a cassava puree with coconut milk, red palm oil, and shrimp, along with a little cilantro, onions, etc., and garnished with a sauce made of cherry tomato and pimenta biquinho). They also served the best pão de queijo I’ve tasted in Brazil. Now I have all these wonderful cassava recipes I hope to adapt and introduce to Ghana in January!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Feijoada Cooking Lesson

I'm having a lot of cooking lessons these last few weeks before I leave Brazil. This month I learned the basics for making feijoada, that wonderful bean and meat stew that's practically synonymous with "Brazilian food" (note: I first blogged about it on August 15).

Here is a quick summary:

On Friday, Nov. 9, 2007, Claudia Lima, her co-worker friend Ilda De Sousa Batista and I went to downtown’s sprawling, lively Mercado Central (Central Market) to buy the ingredients for Sunday’s feijoada party.

Our first stop was at what they assured me was THE BEST place in Belo Horizonte to buy the meat: O Rei da Feijoada Ltda. (the King of Feijoada). This was the first step in untangling the mysteries of all the smoked and salted meats that are integral to this dish.

Upon arriving at O Rei da Feijoada, they hand you a paper over the counter with a chart that lists 19 ingredients to choose from (in Portuguese, of course). We took 9 items, including a special sausage for an appetizer (tiragosto)
There we picked, taken from the receipt, as well as I can tell:

Feijao preto (black beans) 2 pkgs (1 kilo each)
Lingua suina salgada (.815 K)
Pe suina salgada (1 K) [salted pig’s feet]
Lombo defumado (1.1 K) [smoked pork loin]
Costela defumada inteira (1.15 K) [smoked pork ribs]
Linguica defumado ext. gros (.92 K)
Charque trazeiro (1.1 K) [smoked beef]
Rabo Suino salgado (.4 K) [salted pork tail]
Linguica Paio Edtra (.78 K) (special pork sausage)
Bacon Extra (.25 K)

Next Ilda went and bought some special Minas cachaça (Joao Mendes, or JM) for the caipirinhas while Claudia and I went to by the long grain rice (arroz), some vegetable oil (oleo) and salt. Then we went for fresh produce and fruits. Some couve (this is usually referred to as kale or collard greens).

Ilda spent Saturday de-salting and cooking of the salted meats, and pounding the garlic and salt and generally doing the prep for much of Sunday's work, when we actually cooked the beans and meats together (sautéing each of the sausages and smoked meats separately before adding them to the beans and salted meats), prepared the side dishes, etc. On Sunday Ilda and her sister Inesia de Sousa Batista and I arrived early at Claudia's apartment with cooking equipment and ingredients. We set up in the huge but private indoor-outdoor space for parties and people began arriving beginning mid-morning to early afternoon. There was a lot of fellowship, snacks and drinks to get people in the mood. Throughout the afternoon, Sonya Rocha played a few songs on her guitar, and by the end of the fun, relaxing (if busy) day, I felt more connected to Brazil than ever before.

Here are some pictures and a couple of video clips I took:

Friday, November 16, 2007

Garden Eggs in Suriname

More on garden eggs:

Several types of garden eggs (
Solanum aethiopicum) are grown in Ghana, with local names like aworoworo, obolo, asurowia, asusuapin, and antropo.

Suriname is a country in South America, about the size of Georgia in the United States, and one of Brazil's northern neighbors. Prof. H. L. van de Lande ( biologist and plant pathologist, and department head of biology and chemistry at ADEK University, Leysweg/Paramaribo - shares a photo from the market in Paramaribo, along with information on garden eggs in Suriname, where they are known by the local Sranan Tongo name antruwa, and are also from the Solanaceae family (and thus related to eggplant, or aubergine), but it seems a different type, Solanum macrocarpon.

Interestingly, Ramon Finkie from the same university tells me that many Surinamese people descended from slaves originally from Ghana.

According to Prof. van de Lande:

"Antruwa is used in a variety of ways: as a vegetable, stewed with onions, sometimes pieces of salted beef, or with dry shrimps, or, as it is. it is also used in okra soup, or it can be cooked in water, and then some vinegar, sugar maybe some pieces of hot pepper added. It is then eaten as a side dish, pickled antruwa, mostly with a mixed rice dish, which we call moksi aleisi.

Moksi aleisi
(also the Sranan Tongo name)
or mixed rice, can be very variable depending on who is making it; you can make all kinds . . . depending what ingredients (or, leftovers) you have available and in which cultural environment you were brought up. The mixed rice made by the Chinese is much different from the mixed rice made by the Javanese or by the Creole or by the Hindu people. But when one says: "moksi aleisi", then one generally refers to the mixed rice dish made by the Creole or the Negroes."

She further explains that "Sranan Tongo is the local Surinamese language, which is spoken by practically everyone; it can be considered the bridging language between all cultures and etnic groups. The official language is Dutch, which is spoken by the majority of people in Suriname. Still, especially older people in the rural area or in the interior speak either their language of their culture/ethnic group of origin (this can be the local Javanese language, different from the one in Java, Indonesia, the local hindi language which is again slightly different from Hindi in India, local Chinese, or the various languahges spoken by the descendants of the Maroon people or the differen languages spoken by the indigenous people, the Amerindians etc. etc. for all other cultural/ethnic groups."

I love all the Afro-Latin links I'm discovering during my stay in Brazil. Another day I'll share what I've learned about cassava/manioc in Suriname!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Capoeira, cassava bread, and fried manioc in Brazil

Okay, I admit it. This post is about African culture in Brazil, not just African food culture, but the line is kind of blurry, isn't it? I can't think about African food without thinking about music and community, anyway. Last weekend friends were here from Chile, and my sister from Oregon, so a group of us went to Ouro Prêto, a UNESCO world heritage site. I especially wanted to show them the carvings of Alejiandnho ( nicknamed "Little Cripple," the son of a Portuguese architect and a black slave, and one of the most famous sculptors of Brazil), and the church built by Chico-Rei, an African king from Angola who was captured with his entire tribe and sent to work in a mine in Ouro Prêto, and who later earned his freedom, his son's, and the rest of his people's, then re-established his court, African clothing, and African customs in Ouro Prêto. He is a folk hero among Brazilian blacks. While we were lounging in Tiradentes Square in the town's center, some guys started playing and "dancing" capoeira, a form of African martial arts/dance that was developed by slaves to fight their masters, and disguised as a kind of dance. It's noted for its "fluid and circular" movements. I pulled out my camera, got their permission (but they didn't want money), and recorded a few minutes of the dance to share.

There's a lot of African influence in Minas Gerais. This Friday I'm heading to Central Market again to shop for a cooking class this weekend where I'm learning to make feijoada for friends who're coming on Sunday (remember I wrote about eating it in August when we first arrived). By the way, a couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at pão de queijo, a great specialty of the region, a kind of cheese popover made with tapioca flour, eggs, cheese, and butter. It's one of my husband's new-found favorites, along with the mandioca fritas I've also been learning to make, both illustrated below.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fufu in Brazil?

We've been in Brazil for 3 months. We're getting really tired of omo tuo (rice balls) in all our Ghanaian soups. I decided this week to attempt to make fufu with what is available when one does not have a mortar and pestle for pounding it from fresh cassava and plantains or cocoyams. At the market I picked up some polvilho (manioc, or cassava, starch). It seems to be the same thing as tapioca starch in the U.S. There're 2 kinds: doce (sweet) and azedo (acid). I also bought some farinha de mandioca, torrada or toasted, (a cassava meal that's like a really, really fine unfermented gari).

I spent a couple of hours last night trying to make Ghana-style fufu. You don't want the gory details. Suffice it to say that, with a great deal of trial and error, I produced a semblance of fufu that we managed to eat with our chicken light soup with okra. It was kind of a cross between that paste you use to stick wallpaper on the wall and fufu. Next time I need to drastically reduce the amount of starch, increase the amount of water, and figure out how to keep it from clumping up. Help! Have any West Africans lived in Brazil who can tell me what to do? We still have 2 more months here.

