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West African & Cameroon Cuisine

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I tried out a local Cameroon restaurant. The owner is from Limbe, Cameroon.

The restaurant says that it has West African Cuisine. I’m not sure really what is specific to Cameroon. So, I’m going to just list the dishes and ask for feedback about what is just African in general and what is specific to that country.

One website said Portuguese explorers called the area ‘Rio dos Cameroes’ (River of Prawns), so I’m guessing dishes with prawns are specific to Cameroon.

Also would appreciate knowing what dishes the restaurant might be missing. It has a lot of dishes that repetively use onions, garlic tomato and African spices. The most interesting seems to be the koki, an African tamale.

They also had a hot sauce made with habeneros, garlic & ginger. Is that common?

Acara – black-eyed peas with onions, basil & African spices

Bean pie for dessert

Egusi pudding – pumpkin & onions

Egusi Soup – made with pumpkin seeds, onions, garlic, tomatoes, palm nut oil & African spices

Ewole – fresh greens sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes & ginger

Fufu – pounded yams ... just a general African dish, correct? Are there regional variations?

Joloffe Rice – rice with tomatoes and vegetable ... general African dish?

Koki – African corn tamale in plantain leaf

Meat Stew of chicken or turkey with ginger, garlic, onions, tomatoes & African spices

Moi Moi – black-eyed peas ... isn’t this Nigerian?

Ndole – peanut sauce, garlic, onions, tomatoes and African spices

Nkule – yam porridge with onions, garlic, tomatoes & basil

Nsoke – black-eyed peas stewed with tomatoes, onions, garlic & basil

Okra stewed with tomatoes, onions, garlic & spices

Puff puff – “This sweet favorite among Cameroon children is also known as ‘make me well’. Wheat flour, yeast, nutmeg, soymilk, and brown sugar”. I gotta guess the soymilk is the Berkeley influence and not a Cameroon-thing.

Spicy spinach & prawns

Sule do do – fried plantains ... another dish everywhere in Africa, I think

Suya – chicken marinated in African spices and served with stew

This site had over 30 Cameroonian recipes. Don’t know how true they are to the cuisine.
http://www.fao.org/inpho/isma?p=Advan...

Here’s a blog with some general info. The blogger is planning to add Cameroonian recipes.
http://blogs.cameroon-info.net/entry....

List of some African restaurants
http://www.africanchop.com/chopre.htm

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  1. rworange, I always love your posts! No one else approaches chowhounding with quite the encyclopedic zeal you do. I don't have much to contribute to this topic unfortunately, except to note that in my neck of the woods (Charleston, SC), where there is still quite a bit of West African cultural influence present (known as Gullah culture), you can find both bean pie and Joloffe rice, which goes by the name of red rice here.

    1. Thanks. I play with my food too much.

      If you ever get over across the border to NC, Charlotte seems to have a few African restaurants from that link.

      For some reason Cameroonian food that I've read about highlights how much African cuisine influenced Southern US cooking. Nice cross-cultural influences with those tomatoes from the 'New World'. Also the habenero, corn and tamale. I'm guessing the Portuguese were the ginger contribution.

      1. Rworange,

        Thanks for the post. I have lived in West Africa, and have recently traveled to Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, Burkina Faso, and Mali so I can make a few comments.

        In general, I don't find West African food to be particularly spicy (in Cameroon and Togo this is less true), espeically when it is made at the home (it some cases, it is downright bland). But I think the emphasis on spices is more common in a restaurant in a big city. The use of onions, however, is extremely prolific. In parts of Mali, agriculture is highly based on onions so the basis of most meals is onions plus tomatoes and meat meat when available (I once had onions 3 meals a day for a week). But, I have seen less emphasis on garlic and ginger in food preparation.

        In every West African market you can find a little roundish deflated looking chile, which is used in cooking, but I am not sure if it is actually a habanero chile. They are not very spicy but are very colourful (red, orange, yellow). I do not know enough about peppers to say exactly what they are, but habernos are close enough.

        Most of what you described I have eaten in some part of Africa outside of cameroon, although usually called something else. The use of pigeon or black eyed peas is very common, and was my staple when I lived in Burkina where we called them petit-pois, and the type of pea or bean changed even if the name stayed the same. I have eaten lots of pumpkin in Africa, but not as much in West Africa as I have in East Africa (e.g. Tanzania). There is a wide variety of greens consumed throughout the continent, but again this is something I have seen more in East rather than West Africa, although there are a few dishes that do use this. Okra and plantain dishes are very common throughout the region.

        Each country has a dominant starch. Fufu is common in Ghana and Nigeria (I think they spell it foo foo) and it can be made of either ground yams (aka igname) or cassava. I think it is also used to refer to other types of ground starches (e.g rice or semolina). In Mali and Burkina the starch is a millet based concoction called "to" (pronouced like toe), you are lucky you guys were offered fufu and not to, as I think it taste a lot like wood chips. I avoid it at all costs.

