Bite-Sized Travel: 5 Recipes from Around Africa
How many of you travel to eat? Or find food to be the most memorable part of your trip somewhere? Food, I think we can all agree, is a great connector and enjoyable way to explore new places. Which is why, several months ago while I wasn't traveling at all, Jon and I began reliving the places we'd been to through food. Each week, we'd pick a region and cook dinners with recipes exclusively from there.
I love it because we get to come home each night and explore the world through food, relive our favorite travel memories, and share our discoveries with friends. As both travelers and cooks, it’s been an easy way to weave two of our passions into our everyday lives, an experience of bite-sized travel.
For those of you who want to try some of these recipes yourself, you’re in luck. For our last bite-sized-travel week, we took a tour around Africa -- a continent Jon’s never been to but is special to me -- to revisit some of my favorite destinations and dishes. Here’s what we cooked:
Morocco: Chicken Tagine and Avocado Juice
I traveled to Morocco as a broke study abroad student in college, living off egg sandwiches and avocado juice for the three weeks I was there. I wasn’t upset about it. Avocado juice, if you’ve never had it, is delicious -- though more smoothie-like than juice-like because avocado is a thickener.
One of the few times I splurged on a restaurant, we ordered the chicken tagine and I still remember the thrill of discovering that it had been cooked in cinnamon. I had never thought cinnamon and chicken could pair so well together, but they did. For our first dinner, I wanted to replicate this unique flavor combination.
Chicken Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons, New York Times
Chilled Avocado Juice, Fleur d’Oranger
Kenya: Beef Stew with Chapati
Chapati: I’d always thought of this as an Indian food and was happily surprised to find it all over mainland east Africa. Equally ubiquitous -- in Kenya, at least -- is a simple, beef stew dish called karanga. Filling, delicious, and cheap, it became the go-to dish for my friend Liz and me when we spent a week camping out around Hell’s Gate National Park.
Madagascar: Vary amin'anana
How could I do a full week cooking African dishes and not feature something from Madagascar? I spent over two years living there as a Peace Corps volunteer and most of my food memories come from simple, everyday moments: going across the road to my neighbor to buy fresh-made yogurt each morning; eating carrot salad in the marketplace as a snack; or ordering a plate of rice and beans on days when I was too lazy to cook lunch.
When I left my small-town site to hang out with other volunteers in the nearby city of Antsirabe, though, one of my favorite traditions was going out for breakfast at the market.
Instead of the standard vary sy loka (giant plate of plain rice with little side of protein), we’d get a bowl of soupy rice with bits of greens and tomatoes called vary amin'anana, with a fried egg or kitoza, dried, charcoal-grilled strips of beef. Jon's review: “we’re basically eating congee.”
Vary amin'anana (rice with leafy greens), Jingle Jungle
Kitoza, Agir avec Madagascar
Salady caroty (carrot salad): peel 2-3 carrots, then, using the vegetable peeler, shave them into thin slivers. Mix equal parts vegetable oil and vinegar in a separate bowl. Mix the two together, add salt and pepper to taste, and top with parsley.
Senegal: Ceebu Jen and Hibiscus Juice
In college, I spent a month studying abroad in Dakar, Senegal. It’s an intense city, full of colors, scents, noises, and people. Herds of goats share the roads with packed busses; men gather under baobab trees for sunset djembe jam sessions; and vendors pop up on every corner to sell little plastic bags of water and juice (my favorite was hibiscus juice), freshly grilled meat, or pirated DVDs.
Senegalese food is just as vibrant as the country. At my host family’s house -- run by a Senegalese mama who made juice for a living -- everyone would sit on the floor around a single, large plate of ceebu jen, a paella-like dish topped with grilled fish. In Senegalese tradition, we’d eat with our hand (only the right hand), waiting for grandma to divvy out the fish to each family member.
Every time, I’d try not to cry from the spiciness (the one time my host mom made it “normal”, I ran from the room to fetch my water bottle while everyone else broke down laughing) but I still remember it being delicious. I toned it down for our dinner, but I did get Jon to go along with eating with his hands.
Ceebu Jen, African Bites
Hibiscus juice, I let three bags of Tazo’s herbal, “Passion” tea chill in a pitcher of water while cooking. You can do it overnight for a stronger flavor.
Uganda & Ethiopia: Rolex or Ful Medames
When Liz and I arrived in Uganda, we noticed a strangely large number of shops with “rolex” painted on the signs advertising what they were selling. “What’s up with that?” we wondered. “Do Ugandans really like watches or something?”
Turns out, no, they weren’t selling watches but a common breakfast food: omelettes rolled up in a chapati (hence the clever “rolex” name), like a burrito. They were so cheap, we ended up eating them most mornings instead of pulling the budget-backpacker move and cooking breakfast ourselves.
When we left the land of Rolex for Ethiopia a couple weeks later, we swapped our Rolex obsession for Ethiopia’s ful medames, a spice-filled fava bean, tomato, and veggie “skillet” eaten with a flatbread (Egypt, Eritrea, Sudan, and Somalia have similar versions). Both countries made my American yogurt-and-granola breakfast look sad in comparison. Sadly, I never got to cook either for Jon -- but these recipes are on my list.
What should we cook next?
So far, we’ve cooked foods from Scandaniavia, Japan, Italy, and Africa. What country or region do you think we should explore next? Let us know in the comments below.
Did you try the Bite-Sized Travel challenge? I’d also love to hear how it went!