When trying West African food, you aren’t simply tasting food, but rather delicious bold flavors created by West Africans during colonization. Instead of adopting the colonizers’ cooking styles, they designed their dishes to their liking. With traded items between Europe and the Mediterranean, West Africa developed some delicious dishes that everyone must try at least once!
West African cuisine’s spices and different ingredients will undoubtedly have you begging for more. Red Red is a black-eyed pea stew, a classic Ghanaian home food! There is also Cachupa, a stew filled with meats and vegetables to cure any ailment. And for those with a sweet tooth, there is the tasty dessert of a donut/beignet called a Puff Puff!
With so many flavors and dishes available, deciding which ones to try can seem overwhelming. Follow along for our recommendations on what can tickle your taste buds! It’s best to get these dishes while on vacation in West Africa or from authentic African restaurants local to you.
Fufu is very popular in West Africa, as it is a culinary staple. This delicious dish combines and smashes equal parts of green plantain and cassava flour with water. Mashed plantains, maize flour, or semolina maize flour are some other flours that can be used in place of cassava flour.
To make the fufu, the dough is rolled into balls after quite a bit of pounding. You then take bits of the dough, dip them in the desired sauces, and then eat with stewed fish, stewed meat, or vegetables. You must try this authentic fundamental dish when trying some West African dishes. You can also find derivates of this dish in Puerto Rico.
Fufu can be eaten with various sauces and stews, but it is best paired with Gambian superkanja (supa kanja), a healthy and flavorful stew filled with leafy vegetables, meats, and chilies, with kanja (okra) as the main ingredient. The fufu acts as the perfect balance to the depth of flavor and will help fill you up quickly!
2. Red Red
As one of Ghana’s most well-known West African meals, red red is frequently eaten with fried plantains. It tastes amazing. Red Red is a hearty black-eyed pea stew prepared with mashed peas. However, you can mash any bean to go with it too.
Red Red is prepared with pepper and red palm oil, which lends the dish it’s name. Most recipes call for a small amount of tomato paste, ginger, fresh garlic, chili, fresh garlic, and other spices for the best flavor. The looks of it may first throw you off as it doesn’t look appetizing, but it’s delicious!
The best place to grab this if you find yourself in Ghana is in Kumasi. This area has a great restaurant and pub that is well-liked by both residents and tourists. Ike’s Bar & Grill is enormous, the staff is friendly, the environment is cozy, and there is nighttime entertainment.
If you don’t get that far, you can taste fufu, jollof, red red, and more on a private market tour of Accra.
Thieboudiene is the national dish of Senegal and is a flavorful, hearty dish perfect for warming the soul. It is also called Senegalese Jollof of Chebu Jen. With fish, root vegetables, and a red tomato sauce, it has everything you need for a one-pot meal!
Tomato sauce, rice, and fish are the main ingredients in this classic Senegalese cuisine. Many other variations of this dish include carrots, cabbage, cassava, peanut oil, and onions.
If you don’t like fish, you can have a version with chicken called tiep ganaar or with meat called tiep yappa.
Whichever vegetables you have now on hand can be added to this one-pot recipe. This meal is frequently included as a regular on many different menus, and it is both tasty and filling, which makes it the perfect choice for your introduction to West African foods.
Waakye, known as the food of the gods, is a daytime meal that is extremely popular in Ghana, usually eaten for breakfast or lunch. It blends in with moist gari, ground cassava, beans, rice, and other filling and flavorful ingredients.
Waakye has a mild sweetness and earthiness that makes it unusual and delicious. But what makes it more attractive is the reddish color it gets from being cooked with waakye leaves which are red sorghum leaves.
Waakye can be served as is, as a filling for naan bread or tandoori rotis, or even baked into cakes or pastries.