On a more hopeful note, I'm going to use some of the polvilho, along with a special cheese from Minas Gerais, to practice making a delightful type of puffy Brazilian cheese ball known as pão de queijo (bread of cheese), but that's another story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Jiló in Brazil, garden egg (ntroma) in Ghana

A few weeks ago, a Brazilian friend and I went to lunch at an award-winning cafe in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. One of the featured items on the menu had "jiló" (pronounced zhee-LO) in the name. "What's that?" I wanted to know. "Oh, it's a vegetable especially popular in Minas Gerais. It tastes wonderful" she assured me. She held her thumb and forefinger almost together to make an oval, and said "It's shaped like this, and about this size."

I decided to order a different dish for lunch, but the next time I went grocery shopping I picked up a "jiló" to try. When I cut it open, I was surprised to realize it was an unripe garden egg, the beloved little egg-shaped eggplant vegetable used in Ghana and other places in West Africa. I added it to whatever stew I was making that night, and found it more bitter than I remembered the garden eggs in Ghana. Interestingly, Brazilians find the ripe fruit bitter and the market will only accept the "young, sweet" green jil
ó. It's true that's the only kind I've seen here in the 3 months I've been in Brazil. I generally substitute eggplant in the U.S. because I don't have access to fresh garden eggs, though I have seen some Japanese eggplants in the stores that look similar. Jiló, too, can be used interchangeably with eggplant.

It turns out that there are 2 kinds of jiló
(Solanum gilo), both from the Solanaceae family: the kind popular in Belo and other parts of this region (comprido verde claro, or "long light green") and a rounder, more bitter type called morro redondo). Jiló is originally from Africa and found its way to Brazil, though not other Portuguese-speaking countries, via the slave trade.

It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected the world is!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Africa Cookbook Project Update, October 2007

The 2 latest additions to The Africa Cookbook Project include Devra Moehler's contribution of Taste of Uganda: Recipes for traditional dishes by Jolly Gonahasa (Fountain Publishers, 2002, Kampala) and Angeline Espagne-Ravo's Ma Cuisine malgache: Karibo Sakafo (Édisud, France, 1997) donated by TEDFELLOW Andriankoto Ratozamanana. Thank you to both of you. Please keep the books coming. Andirankoto marked several of the recipes in Ma Cuisine malgache: "Pâte à Sambossa," "Achards de Mangues," and the section on "Le Romazava (pot au fe) - (bouillon clair)" with the note "ramazava are our BEST." Espagne-Rovo confirms that "Le romazava est le plat national des Malgaches." There are some delicious-looking recipes there to try out. By the way, please follow Andriankoto's lead, and sign the book with your name (and anything else you'd like to say) and the date you donated it so we can give credit to the contributor. Or, if anyone would like to donate money to allow for the purchase of books to add to the collection, or make suggestions of books to include, please contact me at I'll be developing a "wish list" of books out there that need to be purchased.

Monday, September 24, 2007

African Culinary Entrepreneurs

I just discovered the site of Yeti Ezeanii, a West African transplanted to the U.S. who shares the vision to meet the acute need for quality African culinary videos. Her website
includes recipes and demonstrations of North, South, East and West African dishes in what I assume is her pleasant, well-equipped kitchen in Atlanta, Georgia. Her on-camera style is friendly, fun, and relaxed, and she is comfortable and confident as she adapts classic African recipes to Western kitchens. Be patient and give the videos time to download and you're in for a good time.

Just remember if you begin comparing different African videos, the continent is huge, and just as there isn't a single way to prepare chili or spaghetti, there are innumerable variations of all the classic African dishes.

Everywhere I turn, there are enterprising African culinary innovators from Africa like Yeti. I often feature them in this blog (like chemical engineer
Yaw Adusei and his fufu flour or Cameroonian Julie Ndjee and her husband Albert and their "Neilly's Ultimate Seasoning".) There's also Tomilola Awoniyi, a woman I learned about through Bola Olabisi, herself an innovator embodying the whole idea of "betumi power" behind this blog and founder of the Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network as well as the Nigerian Female Inventor and Innovator of the Year Awards). In 2004 Tomilola Awoniyi won the first Nigerian Female Inventor & Innovator of the Year Award for her LIZVIC Special PAP (ogi) a type of nutritious maize breakfast cereal she developed out of necessity.

