Spotlight shines on African cuisine

Africa’s food is as rich and diverse as its people, yet its culinary offerings are not that well known. Filmmaker and foodie Tuleka Prah wants to change that. She has started to chronicle traditional recipes made by ordinary people on her website, African Food Map. One day, she would like to create an African Food Dictionary.

Image description Jollof rice is one of the West African dishes Tuleka Prah features on her website chronicling African cuisine. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


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Priya Pitamber

The world over, people have heard of or eaten food such as pasta or stir fry. Yet as one of the largest continents, Africa’s cuisine tends to fly under the radar.

Enter Tuleka Prah, filmmaker, traveller and foodie, who started to document the making of African dishes on her website, African Food Map.

“African Food Map is literally a combination of the things I love because it includes food, travel and making films,” her website states. “It’s an authentic collection of the most popular recipes from around the African continent. It is the start of a growing record of African recipes just as they are made, by people who love to eat them, and who prepare them every day.”

Born in England, Prah has lived in various countries in Africa – Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Lesotho, and Namibia. She now lives in Berlin and is studying towards her doctorate. According to the Design Indaba website, her online food offering helps her to “keep in touch with her gastronomic roots”.

Speaking to fashion and lifestyle website Fashion Africa 254, Prah recalled how inspiration for her African Food Map started. “I was looking for a recipe for kontomire, a dish my Dad would make using spinach and either fish or beef,” she said. “I knew his recipe was – well, his recipe! And so I was looking for I guess a more ‘true’ version of it. I was looking at the pictures online, which weren’t so nicely done, and I thought ‘Wow, someone really needs to do this properly.'”

Prah saw her chance, and took it.

South Africa

Prah lived in South Africa for seven years, where she felt the country both nurtured the enjoyment she got from cooking as well as challenged her in other aspects.

She could not understand the social expectations (and implications) of apartheid categorisations, and how she fitted into it all. Nevertheless, she writes on her website: “South Africa had the best range of food that I had, up until that point, experienced. I often loved what I ate and what foods were introduced to me there. I would even go so far as to say that this country nurtured the pleasure I now take from cooking and eating.”

Prah describes South Africa’s bobotie as the ultimate “so-and-so-makes-it-best” dish. “The dish – a bold flavour-assembly of ingredients – has its roots in the Western Cape’s slave history, and is likely derived from a combination of ‘leftovers,'” she writes. “I ate mine with yellow rice and it was absolutely delicious.”

Watch Chef Mako prepare his version of this popular dish – he adds coriander for flavour:

She describes one of South Africa’s favourite dishes, samp and beans (in isiZulu, isitambu and in isiXhosa, mngqusho), as comfort food. She has only eaten versions without meat, Prah says, although meat is usually added, and the grains need to be cooked until they are really soft.

“This popular dish is very easily tweaked and adjusted to suit personal tastes and is therefore a highly variable dish.”

See the recipe:

Kenya

Prah and her family moved to Kenya in the early 1980s, and she returned for a visit in 2013. “My experience of Kenyan food at the time, largely consisted of ugali and a lot of leafy vegetables,” she writes.

She got Diana Chipo Munanairi, a chef, entrepreneur and mother, to make sukuma wiki, a spinach dish that is a “common accompaniment to most meals”.

Watch Munanairi whip up the dish:

“Most people actually overcook sukuma wiki,” cautioned Munanairi. “So it turns the colour and it becomes something totally different because of over-cooking. We’ve tried to maintain the colour.”

Ghana

“For me, being in Ghana is synonymous with being around great food,” Prah writes on African Food Map. “With a coast, a tropical interior and a desert-like region to the north, the range of food in Ghana is very diverse and always exciting.”

While in the country, she and her aunt, Cynthia Prah, made jollof rice, a one pot meal consisting of meat, vegetables, and well, rice of course.

See the recipe:

Optimistic feedback

Through her website and videos, Prah has reached an audience that might not have otherwise known what African cuisine is all about.

“What a great idea to give the world a glimpse of the rich African culinary traditions,” Constanze Klee writes on My African Food Map’s Facebook page.

“What a discovery!” writes Giulia Aldrovandi‎. “I love your YouTube channel and I know absolutely nothing about African food despite having looked for some books in the past without much success… I am very determined to reproduce your recipes in my kitchen! Thank you for sharing them (beautiful photography as well I have to say).”

What’s next?

Prah would like to expand her work to create something to the effect of an African Food Dictionary.

“I want it to be the go-to resource for African food,” she told Design Indaba. “I want to go to every country I can and collect and share as much as I can – everything from the recipes, to the ingredients, to the preparation, to the histories, to the quality of flavour.”

If she has her way, food such as bobotie and jollof rice could become as globally popular as pizza, for instance.