Putting a list of 10 dishes to try in West Africa was a delectable task: I had mouth-watering visions of scrumptious, flavorful dishes and it was hard to focus on the writing. I am sure there are dozens more dishes that could be on this list—in fact, I am fairly certain I could come up with a different list every week! I have picked my favorites (and I am probably a little biased towards my home country of Côte d’Ivoire, just a little!) and also took into other factors such as availability. Feel free to share some of your favorites.
View the slideshow of Top 10 West African Dishes
10. Chicken Yassa (Senegal)
This Senegalese chicken stew is prepared by marinating chicken in lemon juice and onions and then cooking it in that marinade, adding Dijon-like mustard among other spices. The flavors are inviting and blend well together, as well as into the plain white rice that usually accompanies yassa. This dish is a must-have on the menu for Senegalese restaurants and a must-try for food enthusiasts.
9. Egusi Soup (Nigeria, with some versions in Togo, Benin)
Using the word “soup” to describe this Nigerian favorite is slightly misleading. This dish is more of a thick, yummy paste made of spinach (or other leafy vegetables), egusi (pumpkin-like) seeds as well as tomatoes in various forms. The different textures in the dish, combined with the added flavors from the meat propelled this stew on the list. It is usually eaten with eba, gari or pounded yam. Just make sure that you allow some time after your meal for a well-deserved nap.
8. Poulet DG or Chicken DG (Cameroun)
I picked this dish first because of its name! It is from “directeur géneral,” which means “managing director,” as it is said to a luxurious dish that only the “cream of the cream” can afford. I really think it should be called “chicken DJ,” because that dish definitely play some very nice mixes inside my mouth! Alright, enough with the cheesy lines. This Cameroonian favorite combines two of my darling ingredients, plantains and grilled chicken, and then mixes them all together to create a playful, original dish. The tomato base that brings the dish together is also well-worth noting. The harmony is there. Thanks Mr. DJ—I mean, DG.
7. Peanut soup or Mafé (Mali, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire)
This is a traditional dish, available in several West African countries that each adds their local flavor. The base is a paste made from peanuts and meat (beef, chicken, goat, or smoked turkey). Depending on where the dish is made, tomatoes, okra, or onions can also be incorporated. The end result is smooth, hearty, and rich and is usually eaten with white rice. Depending on how it is made, the peanut taste is more or less pronounced and the soup thin or slightly thicker, but it’s always a crowd pleaser.
6. Tchep (Senegal)
This is the king of rice dishes, an extreme version of jollof rice. Whether it is made with fish stuffed with rof, or with lamb, whether it is a white tchep or a red one, rice has never tasted so good. The preparation though, is trickier, especially when a spice called yet (fermented mollusk) is used. I recommend staying as far away from the kitchen as possible and only come around when the dish is ready, or having it at the restaurant. Tchep is definitely worth all the trouble though: the rice soaks juices from the vegetables, the meat, and the fish, and when it is presented on the table, you can tell it deserves its crown.
5.Foufou or Fufu (Côte d’Ivoire)
Ivorian foufou is different from the fufu that can be found in other parts of West Africa (e.g. Ghana). It is made with ripe plantains or yams that are lightly pounded and mixed with warm palm oil. In Côte d’Ivoire, the foufou is then decorated with a spicy powder and served with a light African eggplant and tomato soup. So yummy—I think I am going to have to stop talking about it now lest I get a bad case of foufou blues.
4. Souya (Nigeria/Niger)
Souya, or choukouya is the perfect late night snack for some heavy partiers in West Africa. Lamb meat is chopped and then perfectly grilled on an open fire. Souya meat comes with souya pepper and those two are just like bread and butter—perfect for each other. In Côte d’Ivoire, people eat it with alloco (fried plantains) and you will get a nod from the connoisseurs if you mention that you are about to have some alloco and choukouya as your 4 p.m. snack.
3. Poisson Braisé or Charcoal-Grilled Fish (Côte d’Ivoire)
The perfect beach dish. Fresh tilapia, catfish, or carp is seasoned and coated in a blend of spices, then grilled on a charcoal-grill. It is then sprinkled with a mix of sliced tomatoes, onions, and grilled chili peppers. The fish and the audacious combination of fresh vegetables sparkle together and will make you see the light. Poisson braisé is served with attieke, alloco, but honestly, it is usually so delicious that it could be eaten plain and still be a more than satisfying meal.
2. Kele Wele (Ghana)
Kele wele justifies the existence of Ghana. There, I said it! Now all you Ghanaians can throw punches at me! It is a very simple idea, coating plantains in a mix of spices and then frying them, and it doesn’t get any better than that. Ghanaians eat it as a snack, with roasted groundnuts. If you ever doubted that simple pleasures were the essence of life, have some kele wele. I would even forgive you if you dated a Ghanaian just so that they’d introduce you to it.
1. Kedjenou (Côte d’Ivoire)
Kedjenou earns the top spot because of its originality, the combination of flavors and unique way of preparation. In Côte d’Ivoire, meat, usually turkey or “African chicken” (chicken that has grown running around everywhere and whose flesh is therefore a bit harder and muscular but much more flavorful than “regular” chicken), is added to a base made of fresh tomatoes, onions and ginger. Traditionally, Kedjenou is cooked in a hermetically sealed calabash, which is shaken from time to time; a pressure-cooker is a good modern-day alternative. Because of the method of preparation, by steam, the meat becomes tender and absorbs the flavors while maintaining its consistency and firm texture. The onions and tomatoes melt into a stew, slightly peppered by the ginger. This dish is easy, light and yet hit every single pleasure spot on the palate. It is usually served with white rice or attieke. Simple and marvelous.
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 @tropicalfoodies and Like the blog on www.facebook.com/tropicalfoodies.