Regional African Dishes to Know

In the February 2021 issue of School Nutrition, Contributing Editor Kelsey Casselbury takes a close look at how African cuisine came to America during the Slave Trade and how it’s continued to impact culinary trends in the U.S. At more than 11.6 million square miles, Africa—the world’s second-largest continent—has a rich culinary history, but its sheer size means that culinary traditions vary from region to region. Here are 15 regional African dishes you should know: 

Northern Africa

  • Pastilla. A meat (poultry) or seafood pie made with warqa dough, which similar to phyllo, that’s a Moroccan and Algerian specialty. The poultry version includes a layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar, while seafood pastilla typically has a sprinkle of shredded cheese and slices of lemon.
  • Tajine (or Tagine). In Morocco and Algeria, a slow-cooked savory stew of meat, poultry or fish with vegetable or fruit that’s named after the earthernware pot in which its cooked. In Tunisia, Tajine is similar to a frittata and is made with meat, onions, spices, eggs and cheese, then baked in a deep pie dish.
  • Shakshouka. Eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce with onions and garlic. The origins of Shakshouka are debated, with some claiming it hailed from Morocco, others believing it came from the Ottomon Turkey and others still saying it’s from Yemen.

Eastern Africa

  • Chapati. Also known as Roti, an unleavened flatbread that originated in India and surrounding areas that later spread to other regions, including East Africa. It’s made from flour, salt and water and cooked on a dry tava, a disc-shaped frying pan.
  • Doro Wat. A stew made of chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs that’s the most popular traditional food in Ethiopia. It’s often served with injera, a spongy flatbread made from teff.
  • Matoke. A variety of starchy banana that’s indigenous to southwest Uganda. When matokes are wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and then mashed, it makes the national dish of Uganda.

Southern Africa

  • Biltong. Dried, cured meats (such as beef, chicken, fish or ostrich) traditionally seasoned with black pepper, coriander, salt and vinegar. It’s most common in South Africa and sold in strips or finely shredded.
  • Seswaa. Botswana’s national dish, made from just three ingredients: meat on the bone, water and salt. Once cooked, the meat is pounded and typically served with pap, a thick cornmeal, and morogo, a type of boiled greens.
  • Matapa. A Mozambican stew of young cassava leaves that are ground and then cooked with garlic, onion and coconut milk. It often includes shrimp and peanuts.

Western Africa

  • Fufu. Also known as foofoo, a staple food in West and Central Africa that is believed to have originated in Ghana. It’s made by pounding starchy root vegetables such as cassava or yams with hot water to form a dough-like substance, then rolled into balls. Fufu is typically eaten with your fingers and dipped into a soup or sauce.
  • Groundnut Stew (maafe). Also known as peanut stew, a staple food in West Africa made from ground peanuts or peanut butter and tomatoes. It may contain lamb, beef or chicken, or it may be meatless.
  • Jollof Rice. A one-pot dish also known as benachin, derived from the name of the Wolof people. It traditionally contains rice, vegetables such as tomatoes and onions and scotch bonnet pepper, as well as spices such as curry power and dried thyme.

Central Africa

  • Funge. A type of porridge made from a grain such as sorghum, millet or maize, though it can also be made with cassava. It may be served as a soup or stew, but it can also be thickened and eaten with your fingers.
  • Lituma. Mashed plantains that are formed into balls, baked and eaten with fish or stews. It’s a traditional food in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
  • Moambe Chicken. The national dish of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that’s also popular in other Central African countries. It’s a stew-like dish made with chicken, spices and palm butter and typically served with sweet potatoes, rice or cassava paste. 

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