African cuisine can vary significantly depending on the region. Africa is an extremely diverse continent, the second-largest in the world, and it has a rich and varied culinary history built over thousands of years of independent domestication and development. Over the last few hundred years, the sad history of European colonization of Africa has profoundly influenced African cuisine all over the continent, even in areas like Ethiopia which largely resisted European colonization.
Nevertheless, African cuisine can be divided up into several culinary regions, based on mutually shared history, ingredients, and cultural aspects. In the north of the continent, Egypt, Libya, and the countries of the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia), form one such region. Through the introduction of Arabic culture, the cuisine in this area has been profoundly influenced by culinary traditions from the Middle East. European influence is also present, mostly due to its proximity to the Mediterranean countries of southern Europe.
Moving further south, we encounter culinary regions like West Africa, Ethiopia, and Sub-saharan Africa. Every region brings its own characteristics, ingredients, and flavors to the mix. Ethiopian food is one of the most isolated of African cuisines, retaining many of its pre-colonial characteristics. Ethiopian cuisine tends to be meat-focused (though vegetarian dishes are readily available). One of Ethiopia’s most prized culinary features is the chili spice mix known as Berbere, a spicy hot pepper paste. Ethiopia's food is also distinctive due to being served on Injera, a soft, fermented sourdough flatbread that accompanies almost every meal.
West Africa’s cuisine, on the other hand, is based around starchy foods like cassava and yams, often served with fish and peanuts (known as groundnuts in the region). It also makes use of many native fruits and vegetables harvested in the wild.
South Africa possesses one of the most European-influenced cuisines, influenced by waves of settlement from the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. It also features influences from India and Malaysia due to workers who traveled from those regions in the 19th and 20th centuries.
African cuisine varies widely from place to place. We’ve assembled some of our favorite African food recipes to show you, many coming from the multicultural melting pot of South Africa. Which one is your favorite?
Lamb sosaties with dried apricots recipe
A recipe hailing from South Africa, this kebab like meat skewer is a perfect meal for camping. Tender, juicy lamb is skewered onto branches from a wild bay tree along with apricots and bacon. The leaves of this highly fragrant tree are used in cooking all over the world (known unsurprisingly as bay leaves), but the sticks are quite aromatic as well. The salty-sweet combination, heavily spiced, is perfect for a barbecue. Try this easy lamb sosaties recipe at your next barbecue!
Cape Malay style Smoorsnoek recipe
This traditional Malaysian dish was transplanted to South Africa in the 19th century by laborers from Malaysia. Smoorsnoek is a smoked fish, onion, and tomato stew, fragrant with cinnamon and lime leaves, and served with crunchy flatbreads. A true example of African fusion cuisine. The sweetness of the tomato contrasts beautifully with the smoky fish and onion.
South African bobotie pie recipe
This traditional South African meat pie is also readily available in Namibia due to the intense historical ties between the two countries. This heavily spiced meat pie is a perfect example of culinary fusion, combining elements from Europe and India with local ingredients like banana. It’s essentially an Indian-spiced meat pie topped with banana slices—a truly African dish. This South African bobotie pie is great for entertaining—its strongly spiced hot and sweet flavor makes it perfect for small, personal sized servings.
Tunisian makroudh recipe
This Tunisian and Algerian dessert is popular in those countries. It’s a semolina pastry stuffed with sweet dates and elevated with the addition of plenty of olive oil, both inside the dough and to be used for deep frying. These sweet treats are brushed with sugar syrup after being fried to enhance their sweetness anymore. Try these Tunisian makroudh recipe for your next brunch or tea time with friends.
Rooibos tea recipe—traditional African bush tea
The rooibos is a bush native to South Africa that is used to make a caffeine-free tea alternative. It features a smooth taste, slightly sweet and nutty. It’s been used to make an herbal tea for hundreds of years and is now consumed by many people around the world as an alternative to caffeinated teas. It’s easy to make—just like regular tea. Use this South African rooibos tea as an caffeine-free alternative to standard teas at your next gathering.