I met several more culinary innovators in Ghana last June, and I'll feature them in another blog soon. Please let me know about others!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Refogado in Ghana

I've learned a great Portuguese culinary word: refogado. The book Barbara Baeta and I are writing on Ghanaian regional cuisine has a section on the ABCs of cooking in Ghana. It includes a discussion of one of the basic building blocks of most Ghanaian stews: a sauce/stew base made from oil, chopped or sliced onions, and tomatoes, as well as other ingredients like garlic or peppers. The "correct" way to prepare the base is to heat the oil, saute the onions first, then stir in the tomatoes, etc. This is what they call "refogado" in Brazil, and is, likewise, a basic technique for beginning many dishes in Brazil. As my husband is fond of saying "travel and see!"

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Chart of African Carbohydrates/Starches

Here's the chart I mentioned that I put together to try and organize my understanding of some of the most common starches/carbohydrates I've run across. I'm sure there are many omissions and maybe some errors, so please help me to update and expand this listing.

(from "Food and Foodways (see July 18, 2007 posting)," in The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Popular Cutlure, Sub-Saharan Africa Vol. 5, p. 101-2, © Fran Osseo-Asare, 2007)

Food Name



Typical Ingredients


West Africa


fermented corn dough steamed in corn husks or banana leaves



fermented corn dough, stirred and cooked (soft)



fermented corn dough porridge (thin)

tuo zaafe


thick sorghum or millet porridge



fermented porridge from sorghum, millet, and/or maize

gari (farine de manioc)

West/Central Africa


dried, grated, fermented cassava meal

fufu (1)

(in Nigeria, also called iyan or pounded yam)

West/Central Africa)




peeled, boiled, pounded stiff but elastic dumpling, generally not chewed (yam, cassava, cocoyam, ripe or green plantain, single or combination)

fufu (2)

Central Africa

especially DRC, CAR, Cameroon

a stiff porridge made from white corn flour, cassava flour, or a combination (similar to ugali, sadza, pap, nsima)


West Africa


a fibrous, powdery form of fermented cassava similar to, but coarser than, fufu


West Africa

Côte D’Ivoire

steamed fermented cassava granules

miondo, (myondo)

bobolo, bâton de manioc


(miondo is a Duala word, bobolo is Ewando)

cassava roots soaked and fermented, peeled, mashed, drained, ground, wrapped in banana leaves and boiled or steamed




Congo, Gabon

similar to miondo



(Tshiluba) See fufu (2)



Eastern Africa


fermented crepe/pancake commonly made from a type of millet called tef (teff), but also with sorghum or wheat



see injera



fermented millet porridge


Kenya, Tanzania

Swahili word for porridge, thin to thick, made from maize, millet,and/or sorghum


Various, esp. Kenya, Tanzania

Swahili word for a thick porridge (or dumpling) commonly made from cornmeal, but also made with cassava flour



see ugali

atapa (atap)


ground dried sweet potato porridge, with ground millet/cassava and flavorings


Southern Africa

South Africa

Dutch word for porridge made from cornmeal flour or other staple grain



see pap



stiff porridge (or dumpling) made from white field corn flour or red millet flour


Zambia, Malawi

see pap



corn pap (see pap)


South Africa

thin porridge made from slightly fermented cornmeal


South Africa

(Zulu) a crumbly version of pap (see pap)


South Africa

(Xhosa) a crumbly version of pap (see pap)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Mandioca and Cassava: An Afro-Brazilian Link

Did you know that:
1. cassava (or manioc, or mandioca) is originally from Brazil?
2. cassava spread from Brazil to Asia and Africa?
3. today Nigeria is the world's largest producer of the roots?
4. Thailand is the biggest producer and exporter of its starch?

In 2005, I noticed an unusual and intriguing talk on the program for the International Association of Culinary Professionals' annual conference--it was on manioc, not exactly a household word in the IACP. Even though I could not attend the conference that year, I wrote to ask for a copy of the talk from one of the presenters, Margarida Nogueira. Later, I met with her briefly in Rio de Janeiro. Now back in Brazil, I was trying to track down another Brazilian whose name is associated with manioc: Teresa Corção, the founder of the Manioc Project (Projeto Mandioca). It turns out Teresa and Margarida were co-presenters at that 2005 IACP conference. In 2002, Teresa, a chef, restaranteur, culinary historian and educator, founded the manioc institute, and started the manioc project.

