Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

African Food Glossary


Akara: popular breakfast dish made from mashed black-eyed peas seasoned with salt, pepper, and onion then deep-fried.

Akassa: Ghanian porridge made from corn flour and hot water.

Anu Ofia: term used for fresh meat from any forest animal. The meat is prepared by first singeing over an open fire then washing and cutting as preparation for smoking, drying, or cooking. Most African meats are tough and stringy and therefore best prepared by marinating (in beer, wine, various fruit juices, or soured milk) then cooking with moisture or used in soups and stews.

Asida: term used for a late morning meal usually consisting of Fufu and relishes.

Bamia: also called “ladyfingers.” Both are names for okra, a green pod that can be cooked crisp or simmered to a gelatinous texture.

Bamie Bread: a moist bread made with okra.

Baobab Tree: as functional as the coconut palm. Fruit and leaves are edible; ashes of the wood are used as salt; seeds and pods are roasted to make a drink or snack; the tree trunk is a source of water.

Bajias: small seasoned balls of cooked mashed potatoes or yams, flour-coated then deep-fried. A favorite of African Indians.

Balila: term used for the evening meal, which usually consists of Fufu plus relishes. In many areas care is taken to eat this before dark so as to avoid evil spirits.

Bota: thin gruel often prepared from millet and given as a supplementary food for infants.

Buhme: locally made sweetened beer offered in small amounts to infants after six months of age.

Callaloo: a casserole of vegetables, various fish and seafood with meat and seasonings. A popular combination includes spinach, mixed seafood and cubed lamb seasoned with garlic, chilies, and tomato paste. The combination of fish, seafood, and meat is also popular in Portugal. Is it possible that the Portuguese traders and explorers brought this recipe home? (This is also the name of a Caribbean soup named for the coarse green callaloo leaves from dasheen or taro plant.)

Cassava: also called manioc is the tuber from which manioc flour and tapioca is made. Slightly fermented and ground into flour, manioc is used to prepare the classic Gari served with vegetable and/or meat sauces.

Chapatis: unleavened breads freshly made for a meal from almost any flour: rolled flat then deep-fried until they puff and brown. Well known in India and much favored by African Indians.

Chenga: a thick milk soup made with rice or corn and thickened with corn flour (cornstarch). Considered one of the chief foods of East Africa.

Chihengi: pineapple.

Chin Chin: deep-fried cookie leavened with Swahili yeast.

Cocoyams: variety of wild yams.

Dende Oil: the Brazilian name for the densely rich palm oil brought to Brazil by West Africans. Its red-dish hue can be imitated by adding paprika to peanut or vegetable oil.

Dovi: paste of groundnuts (peanut butter). Duri: mortar and pestle.

Fufu, Ugali or Ampesi: staple African food. Thick porridge-like mixture made by pounding then cooking any one of many starchy plant foods or mixtures of them. Corn, millet, rice, cassava, plantain, green bananas, or varieties of yams may be used. For eating, the mixture is formed into small halls with three fingers of the right hand then dipped into sauces or relishes made from fish, meat, or vegetables – almost always spicy hot.

Futari Yams: thick mixture of cooked potatoes flavored with groundnuts, tomatoes, onions.

Garri or Gari: a slightly fermented cassava flour used in cooking. A favorite of many, especially Ghanians.

Ghada: the midday meal, usually consisting of Fufu and relishes.

Groundnuts: peanuts, a staple food.

Gumbo: with a consistency between a soup and a stew, gumbo is derived from the African Bantu word for okra. Simmered gently with spicy seasoning, okra, and other vegetables, gumbos take their name from the main seafood or meat ingredient and are usually served over wild rice. In America, gumbos are a treasured part of Creole cuisine.

Hova or Hobo: bananas.

Imba: name given to main hut or house where cooking and eating take place.

lninga: sesame seeds, when eaten cooked as a relish.

lnjera: classic Ethiopian bread prepared like a huge pancake from Teff (fine millet flour). Then pancakes are placed, overlapping on a small table or large serving tray – at once becoming tablecloth, dish (for a stew of meat and/or vegetables) and then torn to scoop up the food.

