In Africa, as in other world areas, cookery is a stage for performance (by the cook) and audience (family, neighbors, and guests), who respond by eating and appreciating it. In Africa, women were almost always the performers, and techniques of cooking remained women’s specialized knowledge. Women cooked inthe home, but in Europe and in many world areas the art itself became the privilege of a literature, male, class, dominated by professional guilds as a kind of priestly knowledge. African food preparation, in contrast, has until recently, been consistently a woman’s daily domain rather than a distinct profession.
In Africa, many nonindustrial societies had idea that filling the belly and fulfilling the ritual requirements of a meal constituted the cook’s primary goal, rather than food as an aesthetic pleasure. In those African societies where everyone had the same diet regardless of station in life, food’s preparation and consumption did not mark rank in power or social class.
The fact that there was no much difference, some Westerners concluded that Africans did not have a properly defined “cuisine.” They argued that while African societies had ritual meaning, beyond meeting a biological need, it did not achieve a status of beauty in which people took pleasure in both variety and sophisticated ingredients and preparation.
African cooking is a part of the universal human experience. Sauces, oils, herbs, and spices add flavor and texture to primary ingredients and remove food “from the state of nature and smother it in art.” People tend to know intrinsically what they consider food, its taste, and how to eat it—or what is not edible. For some, food means rice, and for others it means maize porridge.
The taste, textures, and sequencing of peoples’ food shows history, geography, and ideas shared within and between cultures. Moreover, the act of cooking is not merely a mechanical skill, but a special form of knowledge African cooking shows the continent’s s cultures’ unique engagements with neighbors and its place in the world, flanked by two oceans and the Mediterranean Sea, and containing its own landscapes of forest, desert, and savanna, and, of course, its cities. Combinations of ingredients and structures of cooking are not carried in the genes, but come from historical experiences shared among peoples and across generations. Not all countries or nations have a distinctive “cuisine,” though they sometimes try to invent them for political reasons.
In Africa there are a number of obvious examples of cuisines – Ethiopia, Southern Ghana, Senegalese, Southern Nigeria, The Cape Of Good Hope that show such a meeting. In those places and cultures a type of cooking involves the layering of ideas, daily rituals of eating, ingredients, and methods of assembling foods for both public and private meals that transform cooking and food into what we then call a cuisine.
Like its geology and its distinctive plants and animals, Africa’s cooking exhibits regional character. But it also shows broad historical themes of continuity that we can also see in dress, music, and language. Restaurants in London’s ’s Covent Garden or Paris’s Rive Gauche that claim an African cooking theme and cultural milieu more often than not have a hybrid menu that mixes a number of national cuisines and quite separate traditions of African cookery via signature dishes like Ghana’s groundnut stew (with a rich peanut sauce), Senegal’s thiebou dienn (rice and fish), and Ethiopia’s doro wet (buttery, peppered chicken stew) that would never actually appear together in a kitchen in Africa.
These new African restaurants cherry-pick dishes from around the continent rather than presenting the coherent cultural and historical settings behind a true cuisine. Few African cooks would recognise these dishes as having common elements of style or taste that would make them part of a thing called African Cuisine.
If there is, however, a common theme that marks African cookery, it lies in African cooks’ adaptation and indigenization of staples and ingredients collected from encounters with other world edible ecologies (for example, bananas, maize, cassava, Asian rice, capsicum peppers) and oceanic trade networks (the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Rim, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf ) that contributed spices, herbs, and fruits to Africa’s bowls, mortars, and cooking pots