To quote Teresa: "The real importance of this product is mostly unknown, although it is very much used and appreciated in our daily meals. In the very first contacts that the discoverer of Brazil – Pedro Alvares Cabral – had with the Indians Tupiniquins, in the south of the state of Bahia, he was introduced to manioc, a native product of those then unexplored lands

To our native Amerindians, manioc was the most important ingredient in the preparation of different meals such as porridges, cakes, breads (pirão, beiju, mingau, paçoca). As the European wheat was not suitable to the climate of the newly discovered lands, the colonizer had to get used to manioc, a root so much appreciated nowadays throughout the world. No other product is as much Brazilian and has such an importance as manioc."

To quote from a blog posting on the Terra Madre site: "With this in mind, and working together with a team of experts Teresa decided to launch her project. Through workshops in public schools, children learn the importance of manioc during informal classes, theater and hands on cooking demonstration, learning how to prepare tapioca and other traditional Brazilian dishes. This way they strengthen their relationship with their Brazilian identity.

Projeto Mandioca has been supported by EMBRAPA - Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Brazilian Agroindustry Research Company). This organization maintains Projeto Mandioca permanently updated in whatever concerns manioc in Brazil and worldwide, while improving its research studies on the subject."

Teresa, Margarida, and I are exploring the possiblility of collaborating on further research and writing on the whole subject. It's an exciting project to me, with possibilties for adaptation in Africa.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Brazilian Food and Culture Festival

This past weekend was my 35th wedding anniversary, and to celebrate my husband and I took a trip to a small historical colonial town a few hours away from Belo Horizonte called São João del Rei. We then took a short train ride to nearby Tiradentes, where they have a big annual food and culture festival at the end of August. Brazilians know how to celebrate! We had a great time, eating pork, drinking beer while munching cashews and peanuts, sampling food from the many outdoor booths, and generally just immersing ourselves in festive Brazilian culture. The chefs there treated me like a sister, even though I still know only a little Portuguese, and they tended to not speak English.

So now you know why I haven't posted a blog here sooner (I left the computer behind!). I've posted a few photos at my flickr site
. How does all this relate to Africa? I'm learning a lot about links among Brazilian, Portuguese, and African cuisine, from manioc (cassava) to cooking techniques. In the next day or two I'll share some of that info, so check back soon.

On the African cookbook project front, I know I've been sent a Ugandan cookbook, and a Mozambican one is on its way to BETUMI. While I'm in Brazil, a colleague is manning the post office box. I'll update you on that front soon, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Feijoada and Caipirinha in Brazil

Oi! There's been a little break in postings given my hectic schedule preparing and traveling to Brazil. (Oi, which means "Hi!" in Portuguese also happens to be the name of my cell phone company here in Belo Horizonte.)

I've spent the week savoring the cuisine of Minas Gerais, where we're based. Last Sunday was Brazil's Father's Day, and we were invited to celebrate with the family of Renato and Virginia Ciminelli: parents, brothers, sisters, spouses, and cousins--babies to teenagers. What a joyful, boisterous family (though there was a little tension over 2 opposing soccer teams--people seem to take soccer VERY seriously here). In Belo we've lingered over tiny cups of strong Brazilian coffee or cerveja (beer)--my husband is partial to Skol--while having animated conversations at outdoor tables. They're just coming out of their winter here, but it's shirtsleeve weather and lovely.

Yesterday at lunch I had an excellent caipirinha. A Brazilian specialty, it's a lime, ice, sugar and cachaça cocktail (cachaça is made from sugar cane, but differs from rum). We've been eating at "kilo" restaurants for lunch, where you fill up your plate buffet style and pay by weight. So far I'm partial to farofa and plantains and collard greens or kale, and a wonderful white fish that might be called badeja, along with feijoada and moqueca (muqueca), a kind of wonderful seafood stew from Bahia.

I gather there are lots of family recipes for feijoada, but ours was made from a certain kind of black bean (I'll get the nuances down in the next few months), cooked with pork (ribs, I think), some smoked and dried meat (pork?) and sausage, and I think garlic, but I get the flavoring ingredients for the collard greens, the farofa and the feijoada mixed up: I know there's onion and garlic in some, and oil (probably soy, corn, or canola), and the farofa is much drier and finer texture than West African dishes like gari foto, and had slivers of carrot in it.

