June 2011Prepared Foods -- There are 57 countries and more than 1,000 languages spoken on the continent of Africa. From a culinary perspective, it can easily be divided into three regions: Northern, Central and Southern. Within these regions, there are thousands of street vendors, selling all types of soups, barbecue, kebabs, snacks, sandwiches and sweets, throughout every big city and small town. 

Northern African Flavors

North African countries, such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, use a lot of the same ingredients. The foods made from the ingredients are described as Mediterranean, Spanish, African and Arab flavors. Popular foods sold by street vendors include shish kebabs (cubes of beef, chicken or lamb, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, fennel buds, onions and cauliflower), Tunisian plantain snacks (plantains, deep-fried in vegetable oil, sprinkled with red chili powder and coarse salt). There is also kefta (seasoned ground meatballs made with beef or lamb). Other ingredients include onions, parsley, mint, ground cinnamon, cumin, garam masala, salt and pepper. All of the ingredients are mixed together, formed into balls, cooked in oil and served on pita bread with some tzatziki sauce (a yogurt and cucumber sauce).

Another North African street food is called bulgur pilaf, made with bulgur (a cereal food made from wheat), olive oil, vegetable broth, onions, garlic, cinnamon, saffron, raisins, pine nuts, parsley, salt, green chili peppers and pine nuts.

Central African Flavors
Central Africa covers about two thirds of the continent, from eastern Somalia to western Senegal to northern Mali and the southern Congo. In terms of culinary flavors, it includes Portuguese, French, Spanish, African and British influences.
Ground nut soup is one of Central Africa’s most popular street foods. There are hundreds of varieties, and it varies in East and West African countries. A standard version of ground nut soup is made of peanut butter, vegetable or chicken broth, tomato paste, onions, chili powder, okra, yams (cassava), ginger and garlic. Similar versions contain some type of meat, such as goat or chicken. This dish is often eaten with chapatis, a fried flat bread made from flour, vegetable oil (sometimes palm oil), salt and water.

Another Central African street food dish is akkras(aka, pea fritters), a combination of cooked black-eyed peas, red chilies, onions and water--mixed into fine paste, deep fried into fritters.

Tanzanian fish curry, an East African dish, is one of the ultimate examples of melting-pot street food. Its flavors reflect Indian, Portuguese and African culinary traditions. The ingredients are red snapper, garlic, onions, lemons, curry powder, tomatoes, peanut butter, green bell peppers, coriander leaves, salt and pepper. A similar version of this dish can be purchased and eaten on the streets of New York City, in the Wall Street financial district. Street vendor, East African Silver Truck, sells its signature fish stew dish, using tilapia fish, instead of red snapper. The ingredients are essentially the same as a Tanzanian fish curry. Served with a side dish of stewed chicken and curry rice, the dish is served over cooked cabbage, carrots, peas and corn, all for $6. The site, www.newyorkstreetfood.com, gave East African Silver Truck one of its highest ratings, naming it a “Wall Street Winner.”

In Ethiopia, a dish called doro wat is a spicy stew, sold by many vendors in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. This stew, known as Ethiopia’s national dish, can be prepared in a variety of ways—vegetarian, chicken or with goat meat. The essential ingredients are lemons, garlic, onions, ginger, Berbere paste (mixture of cumin, cardamom seeds, fenugreek seeds, peppercorns, all spice berries, cloves, onions, garlic, turmeric and ginger), hard-boiled eggs, oil and broth (chicken or vegetable). Doro wat is served with injera--a tart, sour-tasting pancake made from teff (a grass grain), water, salt and oil.

South African Flavors
South African food is often called “the rainbow cuisine” and “fusion cooking,” because of its heavy influences from India, China, Indonesia and Western Europe. Within the country of South Africa, Malay cuisine is an excellent example of rainbow cuisine. One popular Malay-style street food is sosatie, which means “cubes of meat on a skewer.” The meat used is usually lamb or beef, marinated in a mixture of fried onions, curry powder, red and green chilies, garlic, tamarind and water. After marinating, the dish is cooked over an open fire, usually on street corners.

In Cape Town, the Gatsby is similar to the American hoagie sandwich--a long roll, cut lengthwise, filled with hot chips (sometimes French fries), masala steak, hot sauce and pickles. The samoosa, a fried or baked triangular pastry stuffed with a mixture of cooked potatoes, onions, peas, coriander and lentils, also can be found on Cape Town streets. Similar variations include chicken, lamb and beef. pf

This article first appeared in Prepared Foods’ E-ditionnewsletter, February 7, 2011.