        I could be wrong, but I think Ndole is not a peanut sauce, but rather a sauce made from a rather sharp and bitter green. It is very common in cameroon where they serve it on all kinds of starches. Peanut, or rather groundnut sauces, are very common in West Africa, espeically in Ghana. It is called "sauce d'arachide" in Burkina and Mali. If it all possible, I get it with chicken or lamb, and plaintains. That is my favorite dish.

        Jollof rice is VERY common. You can buy it just about anywhere on the streets and is usually a safe, cheapt and tasty bet. I think it comes from Nigeria, but I think it is named after the Jolof people from Senegal. I am not 100% sure of the roots, but I am pretty sure this group has had major influence throughout the region.

        I have not seen a lot of prawns in most of West Africa, but I did try them in Cameroon. I don't know if this is an availability or an income thing, but I do not think of them as being West African. In most dishes, the name comes from the sauce, then the type of meat used, or which starch used is optional.

        But thanks for this post. Where is this restaurant?

        2 Replies
        1. re: MaggieMuffin

          Berkeley - A Taste of Africa http://www.chowhound.com/topics/360390

          Thank you SO much for your post. This restaurant started as a food truck at a local flea market over 9 years ago. While the food options have expanded over the past decade, I'm sure over a decade ago they had to adapt to what was available ... spinach instead of African greens, habeneros rather than African peppers.

          I was evesdropping and one of the owners said they personally didn't use the hot sauce. As you mentioned, the food I tried was rather bland, the use of spices in the background. I think offering the hot sauce was to accomodate local tastes, but just a theory.

          Again, so MANY thanks for your post. We're kind of lucky in this area to have restaurants from different parts of Africa in the area offering little, if not comprehensive, peeks into each part of that continent.

          1. re: MaggieMuffin

            Where did you travel in W.Africa? I have to disagree - the food I've had was the opposite of bland. As someone with Ghanaian parents I have sampled most food from Ghana and attest to having had some of the spiciest food I've ever had - more so then Thai, Indian or Caribbean. The sauces and stews which accompany the basic semolina, cassava or fufu is usually heavily spiced with garlic, scotch bonnets and ginger. Dishes like Okra stew, groundnut soup and light soup come to mind. Goat and guinea fowl are often skewered and heavily spiced and cooked like a kebab and eaten with plantain spiced with ginger and chilli.

            This relates to street food and homecooked food in Ghana and here in the U.K - where I'm from.

            I also had various Nigerian dishes and some of which were very spicy - Goat meat soup. I've been told that Nigerian cuisine emplys more herbs than Ghanaian food. Senegalese and Ivorian food is also good.

            Jollof rice is meant to have originated in Sierra Leone and is common across a lot of West Africa - each area has it's own version.

            Which U.S city would you rate as the best for African food - diversity wise specifically?

          2. I spent years traveling the byways of Africa, including Cameroun. But about the food I learned very little. However, here are a few things I know about Cameroun which might help you see the many varied influences on cuisine. the main conclusion is, when you talk about the food there, you must specify the region.

            Cameroun is, in terms of terrain, perhaps the most varied country in Africa. In the southeast, you are in the central African rain forest. You can find pygmies there. Go to the northern tip, and I believe you are in the fringes of the southern Sahara, complete with nomadic cattle herders. Midway between the two is a hilly region composed of little tribal kingdoms whose rulers trace their ancestry back 800 years.

            I believe the Spanish and Portuguese visited the area, but later on the region was ruled by Germany. After World War I, it was split between the British and French. The anglo and franco zones reunited in the late 1950s, though the most serious ethnic rivalry is between English and French zones. In the French zone, the bulk of the ocuntry, French influences predominate and French is spoken. In the English zone, English, or a colorful pidgin variation. Colorful because, for instance, instead of saying, you've got troubles but at least you're alive, they say simply "jam pass die". The main city Douala is cosmpoplitan and filled with French expats (and French restaurants)

            All the above is from memory, I haven't checked Wikipedia.

            1. One correction to your list. Ndole is actually a bitter, leafy green which i first mistook for a kind of spinach when i was in cameroon. it's usually served with shrimp (``Ndole aux crevettes''), but can be found in all sorts of dishes. interestingly, there has been medical research showing it has all sorts of healthy properties (which i can't recall).
              as other posters have mentioned, there are many dishes which are common to several west african countries; although arguments can be made as to which one they originate from, it's a pointless argument, given the fluid and arbitrary national boundaries created by colonial borders. one other dish which is common in west africa which i didn't see on your list is often referred to by its name in a nigerian language (i think yoruba) ``Gari.'' Gari is cassava; the usual way it's prepared throughout west africa is it's boiled, then pounded into paste, then the paste is dried out, then pounded into powder/small bits. it can then be stored like any staple, and is usually made into a thick porridge-like substance and shaped into balls about the size of a child's fist, and topped with stews (in nigeria, often with onions, smokedfishm tomatoes and okra).
              cheers,
              tuqueboy

              1. I know I'm replying long after this conversation got going, but I was just looking for some shortcut tips on making corn fufu from grits or cornmeal instead of from the whole grain. I spent two solid years in Cameroon, and learned how to cook most of the local cuisine (of the mountainous highlands, at least--the country is so geographically and tribally diverse that there are few "constants" among four or five main cultural groups that share a country the size of California). I do miss the fufu, but preparation takes the whole bloody day, and who has that kind of time?