At some point I'll write more about the textures of gari (cassava or manioc meal), which ranges from coarse to fine, but I've not seen it as fine as Brazil's farinha de mandioca torrada used to make farofa. I understand Brazilians taught West Africans to make gari: it is said that in Angola the Portuguese forced the Africans on their plantations to cultivate cassava (manioc) and learn to make gari, and further north in Western Africa it was freed slaves returning from Brazil who taught Africans. At least that's what I heard. Feijoada is apparently eaten regularly on different days, depending on the region of Brazil, and is accompanied by white rice, the lightly fried collard greens, the farofa, and orange slices. I'll write more as I learn more! Feijoada definitely has an African feel about it.

Many Brazilians also have a fondness for spicy red pepper condiments, and a little of one of those would be a fine accompaniment, I think.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Africa Cookbook Project Update 3

I promised to let people know what's happening on the Africa Cookbook Project. First of all, I'm getting ready to move to Brazil in a week for 5 months, followed by 6 months in Ghana, which will slow me down with the database, but the project is moving forward. Devra Moehler has just e-mailed that she's sending a Ugandan cookbook, and Paola Roletta, the author of a Mozambican cookbook published by Europa-America in 2004 (Cozinha tradicional de Mozambique) wrote to let me know of her work. Actually, Europa-America has published cookbooks on cuisines of Angola, Cape Verde, and Morocco as well, all in Portuguese. I'd love to have them in the collection if someone would like to donate copies (remember, there is no budget for this project!) Also, people from around the globe are talking about the project, teaching me about their cuisines, even collecting recipes for me (maybe there's another book in all of this?) Though I'll be away, books can still be sent to the BETUMI mailbox: BETUMI/P. O. Box 222/State College, PA 16804 USA.

I'll soon post information about a few of the culinary entrepreneurs I met on my recent trip to Ghana, including a shito maker, a scientist, and a store owner.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Food in Popular Culture in Sub-Saharan Africa

Yesterday I received my copy of the just-published Sub-Saharan Africa volume of The Greenwood Encyclopedia of World Popular Culture, edited by Dennis Hickey, with Gary Hoppenstand the general editor of the series. I wrote the 30-page chapter on Food and Foodways, and am proud of a couple of things in it: a table (pp. 102-3) detailing well over 2 dozen carbohydrate/starch dishes by name, region, country, preparation techniques and ingredients--sadza, fufu, gari, injera, atapa, ugali, etc.--and the inclusion of some classic recipes, like mbanga soup and sukuma wiki. I am pleased they included two of my photos in the book (to the left). Unfortunately, the book is not sold individually, but if you are lucky enough to be near a school or library that buys the 6-book series (about $700 altogether), check it out! North Africa is covered in the volume North Africa and the Middle East.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Africa Cookbook Project Update and Auntie Sika

On the left is the latest cookbook to come to the collection (thank you TEDGLOBAL fellow Issa Diabate), and below is the first African cookbook I ever received, in 1971, from my sister-in-law-to-be. I know I'm repeating myself, but thank you to everyone who is helping spread the word. Also, thank you to Tom and Barbara Hale of Penn State University, who have promised to donate from their collection when I return to Pennsylvania. By the way, there's no reason that the culinary heritage should exclude other types of culinary work, from videos to articles.

Secondly, included here is the brief interview with Barbara Baeta that I promised to post. It is preceded by a few minutes of introduction.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lunch for 1,000+ at 70th birthday party

