The Beginnings of Africa's Culinary Explosion

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Much has changed in the last 15 years, since my days living in Togo eating yam chips with chilli sauce on the roadside, or a large plate of pâte (a sort of cake made of cornmeal with a similar consistency to fufu) with meat or fish stew. The emergence of contemporary culture has unfolded since then, including a home-grown culinary scene, which showcases the spice-infused, colourful flavours of the continent. 

Gone are the days when restaurateurs look to Europe and Asia alone for culinary inspiration. We are seeing a shift as some of the most innovative restaurants in Accra, Lagos, Dakar, Kigali and Nairobi, look inward to homespun, traditional recipes and locally sourced ingredients. Current trends deflect from the somewhat incongruous French or Japanese eateries which used to have the monopoly on dining for the well-heeled. Cities are spinning out their own contemporary take on West African flavours and rolling it out to the rest of the world.

We now have some mouth-watering cookbooks to choose from including Lope Ariyo’s “Hibiscus”, “The Groundnut Cookbook” by Duval Timothy, Jacob Fodio Todd and Folayemi Brown, “Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen” by Zoe Adjonyoh, who also runs a street food restaurant in London’s Brixton. There are supper clubs, market stalls, street food joints… Most recently, Ikoyi opened in St James Market offering a contemporary take on Nigerian cuisine with dishes such as jollof rice & smoked bone marrow, buttermilk plantain, and garden egg with wild spinach efo. Ever the leader in restaurant trends, New York City has plenty to write home about, notably in Harlem which landed on the rest of the world's map when Ethiopian chef, Marcus Samuelsson, opened the inimitably cool Red Rooster. Ponty Bistro, with branches in both Harlem and Gramercy, serves up tasty fusion French- Senegalese cuisine; while casual, neighbourhood joint, La Savane, takes a range of African influences from Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Mali & Guinea, thanks to the different people manning the kitchen.

Adjonyoh writes “I believe we are on the cusp of an African food revolution… For too long Africans have kept this incredible food a greedy secret”. She may have a point!


Zoe Adjonyoh’s Recipe for Jollof Fried Chicken:

Serves 4

2 tablespoons Jollof dry spice mix **

½ teaspoon crushed sea salt

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips

50ml buttermilk

00ml–1 litre vegetable oil, for deep-frying


150–200g cornflour

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

½ teaspoon crushed sea salt

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Mix the jollof dry spice mix, sea salt and black pepper with the rapeseed oil in a large bowl. Add the chicken strips and buttermilk and turn to coat them all over. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 1–2 hours, preferably overnight.

Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer (the safest option) or heavy-based, deep saucepan filled to just under half the depth of the pan to 180–190°C (350–375°F) or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Meanwhile, put the cornflour in a separate bowl with the seasoning and nutmeg and mix well. Dip each chicken strip into the seasoned cornflour to coat evenly – try to do 4 or 5 pieces in quick succession, as you need to drop them into the hot oil straight away.

Fry the chicken, in batches, for no more than 3–4 minutes to keep them succulent and juicy yet cooked through, and golden and crispy but not burnt. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper, keeping the cooked chicken hot while you fry the rest.

Jollof dry spice mix**

Makes about 190g

25g ground ginger

25g garlic powder

20g dried chilli flakes

35g dried thyme

25g ground cinnamon

15g ground nutmeg

15g ground coriander

¼ teaspoon cooking salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper scant

1 teaspoon dried ground prawn/shrimp or crayfish powder (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and use within a few months.