23
Jul
09

African Cuisine for the die hards…


chillies 03

Do you like spicy food?
Do you plan to go to Nairobi ?

I recommend Handhi’s to you. It means “clay pot” in one of the Indian languages and the restaurant serves a number of dishes using these clay pots. The variety and quality of the food is superb and among the Indian restaurants in Africa that I know I rank it within the top 5.

Those of you who chose to sit inside the restaurant instead of at their terrace, can see the cookes at work through a hugh glass wall that separates the kitchen from the main restaurant dining area.

In East Africa it is mostly the Indian cuisine that offer some very spicy dishes.  The African dishes in this part of the continent are generally mildly spiced. In West and Central Africa however the African dishes can be extremely spicy.

poulet yassa

Poulet Yassa

In Senegal you can order Poulet Yassa, stuffed chicken with lemon and onions served with rice and you have a choice to have some yellow chillies on the side and mix these with the food.

poulet yassa 02

Africans enjoy their food most when sharing a dish with their family or friends.

Pepper sou[

In Nigeria,  Pepper Soup can be made of any kind of fish or meat depending on your preference.  If you are a Non African Adult with strong taste buts you may try it, but I recommend you take a very small sip first to see how you respond before going for the big spoons.

Pepper Soup

These are just a few examples since spicy food is very common in the West- and Central African cuisine.

Those of you who are not used to chillies should start carefully.  It is an acquired taste that you develop over time and gradually you can deal with larger quantities of chillies or use stronger varieties of chillies.
The Naga Jolokia and the Red Savina Habanero are the strongest versions and contain the highest levels of capsaicin 800.000 – 1000.000 and  350.000 – 570.000 respectively. The Naga Jolokia originates from North Eastern India and holds the Guinness World record. Compare this to white pepper that has 500 units of capsaicin or green tabasco sauce that has about 600 to 800 units.
The Scoville scale measures the heat levels in food by measuring the amount of capsaicin present.

chillies

One of my colleagues from Europe asked me if she could have a sip of my crab soup I was having at a restaurant in Dubai that had made some special orders on our request. Four of us were living in or originated from Africa while we had  two Europeans with us that evening ,my colleague being one.
We had ordered two separate bowls of crab soup, one hot one not. I warned my colleague and told her that this was seriously hot. She insisted.
The next 10 minutes or so all the waitresses were running back and forth to calm the effect of the chillies.
When she recovered somewhat and regained her ability to speak she started to call me names and asked me how someone could enjoy something like that ? We felt sorry for her but at the same time we could not stop laughing either. When she ran to catch her flight she was smiling again.

If you like spicy food I advice you to learn the traditional name of chilly for each country you visit. If you go to a local restaurant as
a Mzungu (white man)  and ask for very spicy food, you may otherwise not get what you ask for. Since not every European or American that visits Africa can handle the intensity of some of the dishes, waiters are careful and will bring you a very mild version of what you requested.
In Nigeria I asked for red chillies and got sweet red peppers instead. So I asked the waiter the name of red chillies in Yoruba. Now I got my “atta rodo”, as they call it and  every time I visit a restaurant in Nigeria and ask for fresh chopped atta rodo I am in business.

An Indian friend of mine once advised me to have some raw onion on the side whenever you are not sure of the food you are about to have. This simple addition will keep you out of trouble in most cases. I realized the effect of it when on another occasion I had dinner with four of my colleagues in a nice restaurant in Ghana. We all ordered shrimps and lobster, the specialty of the house. I was the only one who ordered a salad on the side with some raw onion because I happen to like salads not so much because I questioned the restaurant or its food.  Our host, a Ghanaian did not approve of my addition to this dish, since he felt you should not mix the taste of the fresh seafood with anything else.
The next day all four of my colleagues, including our Ghanaian host were not feeling well and had to run to the bathroom a few times for a couple of days. I was very happy to have ordered my salad on the side and remembered the advise of my Indian friend.
Since then I have made it a habit to order some raw onion every time I doubt the quality of the food.
If you think about it, the Dutch dip their raw herring in chopped raw onion. If you order a steak tartare the cook will propose raw onion as one of the spices to mix the meat with.
I don’t have the scientific proof to back my story but in all the years of my travels all over the world I have hardly ever had food problems and I am grateful for the advice of my Indian friend.

Back at Handhi’s one evening we had ordered more food than we could finish and before we left one of the guests asked the waiter to wrap the food.  I was a bit surprised since all of us were very satisfied and unable to finish but I was soon to learn another lesson of the African way of live.
We walked out of the restaurant and the guest who was carrying the bags with wrapped food saw a poor person walking by.
Without even thinking twice he gave some of the bags to this person.  Before we reached the car he had distributed the remaining bags to a few other poor people that we came across.

Have you ever considered asking to wrap the food to give it to a total stranger in the street on your way home?
I admit I had never done so before but I suggest you try this and I am sure you will enjoy the  experience…

© Desi Lopez Fafié

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7 Responses to “African Cuisine for the die hards…”


  1. July 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks for sharing Desi.

    I recall when I was about 5years old; my Dad will take me with him on his occasional visits to my grandparents and other family members in his village. At night, the elders of the village will group and have their own chat whilst sharing cola nut.

    One night, it wasn’t cola nut but “kpakpo shito” (tiny looking green very spicy pepper) – and I realized this after my Dad prevented me from taken a bite as usual. Still very curious, I asked my Dad why they were taking that spicy stuff like that but he explained that it was the norm before drinking fresh palm wine and that they were waiting for one of my cousins to fetch a pot of palm wine in the nearby bush.

    Unfortunately, my cousin came back without the palm wine pot explaining he couldn’t find it before they realized it’s been stolen. Mean while, the elders had consumed all the “kpako shito” and guess what happened? The little water left for that night got finished and it became a lesson from then, I guess.

  2. July 31, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I have recently authored the first of its type Nigerain cookbook and thought you might be interest in having a look at it….:-)

  3. 3 Daisy
    February 18, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Hi Desi,

    Where was the restaurant in Dubai where you had crab soup? I want to try.

    • February 19, 2010 at 5:06 am

      The restaurant is called The Fishmarket Restaurant and you can find it at the 2nd floor of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Deira Dubai, bon appetit!

  4. 5 Ivan
    September 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Bonjour, j’ai aimé votre article.
    Je me suis permis de prendre une photo pour illustrer le flyer d’une soirée de soutien au Sénégal.
    Celle avec la main de l’enfant dans le plat de poulet Yassa
    J’ai cité la source, bien sûr.
    Si vous voulez voir le flyer, je le tiens à votre disposition.

    Hello, I liked your article.
    I allowed myself to take a picture to illustrate the flyer for an evening of support in Senegal.
    The one with the child’s hand in the dish of chicken Yassa
    I quoted the source, of course.
    If you want to see the flyer, I am at your disposal.

  5. September 22, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Hurrah, that’s what I was searching for, what a material!
    existing here at this web site, thanks admin of this
    web page.


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