While en route to TED GLOBAL I stopped in Accra briefly for the fabulous 70th birthday celebration for Barbara Baeta (a.k.a. "Auntie Sika"). I've posted a few photos at flickr (betumi account). Suffice it to say here that it was amazing. At the Ridge Church service before the luncheon I was moved to tears as her family from the Volta Region spontaneously erupted into dancing and singing, and finally I felt free enough to join in with the others. She is truly beloved by those who know her. Soon I'll post a video clip I took during an interview a few days later in her home (on my return to the U.S. after TEDGLOBAL) when over some of the special birthday cake she'd saved me she shared a few memories of her 50 years as a professional in the food service industry in Ghana (especially of having coffee with Jimmy Carter and the time Queen Elizabeth II used Barbara's room as a dressing room.) For today I just want to mention the wonderful menu served to over 1,000 invited guests at the Trade Fair Center. There were 8 varieties of beers, from Star to Castle Milk Stout, a wide selection of wines from France, South Africa, Spain and Chile, a wide range of soft drinks from Flair Fruit Punch, Bissap and mineral water to Sprite, Coke, Malta Guinness, and Fanta. The salad bar featured over a dozen types of dishes of largely Western sources, from salami cups, stuffed celery with cheese, salad nicoise, potato salad with smoked chicken, smoked salmon, etc., etc. But the Main Buffet was my favorite: diced fish with prawns in tomato sauce; tilapia with atieke; grilled ginger chicken; lamb fricassee; Togolese meat stew; pink, saffron, vermicelli, braised and wild rice; couscous; gali (gari) foto; kakro and bambara beans; yam croquettes; light okro soup with yakayake; heavy fetrimi, akple and abolo.

My greatest sadness was that I had to grab my food before the serving officially began and gulp it down so that I could catch a flight to Tanzania. To my dismay I missed the luscious dessert table altogether, especially the tiger nut pudding, which is one of my favorites. Oh well, my greatest comfort is that I should be back in Ghana for 6 months beginning in January 2008.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Africa Cookbook Project Launched at TEDGLOBAL

Africa Cookbook Project
Originally uploaded by betumi

At TEDGLOBAL in Arusha, Tanzania in June, 2007, we launched the "Africa Cookbook Project," whose goal is to archive African culinary writing and make it widely available on the continent and beyond. A database is being developed and copies of hundreds of cookbooks are already being catalogued at BETUMI: The African Culinary Network. Google has offered assistance in eventually digitizing some of the information.

The enthusiasm and tangible support both at and after the conference is wonderful. Issa Diabate has already e-mailed that he's sending an Ivorian book, Dominique Bikaba that he's searching for one from DRC, and Jens Martin Skibsted has scanned the covers of several books in his collection. People have promised to send books from Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, etc. I'm thrilled that others recognize the urgent need to protect these books, whether for their value as a record of popular culture, social history, or, my specialty, culinary creativity.

In an all-too-typical experience, I visited the gift shop at Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge and asked if they had any Tanzanian cookbooks. The staff were sure no such books existed, and were excited and surprised when I showed them Sarakikya's book:
When I stopped in both gift shops at Kilimanjaro airport, they confidently showed me several glossy books published in Zanzibar like Safari Living, which showcased what I call "cuisine for Westerners," and were unable to produce a single "black Africa" cookbook. There's work to be done. Help spread the word, and also help us build up this data base and archive.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Tanzanian Breakfast at TEDGLOBAL

That first morning at TEDGLOBAL I went to breakfast at the lovely Serena Mountain Village resort where I was booked for the 4 days of the conference. Several safari tour groups stayed there during the same time. The breakfast buffet was long and plentiful, filled with fresh tropical fruits, cold cereal and granola, croissants, breads and pastries, oatmeal, and fruit juices. Pots of hot coffee and tea were brought to the tables.

I respectfully requested to speak to the sous chef, Alex Babu. When he came from the kitchen, I explained that this was my first visit to Tanzania, and how could I get a traditional Tanzanian breakfast. He looked puzzled, and asked what I meant. “I want to eat what you eat for breakfast,” I explained. His face brightened and he promised to do so the next morning. That day I was treated to the best breakfast I had at the conference: a mild, creamy sorghum porridge eaten with fresh whole-milk yoghurt and sugar, and in place of toast, freshly cooked root vegetables: ripe plantain spears, chunks of a wonderful white sweet potato, and what we call cocoyam (taro) in Ghana.

I suggested that perhaps they could try serving the porridge sometimes alongside the standard western fare. The following day I noticed sorghum porridge had replaced the oatmeal. It also appeared, alas, that I was the first person to help myself to it. However, later at the conference, an American woman who had overheard my conversation with Alex the day before, came up and thanked me for asking them to serve the porridge, which she had tried and found excellent.

