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19 Traditional African Dishes from Across the Continent

Learn about African cuisine with these common dishes.

Africa is a beautiful continent famed for its wildlife, stunning landscapes, the vast array of cultures, and fascinating histories. 

Traditional tajine dishes, couscous and fresh salad on rustic wooden table

But, as the second-largest continent on Earth and housing more than a billion people, Africa is home to some of the most diverse culinary cultures. With such diversity, the continent is a food lover’s paradise.

Many African dishes have influences from around the world and often contain grains, meat, root vegetables, and robust spices.

From the shores of Cape Town to the Sahara Desert, from the West African coast to the horn of Somalia, here are some of the most popular African foods.

Popular African Foods

Whether you love spicy food or tender flame-grilled meats, you’ll be hungry for some traditional African cuisine.

Tajine

Tajine is a stew that originated in North Africa, and it’s common in Algeria and Morocco.

Tajine is prepared with spices, slow-cooked meats, seasoning, and vegetables or fruits. 

What is unique about tajine is its sweet and sour flavor. The taste of the fruit and meat mixes into a savory taste. 

But, Tunisian tajine is a little different. The Tunisian dishes are like frittatas, with fresh herbs, starches, and small pieces of meat.

The name tajine comes from the pottery in which it’s served. While I love a hearty lamb tajine, the vegetarian version is just as layered and delicious.


Bobotie

Bobotie is a South African dish made with meat and egg. You can serve bobotie with various side dishes such as chutney or rice.

Bobotie is made by mincing a meat layer beneath a baked egg coating. Typical meat choices include:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb

It’s common to add chopped onions, raisins, sultanas, walnuts, and other regional toppings. These toppings sweeten the dish.

Bobotie is made prepared with bay leaves on top for additional flavor. Bobotie is considered a national dish in South Africa.


Braai

Braai’s are a method of cooking meat in South Africa that’s usually done on holidays or special occasions.

It’s reminiscent of the American barbecue, but it lasts hours. The fire used to cook the meat remains lit long after the food is eaten.

The long cooking times allow South Africans to connect with their family and friends by sharing drinks and stories next to the fire.

The possibilities of what to cook on the braai are endless. Traditionally, you will braai boerewors, steaks, chicken, and other sausages. But, there are no rules as to what can go on the braai.

I love having braaied meat with South African mielies, or corn on the cob, and a fresh side salad.

It’s also common to serve the meat with garlic bread and a creamy potato salad.


Ugali

Ugali is an African porridge that originates in Kenya. The porridge consists of maize flour.

Ugali also goes by the name Sima. This dish is universal and can pair with almost any meal or vegetable side.

The porridge is thicker and stiffer than western porridges, and it needs to be cut with a knife and fork. Many people like to pair their Ugali with meat and rice to make a filling, well-balanced meal.

Ugali is so common in Africa that it has dozens of regional names, like Kawunga in Uganda, Sakoro in the Gambia, and Mutuku in South Africa.


Nyama Choma

Nyama Choma is a Kenyan and Tanzanian method of barbecuing goat meat. Nyama Choma side dishes include Ugali, pepper relishes, or rice.

Typical seasonings include:

  • Salt and pepper
  • Chili flakes
  • Cumin
  • Rosemary
  • Onions and garlic

First, the meat is skewered and basted with salted water. Then the meat is grilled until tender and juicy.

Instead of cutting the meat up into pieces and skewering it, you can use whole goat legs or shoulders. You can even use ribs instead if you prefer, but I love the traditional skewers.


Couscous

Couscous is a North African staple food that you make with steamed wheat granules. These granules are finely rolled, much like quinoa.

Most couscous sold in stores is pre-steamed and pre-dried, making it simple to whip up. 

Couscous can be included in pretty much any dish, whether it be a stew, curry, or salad. The nutty taste of couscous goes quite well with beef, potatoes, and chicken.

For salads, I love using couscous with olives, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumber, beans, and Mediterranean spices for a light refreshing side dish.

There are many variations of couscous. In Mauritania, the wheat grains are much larger than average, and in Tunisia, couscous is included with harissa sauce to produce a spicy taste.

