African Food is the New Black

What would Wakandan food look like? Asked a lot of bloggers all over the world. The box-office shattering success of Black Panther has rekindled a global interest in African style, language, history and – yes -- cuisine.

"So many people know about paella, how come you don't know about jollof rice?” asks Nigerian chef Tokunbo Koiki on the BBC. “Part of the reason that it is now becoming an emerging trend is because people have become open to new dining experiences. They are tired of having the same usual sandwiches, and fish and chips every night.”

Travel and restaurant/cuisine blogs have been predicting that 2018 will be the year that African food finally breaks through to the mainstream. There is some credible evidence that this is not just hype from the food industry to drum up sales. There is even a genre of food blogging conjuring up “What would a Wakandan mean look like?” It plays into the fantasy of the storyline. Answer of one of the blogs: A theoretical Wakandan Jeweled Vegetable Pilau With Berbere Braised Lamb. Yum!

African restaurants are taking over the local food scene in London, and elsewhere. GQ UK describes London's Hammer & Tongs in a way that can only be properly construed as mouthwatering. "Laying claim to London's largest wood-fired 'braai' -- a three-metres long barbecue that uses sickle bush hardwood imported from South Africa -- this ambitious kitchen near Exmouth Market serves meat at its smoky, aromatic best,” they write. Zoey’s Ghana Kitchen, which began in a stall in the Hackney Wicked arts festival, is moving to London Fields next month, in a space nearly ten times as large. Such is the pace of the progress of African cuisine. African food restaurants are always popping up in New York, it is hard to keep track. But even Detroit is becoming a hub of fine African dining.

African food is, for lack of a better term, the new black.

The pan-African edge of Johannesburg makes it the obvious spot for the center of African cuisine. Fast-evolving, Johannesburg is the multiculti place to be when hungry; Johannesburg is the place where Africa’s top chefs and mixologists go to gain their bona fides. “Jo’burg is a big, exciting, modern African city,” Anna Trapido, co-author of the South African food guide, Eat Ting, told The Independent. “You can go to an Ivorian restaurant at 2 AM or spend your afternoons exploring Little Ethiopia.” The popular Joberg Foodie Instagram has over 32,000 followers.

Healthy, organic cooking – the way our grandparents used to eat – is also drawing interest in Africa from the west as well as the global south. Indigenous crops, herbs, and spices are leading foodies back to the Old World. Rustic Europe, South America and, increasingly, Africa are where one goes to find those staples. Of the popular Queen of Sheba restaurant in Washington, The Inlander wrote: “wherever diners choose to sit, Queen of Sheba serves a flavorful flatbread called injera, traditionally made from a sourdough-version of iron-rich teff, an ancient grain that sustained people in the Fertile Crescent.”

Also, the rise of African superfoods like baobab are drawing deep culinary interest to the Dark Continent. Baobab is a superfood because of high levels of antioxidants, calcium, vitamin C and potassium. Moringa is another African superfood rising in popularity. Healthier than kale, moringa has seven times as much vitamin C as oranges and three times the calcium of milk.

There is also the new takes on African fare, the conversation between cuisines. Although African food is ancient, it has never really took on – yet – in the West. Still there are the hybrids, the love stories of African food catching on elsewhere, as food is many things, but is not racist. Piri Piri chicken comes from the African spice and Portuguese cooking. One of my favorites among foodies is how South African biltong has taken off in Malaysia.

Finally, it is the novelty that makes African food almost inevitably the next big thing, a novelty matched in the last decade or so, with actual availability. European and Asian cuisines have been done to death. I have probably tasted every South American dish imaginable, and that is no mean feat, the same can be said of continental European fare, which is and has always been everywhere.

Antarctica food remains a bit of a mystery to me, and so does Icelandic Hákarl and Chile Giant Sea Squirt, as well as Amazonian Tree Grubs. All of these are strange and interesting, and I am not above giving them a try for the sake of culinary curiosity. But there are so many African foods that I have yet to try before I kick the bucket. And now, more than at any other point in my life, African restaurants are seemingly everywhere. The curiosity of Zimbabwean fare calls – will you dare to answer?

 

 

Cover photo via Africa-facts.org