En route to the conference, I spent a few days in Ghana with a Ghanaian friend who promptly offered me corn flakes, bread and tea my first morning at her home. When I asked about koko (millet/corn porridge), and koose (fried cowpea fritters), she promptly honored my request. The fresh millet porridge with a stunning bite of ginger, sugar, cloves and hwentia, mixed with a little evaporated milk, along with the satisfying koose (a.k.a. accra, akara, akla, bean balls, kosai, kose, and koosé) was my favorite breakfast from that trip. The next day I had a slightly fermented corn version that was also delightful. Served alongside the wonderful mangos in season (and I prefer the traditional small juicy yellow ones), I had to stop myself from doing what my family calls "the happy dance."

It still baffles me why Africans so often replace their hearty, tasty, and healthy traditional breakfast meals with “modern, western” choices. And it saddens me to find them catering to tourists with “continental” breakfasts when they have so much more to offer to non-Africans.

I’ll continue making observations from the conference (which, despite the triteness and inadequacy of the words), was truly astounding with its potential to empower people to change lives. I was amazed and overwhelmed to find such support and enthusiasm for my campaign to restore to the continent a proper respect for and appreciation of its culinary heritage and contributions. I owe Emeka Okafor and the sponsors of the TED fellowships a great debt I’ll do my best to repay.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nkontomire stew and greetings from Accra

I'm sitting at the busyinternet cafe in Accra, Ghana. I'd hoped to upload some pictures from my camera here, but their wireless service in out of commission (for about a month so far), so my pictures have to remain there for another week or so. I asked John Aryeh, of the staff here to let me put his picture up, since that's the closest I could get to sharing visually the view in Ghana today! Thank you John.

I'm en route to the TEDGLOBAL conference, and will try to keep folks informed of my progress. I just finished a fabulous meal of nkontomire stew with cocoyam and green plantain, and an incomparable fruit salad of sugar loaf pineapple, watermelon, papaya, and mango. I'll show pictures later of some of the treats I've had, from plantain fufu with light soup, banku and okra stew, millet porridge with cloves, sugar, and hwentia (see my blog of May 4). Anyhow, I've only got five minutes left on my account so will upload this now. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More African food videos

Here are links to several more free online videos related to African cuisine (what did we ever do before You Tube?)

Dona D’Cruz interviews Marcus Samuelsson, author of The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, which features some Senegalese food at the end of the interview (e.g., fried ripe plantain, couscous, yassa, and thiebou dienne.)

In a February 19, 2007 blog posting I shared some photos from Penn State University's Touch of Africa dinner and cultural show (more photos are available at Betumi's flickr account). The students at Oklahoma State University did me one better, and videotaped the food preparation action behind the scenes for their 2007 Africa Night.

In the February 13, 2007 blog posting I mentioned two cooking videos by Nigerian Ngozika on She has another one on preparing jollof rice, fried plantain (dodo), and fish stew. While I find her videos fun to watch, given time constraints she rushes through things. For example, she has already prepared the gravy for the stew and the jollof rice, and even peeled and sliced the plantain ahead of time. Though she mentions ingredients, she does not give quantities or explain preparation techniques enough for newcomers to the cuisine to successfully follow her directions. Still, having said that, I'm very glad she is out there popularizing Nigerian cuisine.

The North African cooking pot with a conical lid is called a tagine, which is also the name of a type of Moroccan stew cooked in it. Traditionally made from clay, modern versions are made with metal bottoms that can be placed directly on a stove top. Tagine: the Movie, illustrates how to use a modern tagine to make a typical Moroccan beef and vegetable stew. As in other YouTube videos, the lack of details frustrates the would-be cook. What WAS in that mysterious broth added to the tagine? Also, did they really eat it without any couscous in sight?

There is an intriguing demonstration of preparing Congolese satori, "a famous dish of the Lokele fishermen of Kisangani," made in the demo from tilapia fillets. Be sure to read the full description of the ingredients before watching the video.

Finally, there are several clips of people eating at African restaurants at the You Tube site. A typical one includes a send-off party for students at
Drelyse African Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio (USA) where the students give a little cultural advice to the Americans.