Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Domestic Life in Africa

Cookery methods rather than basic foods are what distinguish regional and ethnic dishes in Africa. Foods may be cooked over open fires or in pits heated with stones; either of these methods may be used indoors or outdoors. Commonly used cookery utensils include: perforated clay steamers, jugs and jars for storage, strainers, mortar and pestle, knives, enamel and clay and heavy iron cooking pots, wooden bowls and spoons (fufu or ugali is always stirred with a wooden spoon), graters, frying baskets. Grinding stones are used to mill grains; dried gourds and cal-abash shells are used as spoons and ladles – and many of these are beautifully decorated and carved.

Food storage is a great problem because of the climate and a prevalence of insects and rodents. However, elevated platforms, vessels and cages, strung and held up, and covered clay containers and woven covers of many types are used.

Eating and cooking, if not done outdoors, are often done in a special hut that may have floors finished with a paste of dried cow dung. A special ledge along one side may be used to store most of the cookery utensils, especially the treasured clay pots and jugs. In some areas, in addition to pits and the use of open fires, ovens built of dried mud may he used for baking.

Foods are generally used on a day-to-day basis, and the amount required is judged – seldom asked for by weight. Africa has an oral rather than a written tradition: events and traditions are passed by word of mouth and by careful demonstration, dance or song. The written word and such things as weights and measures were never important in traditional rural communities. Introduction of weights and measures is a slow process, whereas amounts are taught to, and somehow learned by, young children.

Cutlery is seldom used for eating except in cities and then often only in European company. Even in urban areas, the family evening meal will likely be a traditional fufu or ugali with condiment sauces all enjoyed in the traditional way from community platters and eaten with the fingers.

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