Food and cooking play a big part in West African cultures. From hospitality in the home to catering for big functions we take our cuisine seriously- perfectly demonstrated by the outrage against Jamie Oliver’s shocking rendition of Jollof rice (in the words of MC Hammer ‘you can’t touch this’). So in honour of Jollofgate, here are 15 items you will find in Afropolitan kitchen including some I fondly remember from my parents’ and grandparents’ households.
1. Maggi cubes: Every West African child would have had memories of seeing the infamous yellow and red cubes in the cupboard. Once only found in specialist stores, the liquid form can now be purchased in major supermarkets (still got mixed emotions about this -akin to D&G Ginger Beer being sold in small bottles rather than cans-can this ever be right?!)
2. Humongous cooking pots: Every kitchen should have pots in it (unless you don’t cook) but serious Afropolitan householders, mainly those from an older generation, will have pots large enough for Houdini to fit in to. I just remember seeing mountains of pots of all sizes in my grandmother’s kitchen and being in awe of them-especially when just one pot took up all four hobs!
3. Old margarine or ice cream containers– No it doesn’t contain margarine or ice cream, it’s now being reused to store rice, stew or if you are unlucky- a packed lunch box! (Don’t pretend you never had that embarrassing experience as a child of taking your lunch in a margarine container when your friends had pretty little lunch boxes with ‘my little pony’ on them because your mum can’t find your nice lunchbox! 80’s kid lol)
4. Scotch bonnet peppers: Versatile peppers used in African Caribbean cuisine, there is no way you could make traditional dishes without it.
5. Bottles of Oil: Vegetable, Sunflower or palm oil, West Africans have a tendency use quite a bit of oil whilst cooking whether its making stew, frying meat or plantain- big bottles no industrial sized bottles of oil are a must
6. Cooler– You are more likely to find this in an older Afropolitan’s households but not for the reasons you think. To most people you use it to store drinks and keep them cool BUT to an Afropolitan this is a standard storage container used to transport rice (Jollof or fried take your pick) to parties as it keeps it nice and warm.
7. Tin of plum tomatoes: This is a key ingredient, used in traditional dishes such as Jollof rice and basic red stews, in every (West African) Afropolitan’s cupboard.
8. Blender- Most households have this to make trendy smoothies but we Afropolitans have been using this since time immemorial. Whether it’s being used to prepare pepper soup or stew this in an absolute must in a West African kitchen.
9. The random tin of sardines or Mackerel or Corned Beef– there is always one random tin in the cupboard that can be pulled out in an emergency and transformed into a fantastic family meal on the cheap. Corned beef was once known as poor man’s meat and I have fond memories of cooking with this at University (corned beef stew, sweet corn and rice is the one!).
10. Rice– Rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner- we love rice in a disproportionately unhealthy way, so there is no way we wouldn’t have a tub or a sack of it lying around. Controversially there is an ongoing debate amongst Afropolitans re. The perfect rice to use for Jollof- is it long grain or Basmati? (I know where I stand but am staying well out of it!)
11. Onions: In the words of my dad, if there are no onions there can be no cooking!
12. Plantain– my best friend and I endlessly go back and forth over the pronunciation of this (she’s West Indian and I West African) but we both agree this is a key ingredient in an African Caribbean household. Boiled, fried or baked plantain is essential.
13. Condensed milk-aka ‘African milk’ according to my grandma.
14. African shopping bag inappropriately labelled ‘Ghana must go’ (long story will explain one day!)
15. Cassava/gari/pounded yam/ground rice/amala – This suspicious looking powdery substance is in fact a staple starch used in a number of traditional meals once whipped together with some hot water. Everyone in the know knows as soon as that starch hits your belly with that soup (Peanut, Ewedu, Egusi- take your pick) it’s just a matter of time before you are out for the count- in the land of nod!