Trio: Swahili word for a combination of cooked vegetables, cubed or chopped and seasoned with oil and salt and pepper. Favorite in East Africa.

Ji Akwukwo: very thick stew of many vegetables plus yams. Favorite in West Africa.

Keuke: corn bread prepared from wet fermented corn flour. Sour in East Africa, sweeter and whiter in West Africa.

Kikwanga: Congo name for disc-shaped bread made from cassava flour. The same bread in Jamaica is called Bammy and in the southern United States pan bread.

Kuli-Kuli: delicacy made from frying the residual groundnut paste after the oil has been extracted.

Madafu: immature coconut water, a beverage.

Maheu: traditional drink for women and children; slightly alcoholic sweet liquid left from soaking cooked Fufu.

Mahshi: almost any available variety of vegetable stuffed with a mix of ground meat or fish and rice and baked with tomato sauce.

Manhanga: term used to refer to many varieties of squash and pumpkin.

Manioc or Cassava: general name given to any starch roots from which tapioca and other flours may be made.

Manwiwa: watermelon. Mealie: corn. Milioku: soup.

Milioku Ngozi: also called Blessing Soup. A hot West African soup usually made with a whole chick-en and yams. Soup is served first, then meat and vegetables sliced and served afterward. Usually served at planting and harvest celebrations.

Millet: the small grains of a cereal grass, used in preparation of some foods.

Mseto: Swahili word for rice or lentils; usually cooked into a thick sauce, highly seasoned and served with meat or fish.

Mudumbe: the succulent root fibers from the elephant ear plant.

Munyu: salt. Mupunga: rice.

Muriwo: relish or sauces accompanying Fufu. These are an important part of the diet’s nutrients, containing not only a wide variety of vegetables and seasonings (hot), but often meat and fish and bones, when available.

Naarjes: South African tangerines, deep in color and rich in flavor.

Nhopi: a Fufu or porridge made from pumpkin. Nsiko: crabs.

Ofe Nsala: a fiery pepper sauce made with a base of meat or fish. This is one of the most popular things served to women with new babies and may comprise the main part of the diet, diluted as a soup or gruel, or eaten with Fufu.

Ogede: plantain.

Olilie: one version of the seasoning paste made from dried, fermented, and cooked seeds, used for flavoring.

Oka Esiri Esi: a corn and milk soup.

Olele: a baked or steamed Nigerian pudding made from ground peas, onion, and salt.

Oporo Ukwu: lobster.

Pan Bread: Southern United States name for a disc-shaped bread prepared from cassava flour.

Plantain: tropical plant bearing a fruit similar to the banana, usually eaten cooked.

Pombe: beer made from plantains or bananas.

Rupiza: thin porridge or gruel made from powdered dried beans.

Sabal Palmetto: the young sprouting leaves of cocoyams and sweet potatoes, cut and cooked as greens for relishes.

Sorghum: cereal grass grown for grain or fodder.

Surudzo: sieves.

Suya: cut up meats marinated in peanut oil then skewered and cooked.

Swahili Yeast: yeast made from the fermentation of ripe plantains, sugar, water, and wheat flour. Used as leavening agent for breads, buns, and fried cookies.

Teff: fine millet flour. Tembo: palm wine.

Togwa: beverage made from fermented germinated sorghum.

Tseme or Nhembatemba: special pot used for storing Dovi (groundnut butter).

Tuwo: spicy okra sauce.

Tuwonsaffe: in northern Ghana, the daily Fufu is allowed to ferment in this “sourpot” and the Fufu needed for meals is scooped from the Tuwonsaffe.

Ugali: Tanzanian staple cornmeal porridge of Fufu.

Ulezi: a slow cooked porridge of milk and millet, flavored with butter and lemon juice. A food for convalescents.

Yam: the nutritious white yam is a powerfully symbolic staple food frequently staving off malnutrition and starvation, particularly in West Africa. Often of immense size, one African yam can easily feed a family. Feast days are common and yams figure largely in any festive occasion. Because the egg symbolizes fertility and therefore eternity, eggs often accompany yams in these special dishes.

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