Nutrition/Eating Habits

What kind of food do you eat in Africa?

The foods of Africa are as varied as the ethnic groups and so one might talk of a favorite food to a particular ethnic group and of nothing as a favorite African dish. There is no such thing. Every ethnic group has its own favorite dish. Remarkable about some of these dishes is the amount of time that can be spent preparing them. It is not surprising, therefore, that some of these dishes are used by wives as the symbol of a truce when trying to make up after a "fight" with their spouses, as the men are aware of how much time and effort has gone into preparing the meal. The "egusi pudding" is one such meal in the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon. Men, on the other hand, buy expensive jewelry and/or clothing when they are making up after a fight in which they stand to blame.

Do you use recipes for cooking?

Some do, but without the strict measurements characteristic of recent Western recipes. Typical African cooking, however, comes from the soul as our mothers, whose noble duty it is to cook for their families, measure with their eyes and feel with their hands while occasionally tasting for the desired flavor as they cook.

Do Africans eat bugs?

Yes, most Africans eat one kind of bug or another—certain larvae found in some trees, termites, and green grasshoppers, are good examples. Some of these are in fact considered expensive delicacies mindful of the fact that they are seasonal only. The labor that goes into catching some of these bugs makes them highly treasured delicacies. The green grasshoppers, for example, which are characteristic of the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon during the early dry season, fall from the sky like heavenly manna during the night, so families can set up extra bright light bulbs to attract them on their downward flight. All kinds of receptacles are put around the bright light bulbs into which the grasshoppers are channeled and collected. But there are people also running around in the nearby fields grabbing what they can by hand and shoving them into other lighter and easily portable receptacles—buckets, pots, cans, and baskets to name a few examples. Some of these bugs, like the tree larvae or crickets are barbecued and others, like the green grasshoppers and termites, are stir-fried in their own body fat.

Do all Africans drink blood from cattle when herding?

This is not a common practice. It is a practice that belongs to ethnic groups that thrive on herding, generally speaking. The Maasai of Kenya are a good example. As if in confirmation of this example, Kuki Gallmann writes of the Maasai in her book, African Nights, ". this tribe which feed purely on the blood, urine and curdled milk of their cattle" (7).

Why do Africans play with their food before eating?

Africans do not play with their food before eating; this has to do with the way certain dishes in Africa, like in parts of Asia, are eaten using fingers instead of silverware. Some African dishes are such that they are swallowed without necessarily being chewed. Take fufu, for example, which can be made from corn or pounded coco-yams. When ready, fufu ends up looking like mashed potatoes, but it is moulded into baseball sizes or thereabouts—oblong or round— before being served to those eating. The individual now takes a ball of fufu, depending on how much he or she would like to eat, from the main dish on the table and puts it in his or her plate or bowl. The choice is the diner's. There is also another bowl with soup that is used for eating the fufu.

To eat fufu, the diner pinches a sizeable lump off the main ball like portion (depending on how it was fashioned—baseball sizes, or the same quantity but egg-shaped) and proceeds to fashion it between his or her fingers into a small bolus which is then dipped into the soup before it is put into the mouth and swallowed without mastication necessarily taking place in most cases. It is the process of forming the bolus between the fingers that the Westerner sees as playing with food. It is the same thing to think that somebody eating fries in a McDonalds is playing with his food simply because he uses his fingers to pick up a few fries which are then dipped into ketchup followed by the brief journey to the mouth. An African molding his fufu into little round sizes in readiness for swallowing is not playing with his food; he is making the swallowing process easier just like chewing does to the fries.

What kind of drinks do you have in Africa?

We have all kinds of drinks you can think of; they may not be the same per se, but they can largely be categorized into similar groups: sweet drinks, beer, liquor, traditional liquor, and other natural drinks like palm-wine.

I wish most African countries were as prolific in other areas as they are in the beer industry. In most African countries, new alcoholic drinks appear in the market almost on a yearly basis, and the alcoholic content would make them pass for liquor in other societies, instead of the beer names they are paraded in. So, there are local beer names and the drinks come in large bottles, and there are imported drinks. It must be remembered that Africa serves as a market for finished products from Europe; one such finished products is alcoholic drinks. Besides beer, there are different liquors from all over the world—Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Then there are different local brews depending on what part of Africa you are looking at. Some of these are man-made, brewed from corn for example, but there are other drinks that are natural, like the palm-wine which is found in most West and Central African countries—Nigeria, Liberia, and Cameroon for example. These are natural in the sense that they are tapped from palm trees. The sap that would normally have formed coconuts on the trees is caused to ooze out from the tree at strategic points around where the branches meet with the tree trunk, and it is collected in gourds and sometimes bottles. Cameroon also has another version called raffia-palm. At their freshest, they taste almost like nectar or honey— very sweet—but as they get older, even by the hour, and fermentation sets in, their taste begins changing with the formation of alcohol. Whereas some people, especially women, love palm-wine fresh and sweet, some men think palm-wine is best when it is about one day old and beyond; it is a question of choice, depending on whether one is into drinking or not.

Do you eat cooked food in Africa?

Yes, like virtually every culture on earth, we eat cooked food in Africa if it tastes better when cooked, although sometimes, depending on the situation, people try little quantities of some food raw. Most people in African communities would, for example, prefer sweet potatoes cooked; however, it is not uncommon to see children in the farms trying them raw. This notwithstanding, African dishes are usually cooked, some taking many hours to get ready. Herein lies the richness of African cuisine as in addition to foreign, especially Western menus, there are rich African dishes that are a staple to the people.

Do you have soda in Africa?

Yes there is soda in Africa, some that are local, and others that are international like Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Fanta, to name a few. But these do not constitute a major part of the daily menu as is the case in other parts of the world. People drink them just once in a while when they are hot or thirsty and not as a do or die part of their meals or snacks.

Do all Africans eat monkeys?

Not all Africans eat monkeys. To some Africans, like the Bonobos who occupy part of the Congo River Basin, it is a delicacy while to others the taste has to be acquired. I have had American students squirm at the thought of having goat meat, whereas others who have tried it have considered it extremely tasteful. Or take the case of the student with a pet rabbit almost vomiting because another said he loves rabbit meat. So too, not all Africans eat monkeys.

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