With a landmass bigger than several of the largest countries combined, Africa is a deceptively enormous continent with a wide variety of geographical features and historical/cultural experiences. As such, you will find an astounding array of diversity in the foods eaten by different African countries and, indeed, by differing ethnic groups within countries themselves.
So, while we could never hope to summarize all of African eating in just a few hundred words, we can let you know what to expect based on the general region you will be visiting.
North Africa has experienced centuries of trade, travel and settlement by Islamic and Arabic cultures. It also possesses a similar climate to countries it shares the Mediterranean coast with, including Italy and Greece. As a result, expect plenty of Middle Eastern influence on dishes in north African countries, including ample seasonings like ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and saffron.
Dates, olives and seminola-derived starch dishes like couscous are also common in parts of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. This type of cuisine therefore represents an excellent fusion between Middle Eastern flavors, Mediterranean traditions and uniquely north African sensibilities.
Dishes to try:
- Chicken tajine — Stew slow-cooked in spices and dried fruit, served with couscous
- Shakshouka — Curry-like onions, peppers, and tomatoes seasoned with cumin and topped with fresh poached eggs
- L’hamd Marakad — Pickled lemon wedges served on salads or as a garnish
South and East African Foods
Arabic influences are still present but less strong in many eastern and southern African cuisines. Ethiopia has taken the flavors of the Middle East and India to make it their own. Spicy meat dishes called wat are served here atop soft, spongy sourdough flatbread known as injera.
Countries along the coast or with prevalent freshwater bodies, like Uganda, often consume significant amounts of fish in their diet to supplement protein. Oranges, limes and lemons often flavor dishes in countries more to the south of Africa, while sweet fruits like mango and papaya enhance desserts.
Starch in these regions often takes the form of steamed saffron rice or a stiff porridge made from corn.
Dishes to try:
- Pilau — Seasoned rice, sometimes with meat
- Sukuma wiki — Collard greens cooked in broth
- Pap en vleis — Barbequed South African meat
West African Cuisine
Those who love foods from the Caribbean or Creole traditions may recognize roots of their favorite dishes in west African cuisine. Fish is a common source of protein, and it is often flavored with chili peppers, hot spices, and peanut sauces.
The flavor of certain base vegetables familiar to American and French cooks can also be found, including rich sauces made by cooking down tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions. Also expect lots of comfort-food vegetables, including squash, okra and collard greens.
Dishes to try:
- Hot peanut soup served with fufu
- Jollof rice — One-pot rice, seafood and vegetable dish that gave rise to jambalaya
- Red red — Stewed black-eyed peas
Come Fill Your Belly with Incredible African Eating During Your Safari Tour
If you feel your stomach grumbling, it is just telling you to take a look at our multi-country safari tour packages so that you can sample the best of what each region has to offer.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa