Martin Robbins of the the Guardian UK has produced an interesting five-part series called “Africa’s Propaganda Trail,” which examines how so-called “information” from all types of people—well-meaning NGOs and public officials alike—can lead to incorrect perceptions of what’s actually happening on the continent.
The lack of information and sometimes straight misinformation about Africa affects people, economic outcomes, societies, and cultures. I thought it might worthwhile to look into the misconceptions that plague African gastronomy—in a humorous way, of course.
Some people ask: African food? What food? Isn’t the continent swamped with famines? Here’s an inspired true story that I once heard: “I found a bag of rice that is almost expired in my cellar, and it’s my duty to help feed people in Africa. Where shall I send it?”
I’ve heard presumed food-lovers exclaim: “Why would I bother finding out about African gastronomy? I am sure it’s pretty uniform and bland. Otherwise, I would have surely heard about it.
“Ethiopian food is very different from Senegalese food? Really? Restaurants? You mean restaurants actually serve that stuff and manage to stay in business? Jollof rice? Ingera? Malva pudding? Wine? No, there can’t possibly be any wine made in Africa. The wild animals would trample all the grapes. Palm wine? You mean there are different kinds of wine, not made from grapes?”
I’ve had acquaintances ask: “Sorrel juice can help with digestion, you say? Isn’t that spicy? Not everything is spicy?”
Yes, you are right: food cannot be bland and spicy at the same time.
I’ve spoken with friends about the similarities in dishes from the Caribbean, Latin America, and the American South.
“Really?,” I’ve heard as a reply. “I never thought of that. I love jambalaya and I would do anything for a nice gumbo.
“Some really cool chefs? Unique techniques, too? I thought there was nothing we could ever learn from Africans, I can’t believe you are talking about techniques and secrets. I bet it’s all the aid money that they are diverting to create those so-called techniques.
“Very old cuisines and recipes? Oh, my bad, I didn’t know Africa had been around for that long…”
Linda Dempah co-founded and writes for Tropical Foodies, a blog dedicated to dishes using tropical ingredients. She is living a passionate, lifelong love story with plantains and is sharing her enthusiasm for all the other tropical ingredients on her blog. Follow her on Twitter and “like” the blog on Facebook.