In northwest Africa, couscous is usually prepared in broth and is sometimes referred to as sfouff. It’s common to sprinkle it with a sweet-tasting seasoning.


Bunny Chow

Bunny chow is a South African meal that’s made of a hollow loaf of bread filled with curry.

Bunny chow is best served hot and can be made with either meat or vegetarian substitutes. This dish is exceptionally filling and tasty.

Plus, eating it is such a unique experience as you use the bread to scoop out the curry, so prepare to get your hands dirty!

You have a lot of freedom to make this meal however you please, depending on dietary restrictions, how spicy you like your curry, and how many vegetables you want. Popular bunny chow curries include:

  • Chicken curry
  • Malay vegetable curry 
  • Bean curry
  • Mutton curry

Its versatility makes it such a popular dish, and many Africans top their bunny chow with chili paste.


Harira

Harira is a light soup that originates in Morocco and Algeria. It’s a Maghrebi cuisine that’s usually served during Ramadan.

Ingredients include fava beans, onions, eggs, meat, lentils, chickpeas, and a thickening agent called tadouira. Tadouira consists of tomato paste, flour, and lemon juice. 

This meal has a savory and piquant taste. It’s an excellent breakfast meal with an abundance of spices that make it aromatic.

Chebakias, small sesame, and cinnamon pastries, make an excellent side dish with harira. I love the bold flavors of this dish, and I always order extra, so I can have leftovers the next day.


Egusi Soup

Egusi soup is a staple food in West Africa. Made from squash and melon seeds, it’s a thick soup that might seem more like chowder to Western consumers.

The seeds are grounded into egusi paste after they blend with an onion mixture. It should take you less than an hour to make.

Once you’ve made the paste, heat some vegetable stock and scoop balls of the paste into the pan.

Feel free to add meat or other ingredients. Pumpkin leaf and spinach are common ingredients. 

It’s a potent meal that’s extremely savory and nutty. All the ingredients come together to form a flavor that you just can’t find in most western meals.


Jollof Rice

Jollof Rice is a popular Senegambian dish. Jollof rice is spicy and is served with vegetables and meat.

The rice itself is red-orange because of the puree of tomato paste. The rice used is typically long grain and parboiled.

Jollof rice is so common in Africa that each country has its unique recipe for how to make it. These recipes are often significantly different. 

In Nigeria, the dish is paired with a bean pudding called moimoi and fried plantains. In Ghana, it’s often served with pepper sauce, known as shito.

I love the Nigerian version because of the complex flavors from the plantains and moimoi.


Shakshouka

Shakshouka is a mixture of egg and tomato. Usually, it’s made with poached eggs instead of scrambled eggs, and it’s healthy and rich in nutrients.

There is no limit to the number of spices and ingredients you can add. 

Most people cook shakshouka with:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Cayenne pepper

The flavor of Shakshouka depends entirely on how you make it. It can vary from sweet Mediterranean styles to spicy eccentric variants.

Shakshouka is a brunch dish that’s well-known in markets around the world. I love adding avocado slices on top for an added creamy texture.


Chakalaka

Chakalaka is a vegetable mix used as a relish in South Africa, and it’s notably spicy.

Canned beans are the primary ingredient, but you can also make chakalaka with a curry paste. Chakalaka is a very common topping in African meals.

Some cooks like to mash their relish into a finely ground mixture, while others leave their ingredients whole and intact.

It’s commonly served with bread, pap, and ugali. It’s common to spice this dish, but if you’re looking for a more mild taste, stock it with vegetables instead.

I love having chakalaka with my pap en vleis!


Injera

Injera is a flatbread native to East Africa. Injera tastes slightly sour, and it has a spongy quality to it.

It’s made from teff flour, as opposed to wheat, corn, or barley. These flours tend to make lower-quality bread.

This meal is easy to overeat because the bread expands inside your stomach, but I love using it to scoop up traditional Ethiopian curries and vegetable sides.

There is some diversity in how injera is made. In Somalia, it’s prepared with maize as opposed to teff flour. This version is referred to as Canjeero or Anjeero.