                To add to the overall discussion of Cameroon foodstuffs:

                Staples are yams of all sorts, cassava, plantains, and maize (or millet/sorghum in more arid regions). One correction to previous posts: ndole is centered on a very bitter leafy green vegetable but also requires either peanut butter or a pumpkin seed-based substitute for flavoring. Beans (cranberry beans) are also common. Most everything is seasoned with some combination of garlic, ginger, and habenero, plus (and this is key) whatever oil is most available--palm in the center and south, sesame in the arid north. "Country onion" is also a common seasoning--a roasted and then ground nut-like thing about the size of a small water chestnut, with the flavor of very mild garlic with a very strong "smoky" topnote. I have yet (and I have been trying for YEARS) to find it stateside--part of the problem is I know of no translation and have also never seen it in Asian or Mexican cookery which groceries are easier to find.

                Anyway...I'm glad to see discussion of Cameroon cooking on this site. Thanks for the awesome links!

                1 Reply
                1. re: skinnygourmand

                  I believe that the species name for the country onion is Afrostyrax lepidophyllus. Good luck getting it in the U.S.!

                  http://web.catie.ac.cr/cd_multiestrat...

                2. What I know of African cuisine comes only from the restaurant scene in Washington, DC.

                  While black eyed peas, okra, MANY different types of bitter thick-leaf greens, plantains, are found throughout West Africa, many of the Cameroonian dishes you described are prepared quite differently from those in Senegal, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Cote d-Ivoire. Egusi I've had in DC is very different from the flavors I expect from Senegalese cuisine.

                  1. Cameroon got its name from the portugese word for shrimp, so I'm guessing that shrimp were at least once common there (perhaps especially at the ports where the earliest European traders landed).

                    1. Black-eyed peas and rice dishes similar to Joloff rice are common all over Africa and were brought here to the United States by African slaves and are thus especially popular in the southern states where most of their ancestors are today. Joloff rice is one ancestor of ‘red rice,’ ‘dirty rice,’ and many other similar dishes. Jollof rice which is also called one pot rice or ‘benachin’ is related to the Wolof People who are from The Gambia, Senegal, and to a smaller degree Mauritania – from there the dish spread to other parts of Africa.

                      Prawns are especially popular anywhere in Africa that there is a sizable ethically Portuguese population which would include any former Portuguese colonies and well as many of the former English colonies (as English ships also brought Portuguese people for farming) like South Africa. My favourite is Mozambique Peri-Peri Prawns, which are now popular all over the Southern African countries.

                      As for plantains and bananas, all members of the genus Musa are indigenous to the tropical regions of ANZO (Northern Australia, and Oceania,) and South East Asia (Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, etc). Food anthropology studies conclude that Portuguese Franciscan Friars are mainly responsible for bringing them both to the Caribbean, Latin America and to Africa, and they have become a staple starch for Niger-Congo Africans as well as an occasional dessert or snack ingredient to non-Black Africans (English, Afrikaners, etc) peoples over the last several hundreds of years.

                      REFERENCES

                      http://www.iita.org/cms/details/banan...

                      http://bananas.bioversityinternationa...

                      http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mg...

                      Some other anthropology references like Anthrosource and Jstor that you need to be in the field to read so I won’t put them here because they are cost prohibitive and filled with field specific terms that really would just be a waste of your time to figure out. For the record I’m an Africanist, Anthropology major, non-profit fundraiser that works with many African charities, have been to Africa several times, and married to an African so though until I get my graduate degree (which is a good few years off) I cannot call myself ‘expert’ I am fairly knowledgeable beyond the norm.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Bookwormgal

                        Thank you so much for your post. Now I will have Peri-Peri Prawns to look forward to some day!

                        What do you know about the use of seeds in African cooking? It is something that has not really transferred at all to African-American foods.

                        1. re: Steve

                          I actually have a recipe for this Steve, if you are interested in trying it. The recipe is part of an Angolan meal, actually http://globaltableadventure.com/2010/...

                          1. re: GlobalTable

                            Thanks for pointing out those recipes and the website. Looks great. I will check it out further.

                      2. Many of these dishes (egusi stew, suya, jollof rice, puff puff) can be found in Nigeria as well. I recently found this website that features recipes as well as a weekly meal planner (!).

                        http://www.avartsycooking.com/

                        1. I know this post is four years old, but I assume just like me, others may happen on the post and find the information here useful. Just want to say for those who are interested in Cameroonian recipes and info about Cameroonian/West African spices, there are a couple of good websites you may want to check out:

                          www.africancooking.org

                          www.macocote.com

                          www.congocookbook.com

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Nahjela

                            Just to add, belatedly. I was in Madagascar in the 90s for a month. It is a very poor country--which I'm sure influences the food and cooking. Really I just remember rice, some stewed chicken, maybe a bit of salt. On the coast simply prepared fish or lobster. I can't remember much about the greens or vegetables. All in all, it was a fairly simple (you could say bland, but I don't really want to disparage it) cuisine noticeably marked by poverty.