@Anna – the above sentence -can’t find info on it being added to cakes or pastries anywhere – can however find info on making it in an oven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adEehQVs868
please delete – unless you visited and/or know the above is true
edited other para below to keep
Originating in the northern part of Ghana, waakye can come in all kinds of variations. When eating this dish, you can typically choose between boiled eggs, fish, or meat as the protein source. Other toppings that elevate the unique taste of Waakye include a vegetable salad and kelewele, which is seasoned plantain or talia (a type of spaghetti).
You’ll find street vendors all across Ghana selling waakye on banana leaves. Make sure you stop for some.
Superkanja is a popular dish in Senegal and Gambia and is relatively easy to make at home! It’s a simple stew dish usually served over rice, with beef, fish, okra, and other vegetables. It will fill you up quickly and put a smile on your face with its warm flavors.
There are many different variations of this meal, like the Ghanaian kontomire, that can be found throughout West Africa. This decadent local favorite is often paired with meat, fish, chili peppers, or onions, making it pack even more punch.
With its blend of leafy greens, including collard greens, sweet potato leaves, okra, and spinach, this Gambian okra stew is packed with nutrients and flavor. It is delicious and a great choice if you’re watching your diet.
6. Ogbono Soup
It is time to introduce the Nigerian dish of Ogbono soup! This dish gets its name from its use of dried ogbono seeds, also known as ground mango seeds! It creates a rich and unique flavor profile that you likely have not experienced before!
This West African soup is typically paired with pounded yam, rice, or fufu. You can add some okra to make a somewhat slimy texture, as well as some shrimp, goat, crab, beef, or chicken.
The ingredients in this simple soup consist of leafy vegetables, water, chili peppers, and palm oil. The nuts sometimes used to make this soup are found on the ogbono, an edible fruit that resembles a mango and is high in fat and protein.
7. Moin Moin
If you’re looking for a delicious and nutritious dish unique to Nigeria, you should try moin moin; a steamed bean pudding made from black-eyed peas, onions, and a combination of freshly ground peppers. It is a reasonably versatile dish; some add smoked fish, corned beef, or boiled eggs to add to the flavor. It can be eaten alone, with bread, or with rice.
Moin Moin, also called moimoi or alele, is traditionally served at celebrations such as weddings or Christmas dinners in Nigeria. It’s also popular among health enthusiasts who believe it has many benefits for your health, both physically and mentally.
These benefits include reducing inflammation, boosting cognitive function, and improving digestion. It is a unique, stiff pudding dish that is delicious and indicative of West African cuisine. So why not give it a try? You may be surprised at just how much you enjoy it!
8. Stewed Greens and Palm Oil
Anywhere from Nigeria to Sierra Leone, you can find rich, leafy stews and soups that are frequently produced from native greens like potato, pumpkin, amaranth, waterleaf, taro, scent leaf, water leaf, quail grass, or bitter leaf.
A great variety of nutritious stews can be made using such a variety of greens. In places other than Africa, you can substitute spinach, young kale, or dandelion leaves.
Finally, using palm oil when cooking gives the food a distinct West African flavor. Palm oil is deep crimson and has a nutty aroma with smoky undertones.
Since palm oil solidifies at room temperature, it is better to serve the meal hot. Since it is only sometimes convenient to obtain, you can substitute coconut oil or vegetable oil with no flavor.
There are many other West African recipes to try, but by starting with the stew foundation trio and adding flavorings like red palm oil, peanuts, or smoked fish, you are already well on your way to recreating these unique tastes.
9. Puff Puff
The ideal go-to sweet treat is puff puff, a highly popular snack that is like a beignet or donut. Dessert, as it is currently defined, does not typically appear in the traditional West African kitchen’s menu. However, this may alter in a few years, thanks to various creative individuals.
Combining West African dishes with those from the Americas, Europe, and other regions to produce a dynamic cuisine is the key to unlocking world history and the imagination of the future.
10. African Yam Porridge
One of the best West African dishes that many adore is yam porridge or pottage. This recipe for yam pottage or porridge is tasty, specifically when carefully selecting the correct components for a richer, fuller flavor.