Ful Medames

Ful Medames is a stew served in North Africa and the Middle East. It includes many regional ingredients, like fava beans, olive oil, cumin, onions, garlic, and other spices.

It’s also common to use a dash of lemon juice when making ful medames. It can be cooked thin or thick, depending on the bean mix.

Ful Medames is the national dish of Egypt where it’s a common breakfast choice. People have likely been making this dish since Ancient Egypt.

Typically, it’s served in a large jug or pot, and some recipes only take 25 minutes to cook. 


Kifto

Kifto is one of the most popular African foods. Kifto is a meat dish native to the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

What is most peculiar about kifto is that it uses raw meat. The meat is cooked very rare and served with ayibe, a type of cheese.

When preparing the meat, it’s important to marinate it in mitmita, a chili powder. It’s also soaked in clarified butter.

Many people might be apprehensive to eat raw meat, so always what you’re eating is safe and free from diseases.


Boerewors

Boerewors is a type of sausage native to South Africa. The meat used is a minced mixture of beef, pork, and lamb.

The meal also includes a variety of spices. This sausage is unique because it isn’t linked or broken up. Instead, it’s cooked in a long, continuous string, usually on the braai.

Boerewors has origins with the European colonists in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia.

The word boerewors comes from the Afrikaans term “farmer sausage.” There are various ways to make boerewors, and some people include more cubed pork fat in a dish called spekwors.

I think boerewors is best served on a roll with chakalaka.


Matoke

Matoke is a beautiful-looking green banana primarily growing in the highlands of Uganda.

Farmers pick the fruit before it has time to mature, which is why it retains its green color. Matoke is a staple food in the African Great Lakes region, especially in:

  • Uganda
  • Rwanda
  • Burundi
  • Malawi

Most cooks steam their matoke and serve it in a mash with another meal. Matoke is usually served soft, yellow, and still wrapped in its leaves.

Doing this retains moisture, much like with tamales. You can eat matoke as a side dish, topping, or the main dish. Many people consider these bananas very sweet and a luxury.


Ta’meya

Ta’meya is a Coptic Egyptian falafel that’s served with fava beans and chickpeas. In Egypt, it’s considered fast food.

Ta’meya has a rich, grainy taste that I enjoy. If you like crunchy food, you should give this a try. 

First, the beans get blended with spices, herbs, leeks, onions, and other secondary ingredients. Next, the dough is mixed with baking soda.

Roll the dough into edible bite-sized balls and combine this with the bean paste. While you’re cooking, feel free to add sesame seeds and other toppings.

In the past, I’ve paired these savory balls with hummus and tzatziki in a wrap for a quick lunch.


Pap en Vleis or Shisa Nyama 

Pap en vleis is a combination of several other entries on this list. It combines any skewered meat with pap and chakalaka.

It’s similar to a shish kebab but with East African and South African elements. The taste of pap en vleis can be tangy but is predominantly umami. 

If you’re a fan of coal-roasted meat or barbeques, you should try shisa nyama. Shisa Nyama is a Zulu term for meat barbecued over coal.

This meat usually comes in a sausage form and is found all over South Africa. I’ve found that the meat is always tender and perfectly juicy, and it goes well with most starchy sides.


Popular African Foods

  1. Tajine
  2. Bobotie
  3. Braai
  4. Ugali
  5. Nyama Choma
  6. Couscous
  7. Bunny Chow
  8. Harira
  9. Egusi Soup
  10. Jollof Rice
  11. Shakshouka
  12. Chakalaka
  13. Injera
  14. Ful Medames
  15. Kifto
  16. Boerewors
  17. Matoke
  18. Ta’meya
  19. Pap en Vleis/Shisa Nyama 

Final Thoughts

Africa is a continent full of diverse languages, customs, and traditions. But, it’s also home to some of the best foods. The above are only some of the most popular African foods.

From fast foods like bunny show and ugali to slow-cooked braais, there are many popular African foods that you’ll find yourself enjoying. My favorite on this list is the bunny chow and the Egusi soup. I’ve had egusi many times, and it’s always a pleasure finding new recipes.

As you can tell, African food is packed with flavor and is full of variety, so you’ll always find something you’ll love.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.