Tomato sauce and fresh Puna yam are combined to make yam porridge. The majority of West African nations, especially Nigeria, like it. You’ll find it called Mpoto Mpoto in Ghana and Asaro in Nigeria.
While some enjoy it plain, most people like their yam porridge or pottage garnished with fresh, leafy greens like spinach, bay leaves, and kale for added nutritional value and flavor. Because of its richness, I prefer the former over the latter, but either method is delicious.
11. Jollof Rice
Jollof rice is most likely to have originated in Senegal, although it’s become a popular dish in Nigeria; and a delicious dish that all West Africa have taken and created their version of. Practically everyone will have their own Jollof recipe, so there is always something new to experience each time you try this dish!
Much like other rice dishes worldwide, Jollof rice is cooked in a flavorful stew. That way, every bite is delicious and packed with flavor. It’s a bowl of parboiled long-grain rice mixed with peppers, tomatoes, onions, and a particular blend of spices.
The stew gets a bit of sweetness from the cooked onions and tomatoes, with a depth of spice from chilis, garlic, and curry seasonings! The traditional form of this rice is pretty spicy; however, it can be toned down to more of a mild spice for anyone who can’t tolerate the heat.
The Ivory Coast is home to the delicious spicy dish of Kedjenou. It is a simple dish with slow-cooked vegetables and chicken in a clay pot filled with spices and water. The name means ‘to shake back and forth,’ which is a part of the cooking method to prevent the ingredients from burning on the sides of the pot!
This spicy stew made with chicken or guinea fowl and vegetables, is tossed by the locals into a canari (terracotta pot) and kept closed for the whole time it’s cooked to allow the flavors to stew. There’s a very minimal amount of liquid added, if any, to bolden the taste and to allow the food to provide its juices.
Yassa is one of those items that you must try if you ever find yourself in West Africa. Most reports say this dish originated in Senegal, but it is mainly popular across this part of the continent. It is a staple in many West African diets as it is filling and easily adaptable to whatever ingredients are available!
Yassa is slowly grilled chicken that has been marinated in mustard and lemon. Then, it’s topped off with chilis, onion, and garlic.
There are two different versions called Poisson Yassa and Poulet Yassa. The Poulet Yassa is made with a small fowl or chicken, while the Poisson Yassa is made with fish, which is just as delicious!
Most authentic Yassa dishes include freshly killed meat that marinates overnight as the acid helps break the muscles down, so the meat isn’t so tough. It’s created with a wide variety of vegetables for flavor and served over a rice dish.
If you are looking for something very different, Ndole is a unique dish to try! Also known as bitter leaf stew, this dish is made with bitter leaf, spinach, roast nuts, and some seafood. It is often eaten with plantains as a side dish to sweeten your pallet! It is a special dish originating in Cameroon.
This dish can be best compared to a casserole. It’s made with melon seeds, boiled bitter leaves, and peanuts seasoned with hot oil and spices.
It’s typically made with fish or shrimp but also works well with ground beef. This dish usually makes its way to the tables during parties and special occasions. Creamy and rich, ndole and is best served with yams, rice, or fried plantain.
Originating in the islands of Cape Verde, Cachupa or Katchupa is a delicious and comforting dish for all meals of the day. Each island has its variation of this meal, but it is generally seen as the national dish of Cape Verde!
Cachupa is a delicious, hearty stew made with starches, fiber, and proteins. Corn, cassava, sweet potato, fish or meat, and often morcilla are all slow-cooked together to create a rich and filling meal.
You can add a variety of seafood, sausage, fish, or pork for the meat. It can also be enjoyed with no meat, and it will not lose a significant component of the dish.
What’s unique about this stew is it also doubles as a breakfast dish. Leftover katchupa is fried in the morning and served with egg and sausage! Just ask for cachupa refogada or katchupa frita (fried katchupa), you’ll love it.
What are your favorite Western African dishes? Comment and let me know!